Opera North Blog

The Howard Assembly Room welcomes world-class musicians


With a such a broad programme covering everything from Jazz to World Music, we hear from regular Howard Assembly Room audience member John Cratchley about what he is looking forward to this Autumn from our international artists.

I always look forward to the announcement of a new season at the Howard Assembly Room with a mixture of excitement and anticipation. This unique venue has acquired a reputation for diverse, eclectic and inspirational programming that appeals to a discerning audience used to seeing the best. The new Autumn 2014 season is no exception. A measure of its success has always been the ability to attract international artists of the highest quality and the offerings this time around are very special indeed.

The last time pianist Abdullah Ibrahim played here for a sold out performance, the audience was privileged to watch a true master musician and improviser at work. It was a magical night and I expect his return visit to celebrate his 80 year will be no less mesmerising. His music is very accessible and should appeal to all those who love to see a piano virtuoso at the height of his powers, delivering deeply life-affirming improvisations.

From a pianist whose talent has been recognised for many years to one whose reputation is now becoming firmly established; Norwegian Tord Gustavsen, he is no stranger to Leeds. Having brought his ensembles to Leeds College of  Music on many occasions, this is a one-off chance to hear this beautiful music at the Howard Assembly Room. This group of musicians have played together for a long time and it shows in their almost telepathic interplay and understanding of Tord's compositions based on jazz, folk and gospel influences. This concert is guaranteed to leave you with a very warm glow and a sense of inner peace.

These concerts are bound to attract big audiences but why not try something a little more eclectic, but no less exciting? Two concerts stand out for me. Firstly, composer and performer Ben Frost whose new album AURORA is garnering much praise. It is both potent and direct, using live and sampled music; highly atmospheric and totally contemporary.

Some of you may know Blixa Bargeld from his work with Nick Cave and the German band Einstursende Neubauten. He is an uncompromising and mesmeric performer and utterly unique in his musical approach. Teamed up with the equally individual vocalist Teho Teardo, this promises to be an evening of post-modern cabaret to both entertain and inform.

An equally uncompromising performer is the brilliant Brazilian Mônica Vasconcelos whose moving and powerful songs of oppression and resistance are hard to ignore. Yet for all their gripping subject matter, there is both a warmth and a feeling of empowerment in these vital songs. This may well be one of those concerts you take a chance on and become extremely pleased that you didn't miss it!

There are other concerts that might take your attention and prove to be infectiously entertaining and broaden your musical palette: Frazey Ford of the very wonderful Be Good Tanyas is stepping out on her own to perform music from her new album Indian Ocean, described as a fusion of her folk roots combined with a very large helping of soulful passion.

As if this wasn't already an abundance of musical mavericks, the Howard Assembly Room is also welcoming the wonderfully off-beat American composer and singer Jim White in concert with Cretan musician Giorgos Xylouris. Jim is a purveyor of songs about the 'weird old America' that are both phantasmagorical and sardonic. He is a true one-off whose musical images will stick to you like a burr. I suspect this will be a very different kind of experience and definitely one to say that you were at.

I have, perhaps, left the best until last in the shape of the inimitable Zakir Hussain. Zakir is the world's foremost tabla player and a consummate artist of the highest calibre. His work as part of John McLaughlin's Shakti is legendary and he is, maybe, best known in the West for his brilliant fusion of jazz and Indian rhythms but he is also a tabla master who has performed Indian classical music to the highest level. This concert is bound to be transcendent in its performance and a very rare opportunity to experience a visionary artist up close and personal.

I think this is a very special and exciting Autumn 2014 programme of must-see concerts designed to give both existing and potential patrons a chance to experience established, up and coming and new artists in a unique and welcoming environment. I hope you will become part of, and thoroughly enjoy, some unforgettable experiences.

Written by John Cratchley

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