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Reopening season at the Howard Assembly Room announced

The Howard Assembly Room, our historic “hidden gem” concert hall within Leeds Grand Theatre, will reopen this October with an expanded programme and its own front door, as our Music Works redevelopment campaign nears completion.

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The inaugural line-up features folk, jazz, world and experimental music, chamber concerts and film screenings, but also looks closer to home with appearances from Opera North’s Orchestra, Chorus and guest singers, and events for families and the community.

With our Bernstein double bill over on the mainstage of Leeds Grand Theatre, the preview opening weekend offers a complementary festival of American music and song. On Saturday 9 October, masters of twisted Weimar cabaret The Tiger Lillies revive their Opera North commission Love For Sale, finding the despair and delirium that lurk just beneath the de-lovely surface of Cole Porter’s songs.

The Tiger Lillies perform in the Howard Assembly Room in 2015 © Tom Arber

On 10 October, Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang and American mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy make their way across from the Grand, where they will be singing the roles of Sam and Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti, for a concert drawn from The Great American Songbook. On piano, Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus – currently on the podium for Trouble in Tahiti – is joined by an ensemble from the Orchestra of Opera North.

On 22 October, legendary reeds maestro Courtney Pine and MOBO-Award-winning pianist Zoe Rahman pick up the thread with SONG (The Ballad Book), a ravishing duo set featuring repertoire made famous by Duke Ellington and Nat ‘King’ Cole among others. With The Great Jamaican Songbook (29 October), multi award-winning singer and composer Cleveland Watkiss MBE makes a rocksteady case for the island’s own musical legacy, from 40s and 50s mento roots to ska, reggae, dub and lovers rock.

Cleveland Watkiss, Piccadilly, June 1978 © Kelly Watkiss

Another British jazz icon, the trumpeter Byron Wallen, brings together Javanese gamelan, a crack jazz ensemble and analogue synthesizers for his inspired tribute to a milestone of electronic music, Boards of Canada’s debut album Music Has the Right to Children, on 21 November.

The Howard Assembly Room has earned a reputation for bringing the best performers from across the globe to Leeds, and its return happily coincides with the world beginning to open up again. Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset brings together a unique performance on 16 November. In Arctic Ice Music, Inuit, Sami and Siberian singers, Scandinavia’s best jazz musicians, and Terje’s instruments made from ice, create extraordinary contemporary sounds, rooted in tradition and celebrating their ancient cultures’ respect for nature.

Arctic Ice Music: Maria Skranes and Terje Isungset © Emile Holba

On 17 November, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese griot and master of the kora Seckou Keita return with an inspirational set of new material written during lockdown, accompanied by Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles.

For folk fans, the venue offers an atmosphere and acoustic that is second to none. Forthcoming concerts reveal the full sweep of the genre, from the stripped-back roots of Leveret (12 October) to the black-humoured bard of Newcastle Richard Dawson (30 October), part court jester, part savant-genius. Two very different Scottish bands, Talisk (14 November), and Blazin’ Fiddles (19 November) share a high-octane approach to tradition, and as the bleak winter nights draw in, The Furrow Collective returns with a special festive programme to celebrate the dark time of year (12 December).

On 20 November, a strange and beguiling new take on old time music comes courtesy of Joachim Cooder, who brings his thumb-piano arrangements of the songs of The Dixie Dewdrop, Uncle Dave Macon, to Leeds, with labelmate and Howard Assembly Room favourite Sam Amidon opening.

With unamplified instruments and voices onstage, the chamber music programme reveals the clarity and warmth of the venue’s acoustic in full. On 9 December The Brodsky Quartet returns with a programme of Bach, Shostakovich, and Schubert’s Quintet featuring the outstanding young cellist Laura van der Heijden; and The Tallis Scholars resume their popular Christmas visits on 16 December with programme of music in praise of the Virgin Mary, stretching from the Renaissance to the 21st century.

With her regular accompanist Simon Lepper, the English soprano Gweneth Ann Rand’s 2017 recital of Messiaen’s Harawi was not only a vocal tour de force, but an exhilarating example of the venue’s commitment to staging chamber music differently, saturating the room with colourful projections of Hieronymus Bosch paintings. The duo returns on December 1 for a hand-picked programme which Rand describes as “a personal reflection of Black voices”, from the orientalism of Debussy and Ravel to spirituals recording the authentic experience of slavery; songs made famous by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone; and more recent works by composers including Adolphus Hailstork and Errolyn Wallen.

Gweneth Ann Rand performs Messiaen's Harawi in the Howard Assembly Room, October 2017 © Justin Slee

On November 10, the Yorkshire-born composer Gavin Bryars and his Ensemble perform a set structured around two of his most seminal works: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, and The Sinking of the Titanic.

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, who recorded an engrossing podcast with Bryars for Opera North during lockdown, sets his spoken word to the evocative post-rock arrangements of his band LYR on 25 October. Another distinctive voice, poet, author and winner of the Ted Hughes Award Hollie McNish visits with her latest collection Slug on 25 November.

Dominic Gray, Projects Director, Opera North, comments:

“As the world re-opens to live music, we are thrilled to be back in the Howard Assembly Room to welcome audiences new and old to share music with us in this fabulous building.

“With a season which includes both The Great American Songbook and The Great Jamaican Songbook, and musicians playing gamelan, oud, the musical saw and instruments made of ice, we are confident we’ve got your autumn covered for musical adventure.”

Richard Ashton, Howard Assembly Room General Manager, comments:

 “Over its first ten years, the Howard Assembly Room became a treasured destination for lovers of music, film and art of every possible kind. Now, with its own dedicated and fully accessible entrance, improved facilities and a vastly expanded programme, our venue can look forward to welcoming many more diverse audiences, and cementing its status as one of the country’s great music rooms.

“This transformation has been made possible by the generous support of a range of private and public funders, led by Dr Keith Howard OBE, the Liz & Terry Bramall Foundation, Arts Council England and Leeds City Council.

“Later in the season we will open a new restaurant and bar as part of the venue facing onto New Briggate and in line with wider improvements to the public realm.”

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