Opera North Blog

Dominic Gray, Projects Director, talks about a breath-taking opening year and the new autumn season

Bassekou-live-alone_banner1 Tomorrow we will open the Howard Assembly Room (HAR) autumn season, some 30 events or so that will take us up to Christmas and round off a spectacular first year of public performances. Over the last year we've learnt a huge amount about this extraordinary building; how it lives and breathes, how it seems to change its shape and mood depending on who is performing in it. It's an incredibly responsive space, and without doubt the most successful shows have been those where singers and musicians have got into a rhythm with the space and worked alongside it, like a dance partner or a racing driver with a Formula 1 car! We try to keep the space on its toes too, challenging it to take on everything from string quartets to electronica, from spoken word to film and installation art. It hasn't let us down yet, and with hand on heart I don't think there's a venue like this anywhere in the UK - part Wigmore Hall, part Institute of Contemporary Arts, with a dash of Tate Modern and Greenwich Village thrown in for good measure. In a couple of weeks we start rehearsing Jonathan Dove's new family opera, Swanhunter, the first opera composed especially for the HAR and designed for its particular lay out and acoustic. But before that we've got one of the great names in English folk music, June Tabor (23 Sept) and coming right after June we have visits from two of Europe's most exciting string quartets - the Škampa (1 Oct) and Amsterdam Quartets (25 Oct). With all of our performances what we're most interested in is the intimate and immediate relationship between performer and audience. The Howard Assembly Room is the perfect place for this. In the spring of this year we had a great time around classical and contemporary ideas of 'Russia', and we've carried this on into the autumn with our second big theme, this time 'The Idea of North'. These themes give us a chance to cluster a whole range of events - films, gigs, recitals, talks and visual art - around one central idea. The 'North' theme is inspired by Swanhunter, which is drawn from an episode in the epic Finnish saga called the Kalevala. So by 'North' we mean really really North, the North of the Northern Lights, Vikings and serious ice. To give you an idea, this week we had a Scandinavian composer (Terje) with us, listening to the HAR and working out how to compose a new work for us with instruments made entirely out of ice and compacted snow. Terje came on a beautiful late summer's day and it all seemed a bit surreal, but the nights will draw in soon enough and we'll all feel at home in Terje's virtual glacier on 9 and 10 Oct as part of Light Night... So it's all starting up. Tickets are selling well and we've just got Zak (Hi Zak!) installed as the venue's technical manager, so the team is complete and ready to go. We're still aiming to get a permanent HAR sign at street level on New Briggate so that everyone knows where we are, but to be honest nobody seems to have got lost finding us. After such an amazing first year we're pretty sure we're on the map.

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