THE National Centre for Early Music’s 20th anniversary spring season in York opens not with the raising of a glass of champagne, but with a Cuppa & A Chorus.
Led by community musician Chris Bartram, the 2pm to 4pm session on February 24 is an opportunity to sing in a relaxed environment and enjoy a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a friendly chat.
Up to 50 singers attend each monthly gathering to sing “songs you know and love and explore new ones from around the world”, and further sessions of “Connecting Through Singing” will follow on March 30, April 20, May 18 and June 22. The charge is £3.50 each time; booking is recommended and more details can be found at ncem.co.uk/cuppachorus.
2020’s concert programme opens with the University of York Song Day, an afternoon and evening of three concerts under the title The Year of Song on Leap Year Saturday, February 29. The focus falls on romantic lieder in the 19th century company of Robert Schumann at 12.30pm; Robert and Clare Schumann at 3pm and their protégé Johannes Brahms, along with Robert, at 7pm.
Soprano Bethany Seympour, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, tenor Gwilym Bowen and fortepiano player Peter Seymour perform the first and last concerts; soprano Emily Tindall, bass Jonty Ward and fortepiano player Nicky Losseff, the middle one.
Silent Films At The NCEM return with Franz Osten’s 1928 epic Shiraz: A Romance Of India (cert U) on March 8 at 7.30pm, telling the story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal, screened in a BFI restoration with a score by Anoushka Shankar.
As part of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, running from May 5 to 17 with live music in village halls, theatres, cinemas and the NCEM, a double bill of Funny Business (U) at 4pm and The Woman One Longs For (PG) at 7pm will be shown on May 10.
Jonny Best’s piano accompanies Laurel & Hardy and comedy’s greatest female clown, Mabel Normand, in Funny Business; Best is joined by violinist Irine Rosnes for Curtis Bernhardt’s 1929’s German film, The Woman One Longs For, wherein Marlene Dietrich shines in her first starring role as a mysterious femme fatale in a steamy tale of erotic obsession.
Folk At The NCEM has two concerts to be presented in association with York’s Black Swan Folk Club: Urban Folk Quartet, supported by Stan Graham, on March 9 and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman’s On Reflection show on April 22.
Urban Folk Quartet’s high-energy, multi-instrumental virtuosos Joe Broughton, Paloma Trigas, Tom Chapman and Dan Walsh combine Celtic tunes and traditional song with Afrobeat, Indian classical, funk and rock.
2020 marks 25 years of husband-and-wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman making music together. To celebrate this anniversary, they take a whistle-stop tour through their past, revisiting and reinterpreting songs from the early days of folk supergroup Equation to latest album Personae, via a nod or two to their extra-curricular musical adventures.
Scottish traditional folk duo Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, who have toured together since 1986, play on March 29 and folk guitarist, composer and ukulele player Richard Durrant returns to the NCEM on June 14 as part of his Music For Midsummer tour that will take him 860 miles by bicycle from Orkney to Sussex.
On his fourth and longest Cycling Music adventure, travelling with his guitar and ukulele, he will be showcasing his new album Weald Barrows. “I’ll be cycling down from Orkney alone this year and this will, for me at least, introduce a magic and a concentration to the music,” says Durrant, whose 7.30pm concert will be featured in the York Festival of Ideas.
On May 25, the NCEM plays host to Youth Sampler Day from 11am to 4pm, a chance for 12 to 18-year-old musicians to play by ear, develop their creativity and discover more about the National Youth Folk Ensemble.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for young musicians to learn from inspiring professional musicians, with no experience of folk music necessary, and there’ll be opportunities to take part in a short audition for the ensemble too,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin.
Jazz At The NCEM presents the returning Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione on April 26; legendary London and New York drummer Jeff Williams’ Bloom trio, featuring pianist Carmen Staaf and bass guitarist Michael Formanek, on May 17, and University of York Jazz Orchestra, directed by James Mainwaring, with composer John Low on piano, in a May 29 programme spanning quasi-classical textures to full-on big band sounds.
The jazz line-up continues with innovative trumpet player and composer Byron Wallen’s Four Corners, with Rob Luft, on guitar, Paul Michael on bass and Rod Young on drums, on June 10, when they will be taking part in the York Music Forum Showcase too.
In a concert embraced by the York Festival of Ideas, Wallen will be putting his new album Portrait in the spotlight, conceived when sitting in the central square in Woolwich and being struck by the community around him with its mixture of ages and nationalities. Wallen last played at the NCEM last October as a member of Cleveland Watkiss’s band.
Acoustic Triangle blur the boundaries between classical, jazz music and the avant-garde on their return to the NCEM on June 23 with their adventurous repertoire of compositions by band members Tim Garland (saxophone, bass clarinet) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), plus Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Bill Evans, Olivier Messiaen and Maurice Ravel. Double bassist Malcolm Creese completes their line-up.
World Sound At The NCEM welcomes more returnees, Scottish combo Moishe’s Bagel, on March 27 with their cutting-edge, intoxicating, life-affirming Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk and klezmer music.
Everything stops for tea at 7.30pm on June 9 in the second World Sound event, Manasamitra’s Tea Houses: Camellia Sinensis, a show that tells the story of tea as new live music mixes with lighting and soundscapes, participatory tea rituals and ambisonic technology that captures the audience’s emotional responses in the performance space.
Creator Supriya Nagarajan uses her experience of synaesthesia to explore the interplay between sight, sound, taste and smell in a multi-media show that directly engages the 7.30pm audience in a musical interpretation of a tea ceremony that now forms part of the York Festival of Ideas.
Early Music At The NCEM has two highlights: the Early Music Day on March 21 and the University of York Baroque Day on May 2.
Three concerts in one day make up the Early Music Day, featuring harpsichordist playing JS Bach’s 48 Preludes & Fugues Part 1 at 1pm at the NCEM; recorder ensemble Palisander, with the NCEM’s Minster Minstrels, presenting Double, Double Toil And Trouble at 3.30pm at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, and The Brabant Ensemble’s Cloistered Voices at 6pm at the NCEM. Previously known as the European Day of Music, the Early Music Day will be streamed across Europe.
The University of York Baroque Day is likewise divided into three concerts, taking the theme of Airs and Graces: A Musical Miscellany. At 12.30pm, trumpeter Crispian Steele Perkins joins Yorkshire Baroque Soloists for theatre music by Purcell and a flamboyant arrangement of Vivaldi’s La Follia; at 3pm, harpsichordist Masumi Yamamoto plays works by Handel, Scarlatti and Aime; the University Baroque Ensemble rounds off the day at 7pm with Scottish airs arranged by James Oswald and Geminiani.
Families At The NCEM brings Leeds company Opera North to York for 11.30am and 2pm performances of Dr Seuss’s Green Ham And Eggs in an introduction to opera for four to seven-year-old children and their families.
Two opera singers and a nine-piece orchestra begin their short performance with an interactive workshop introducing families to the music, instruments and themes within the piece, before they bring to musical life Dr Seuss’s tale of the persistent Sam-I-Am’s mission to persuade a grumpy grouch to try a delicious plate of green eggs and ham.
Looking ahead to the autumn, concerts in the NCEM diary already are folk trio Faustus (Benji Kirkpatrick, Saul Rose, Paul Sartin) on October 13; Chiaroscuro Quartet’s Mozart String Quartets, November 18; Unearth Repeat, with Sam Sweeney, Jack Rutter, Louis Campbell and Ben Nicholls, November 23, and Lady Maisery: Awake Arise, A Christmas Show For Our Times, with Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, December 18.
In this 20th anniversary year, “this spring we are undertaking an essential refurbishment programme, in part to upgrade some of the facilities that are showing the strain of so much usage,” says Delma, as new loos and a kitchen take shape.
“We’ll be celebrating the anniversary fully in the autumn, especially with a commission that will engage Early music with digital technology and field recordings from Askham Bog. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be involved, as will gamba player Liam Byrne this autumn.”
Tickets for the NCEM spring season are on sale on 01904 658338 and at ncem.co.uk.