This autumn, in anticipation of the tenth anniversary of the Howard Assembly Room‘s opening in the new year, we celebrate the brilliance and eclecticism of artists who have performed over the past decade with return visits from Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, Tord Gustavsen, Julia Holter and The Tallis Scholars.
There are impressive debuts and rare intimate performances from artists including Chilly Gonzales and Moses Sumney, and the centenary of the Armistice is marked by a series of events including a new Opera North production, Not Such Quiet Girls.
One of the UK’s foremost venues for world music, the Howard Assembly Room hosts virtuoso performances on traditional stringed instruments from Africa, Scandinavia and the Middle East in the coming months. Classically-trained Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora maestro Seckou Keita return with their latest album Soar, taking their miraculous collaboration to new heights with a suite of music inspired by the osprey; and Slow Moving Clouds combine Irish and Nordic traditions, layering voice, violin, cello and nyckelharpa. Through her mastery of the zither-like qanun, Maya Youssef summons the sounds of her Syrian homeland, lamenting its present conflict and celebrating its rich cultural heritage.
Hanging on to cult status in spite of a Grammy for his Daft Punk collaboration and the world record for the longest ever solo concert (27 hours), pianist, rapper, producer and songwriter Chilly Gonzales’ latest flirtation with the mainstream came at this year’s World Cup final, blasting through the downpour as an ecstatic French team celebrated their win. A charismatic, multi-talented one-off, he kicks off the new season with a rare intimate show.
Another genre-defying artist, Californian singer-songwriter Moses Sumney’s debut album Aromanticism was one of the stand-out records of last year, placing his soaring falsetto in an appropriately cosmic setting of harps, delicate guitars and electronics, his audaciously beautiful melodies haunted by the ghosts of Philly soul, psychedelic folk and Arthur Russell.
A fellow Los Angeleno, Julia Holter returns to the venue for the first time in five years with her much-anticipated new album. Having bridged early music and avant-pop with 2015’s dreamlike suite Have You In My Wilderness, she has since recorded a live album, scored a film and collaborated with Jean-Michel Jarre, who called her “a futuristic angel constantly experimenting with sounds and vocals and harmonies”.
Since he left The Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones’ output as a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and composer has ranged from a lush, trans-European soundtrack for an Italo Calvino novel to his latest critically-adored album, West Kirby County Primary, with a new sonic heft reminiscent of Pavement. Support comes from Brighton trio Our Girl, whose brilliant debut album features Ryder-Jones on production duties.
Jazz lovers can look forward to an Autumn programme exploring the full spectrum of the genre, from classic bop, through cool Scandinavian, to the latest experiments in fusion. Keeping alive the genius of the late, great jazz adventurer Charles Mingus, Mingus Big Band returns following their sold-out show in 2016. Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen’s latest Trio set, featuring original compositions in dialogue with ancient Scandinavian hymns, gets an airing. Led by Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, another formidable piano trio, Phronesis, bring their long-awaited new album We Are All to Leeds, folding together improvisation and melodic warmth with a thunderous rhythmic attack.
Composition and improvisation collide again in the explosive new collaboration between legendary percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and pioneering Scottish ensemble Trio HLK, reshaping standards by Gershwin, Gillespie and Miles Davis in a shimmering, visceral tour de force. After their expansive score for the video game No Man’s Sky and a command performance at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival this summer, post-rock band 65daysofstatic push the envelope further with Decomposition Theory, using algorithms and coding to build up – and break down – a unique audio-visual performance.
Each of the members of The Furrow Collective – Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton, Emily Portman and Alasdair Roberts – has played the Howard Assembly Room in the past, but November sees the first visit of this Anglo-Scottish folk supergroup as an ensemble. Their second album Wild Hog featured expanded takes on the traditional song of the British Isles, and won them Best Band at the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards. Counting six BBC Folk Awards to his name, Chris Wood’s brilliantly clear-sighted original compositions weave the folk tradition together with his own contemporary parables. His latest album So Much To Defend secured his place as a great interpreter of the unremarked history of England.
Spoken word returns in October with Ted Hughes Award-winning poet, author and spoken word artist Hollie McNish. Within her prolific output of musical projects, radio work and new poetry shared on Twitter and Youtube, live performance is a constant, and her latest collection Plum, a wise, candid, sometimes rude collection about growing up, will leap off the page. Words and music come together with a visit from leading human rights lawyer and President of English PEN Philippe Sands. Expanding on his gripping book East West Street, he offers insights into the conflicts and connections between the protagonists of the Nuremberg trials, with the music of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Misraki and Leonard Cohen performed by French pianist Guillaume de Chassy.
Always a favourite stop on Leeds’ Light Night trail, the Howard Assembly Room will open for both nights of the festival this year with a captivating, non-stop recital by four musicians of some of J.S. Bach’s most beautiful solo music. As with previous Light Nights, audiences of all ages can drop in for as long they like and soak up the relaxed atmosphere and magnificent acoustic on chairs, chaises longues and deck chairs.
Throughout the year, the Howard Assembly Room’s chamber programme offers regular opportunities to experience exceptional classical music up close, and autumn brings visits from one of today’s most exciting new voices, South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, and the great Australian pianist Piers Lane.
Having performed her previous Opera North commissions The Girl I Left Behind Me and Pat Kirkwood is Angry in the Howard Assembly Room, Jessica Walker brings together an all-female cast and chorus for a new production exploring the forgotten stories of women in World War I. Inspired by the lives and works of Radclyffe Hall and others, Not Such Quiet Girls (from 29 November) weaves a moving narrative through staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early-20th century female composers, directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin from Leeds Playhouse.
In a further commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice, baritone Christopher Maltman charts the soldier’s journey through song, accompanied by Leeds Lieder director Joseph Middleton. The young artists of the National Opera Studio also explore the conflict, with a beautifully staged production devised and directed by Tim Albery; and the Opera North String Quartet performs Dvořák and Schubert.
In conjunction with Opera North’s mainstage production of Tosca, Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 classic Rome, Open City echoes Puccini’s opera with its gritty account of conflict and resistance, love and betrayal; and Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, operatic in its sweep and ambition and still widely acknowledged as the greatest film ever made, returns to the big screen.
Cellist, baritone and storyteller Matthew Sharp in the Howard Assembly Room, Christmas 2014 © Tom Arber
Candlelight, seasonal sounds and old-fashioned atmosphere in abundance are a well-established tradition for Christmas under the venue’s glorious Victorian vaulted ceiling. As its tenth year draws near, The Tallis Scholars bring a programme of sacred early music, and baritone and storyteller Matthew Sharp joins CHROMA Ensemble to bring to life Gogol’s fairy tale The Night Before Christmas, with carols by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov and Rachmaninov. For younger visitors, Five Little Reindeer is a festive celebration full of fun and music.
Bring-Along-A-Baby-Choir © Justin Slee
For children under 5 and their grown-ups, Little Singers returns with the chance to sing songs and explore instruments, and parents with babies and young children can enjoy singing together at the relaxed, friendly Bring-Along-A-Baby Choir. An Autumn Little Listeners concert with players from the Orchestra of Opera North introduces under 5s to wonderful music in an informal atmosphere.
To book for Autumn events at the Howard Assembly Room, follow the links above or call Box Office on 0844 848 2727.