We’re getting ready to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Howard Assembly Room in the New Year with a season of events embodying the venue’s eclectic programming and intimate, electric atmosphere, headed by five flagship concerts featuring exuberant ensembles, world music legends and the return of favourite artists. At the end of the season in March 2019, the venue will close for a year for our Music Works redevelopment programme.
Malian rockers Songhoy Blues return on 25 January, having accumulated a slew of awards, a collaboration with Iggy Pop and ecstatic reviews for their second album since they appeared in a support slot in 2015. Their compatriot, ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyaté is back with his latest album Miri on 26 January, a timely exploration of the importance of love, friendship, family and true values in times of crisis.
“When everything seems hopeless, throw a party” is the motto of New York’s irrepressible Hot Sardines, who bring the spirit of Parisian cabarets, New York speakeasies and New Orleans jazz dives to Leeds on 27 January. Their latest album finds them roping in actor Alan Cumming for a knowing take on Ella Fitzgerald’s When I Get Low, I Get High, and bringing the sultry smokiness of Dinah Washington or Billie Holiday to Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love.
Representing the Howard Assembly Room’s impressive programme of chamber and classical music, pianist Joanna MacGregor performed in the venue’s opening season, and returns on 11 January with a programme exploring the full range and colour of the piano, from Beethoven to Fazıl Say. One of the longest-running string quartets in the world and a favourite ensemble of Shostakovich’s, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet presents a specially curated concert in honour of the venue’s tenth anniversary on 7 February. The Opera North String Quartet join them to close the evening with Shostakovich’s String Octet Op. 11.
Senegalese master kora player and Howard Assembly Room favourite Seckou Keita has been working intensively over the last year to translate the complexity and energy of his music for an ensemble of western instruments, as part of Opera North and the PRS Foundation’s Resonance programme. The results will be heard for the first time at a twilight concert on 15 January.
Folk and roots fans are well served this season with two gigs in association with Leeds-based Americana specialists Hee Haw Sessions. On 24 January former Old Crow Medicine Show singer Willie Watson unearths treasures sacred and profane from the folk, gospel and blues canons, as heard on his latest two-volume collection, Folksinger. Having sold out the Howard Assembly Room with a solo appearance in 2018, Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin returns with a long-awaited new record from his band The Delines on 30 January. On their sophomore album The Imperial, singer Amy Boone’s soulful delivery finds new depths in Vlautin’s tales from the American underbelly.
With an inimitable contemporary slant on traditional British music, former Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden’s genre-busting group The Remnant Strings (1 March) play tracks from his 2017 album Afterglow interspersed with songs and tunes from across his eclectic interests and career.
Legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield, a former Miles Davis sideman and collaborator with the likes of Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau, brings his distinctive sound full of stylistic diversity – from post-bop to funk-edged jazz and R&B – on 13 February.
Icelandic string group and Sigur Rós collaborators amiina perform their haunting live soundtrack to a screening of the classic silent film Juve Contre Fantômas on 18 January, enhancing the eerie darkness of Louis Feuillade’s surreal thriller with pounding rhythms and electronics.
A more recent classic comes back to the big screen for Valentine’s Day in the shape of Wong Kar-Wai’s ravishing slow-burner In the Mood for Love, complete with a pre-screening mini concert. Powell and Pressburger’s Technicolor marvel The Red Shoes (22 February) picks up the themes of Opera North’s mainstage production of Katya Kabanova with its dark explorations of desire and obsession.
A tragic intensity is at the heart of the next concert in the Howard Assembly Room’s long-running partnership with Leeds Lieder on 31 January. BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2017 Catriona Morison performs her own selections of Brahms, Mahler and Korngold Lieder, either side of Schumann’s final cycle, his settings of the late poems of Mary, Queen of Scots, with Leeds Lieder Director Joseph Middleton on piano.
Two concerts by leading vocal ensembles complete the chamber programme: on 17 January Tenebrae reprise their BBC Music Magazine Award-winning interpretation of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Requiem Mass, along with further selections from the composer, and the captivating Versa est in Luctum by his contemporary Alonso Lobo. On 15 February, The Cardinall’s Musick alternate a number of Byrd’s masses with more recent contemplative works by Britten, Pärt and James Macmillan.
Two Liberty Lectures, part of Opera North’s DARE partnership with the University of Leeds, explore the state of the nation through a potent combination of the personal and the political. On 1 February, Gina Miller recounts the moments that gave her determination to stand up for justice, to have confidence in her voice and the strength not to let others diminish it, even at incredible cost. The writer, broadcaster, and former barrister Afua Hirsch delivers a personal and provocative survey of how we got here – and an urgent call for change – based on her recent book, Brit(ish) on 27 February.
Coinciding with Opera North’s mainstage performance in the Grand Theatre, on 2 February The Mini Magic Flute brings a family-friendly bitesize version of Mozart’s classic opera and interactive workshop to the Howard Assembly Room. There’s more music and movement with live jazz and a workshop before a screening of Disney’s 1967 classic The Jungle Book on 20 February.
Following Jon Boden’s gig on 1 March, the Howard Assembly Room will close for a year as part of Opera North’s redevelopment programme, Music Works.
For tickets or more information on any of the forthcoming events, click on the links above.