Autumn preview: an accidental music festival

ETO Giulio Cesare (c) Oliver Rosser

Durham has accidentally created a mini early music festival in the middle of October half-term, as three regular events have lined up together to give us five glorious days of choral music and opera.

This unofficial festival begins on Friday 20 October when the The Sixteen bring their annual Choral Pilgrimage to Durham Cathedral. This time, they contrasts the pure polyphony of Palestrina with Poulenc’s rich sensual choral writing. Their programme includes Poulenc’s Un Soir de Niege which I’d have loved to hear again after enjoying a performance of it by Ben Rowarth’s Renaissance last year, but I’ll be missing this concert, as I’ll be at a rehearsal for the following night’s treat. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that on 21 October, the Durham Singers are performing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, in collaboration with the acclaimed early music group I Fagiolini, the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and conducted by I Fagiolini’s director, Robert Hollingworth. This is a magnificent treat for us, and for Durham too, as it will be the first time that I Fagiolini have performed in the cathedral. The top price tickets are already sold out, so book soon! If you’re in the cathedral for either of these concerts, pop in to see some of the cathedral’s collection of music manuscripts in their Open Treasure exhibition. (I’ve heard there may be a discount on the entry price if you show a Sixteen or Durham Singers ticket).

There’s a day off for everyone to take a breath on Sunday then on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 October, English Touring Opera are in town, with an amazing baroque opera double-bill: Handel’s Giulio Cesare. ETO decided that Cesare is too long to perform in one sitting, but also too good to cut any of it, so they’ve split it into two parts, calling them “The Death of Pompey” and “Cleopatra’s Needle”. I won’t actually be able to see it in Durham, because I’ll be on holiday, and I was heartbroken, because Cesare is one of my favourite operas and I’ve never seen it live, but luckily I’ve been able to book to see it elsewhere. I think it’s worth driving all the way to the lakes and spending two nights in a hotel to see, so if you’re able to see it in Durham, you definitely should! I’ll be writing more about Cesare soon. One final early music treat to mention is on 28 November when MUSICON are miraculously bringing us harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations – another first for Durham, I think.

If dazzling baroque gems are not your thing, there are plenty of other concerts coming up too. A choir from Durham’s German twin city Tübingen are joining up with Cobweb Orchestra for a concert in the cathedral of Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Warlock’s Capriol Suite and Mozart’s Requiem. The soloists will be familiar names to many: Ana Fernandez Guerra, Charlotte Heslop, Hugo Hymas and Ben Rowarth all making a welcome return to Durham. Keeping with the European theme, Orchestra North East whisk us away from autumn to the heat of Spain with an afternoon concert at the Gala which includes the famous Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo. And to round off the orchestral works, string players from Royal Northern Sinfonia will be in Ushaw College on Saturday 30 September to play music by Bach, Borodin and Mendelssohn, reflecting the themes of their current season at Sage Gateshead.

There’s also new music from MUSICON, jazz and brass at Ushaw, and no doubt there’ll be plenty of student performances to enjoy too, although I don’t yet have all their details. Durham Opera Ensemble have been quick off the mark though, and their rock-themed Opera of Ages on 12 November sounds like it will be a lot of fun. I’ll add more concerts as I hear about them: don’t forget to get in touch if you’ve got a classical or jazz concert you’d like me to list. Email details and pictures (preferably as png or jpeg) to jane@musicdurham.co.uk