Howard Assembly Room at Opera North gets ready for October reopening

The Howard Assembly Room, Opera North’s historic concert hall hidden away within Leeds Grand Theatre, will reopen this October with an expanded programme and its own
front door. It’s exciting to see the company’s £18M redevelopment campaign nearing completion!

The new line-up will feature 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.

Opera North’s status as a Theatre of Sanctuary will also be reflected in a range of initiatives and
special events ensuring a welcoming and inclusive space for all including refugee and asylum
seeker groups.

It’s so wonderful to see Opera North diversify and provide a fantastic platform for new artists an unique creatives – it’ll give us all chance to see something we normally wouldn’t, expanding our horizons!

The auditorium first opened in 1879 as an alternative to Leeds’ music halls. At the time, Leeds Daily News noted its ‘very warm and cosy appearance’, and ‘particularly good acoustic qualities’. After spells as a fleapit cinema and a store during the following century, it reopened as the Howard Assembly Room in 2009. Its intimate atmosphere and sound had been further enhanced by Opera North’s sensitive restoration, and over the next decade it became a favourite destination for everything from Lieder recitals to thundering electronica.

Few changes have been made to the space itself since it was shuttered as part of Music Works in 2019, but the redevelopment project has finally given the Assembly Room its own dedicated entrance on New Briggate. It now also has an elegant new glazed atrium for refreshments and
socialising; improved and fully accessible front-of-house facilities, and a new restaurant in
the former shop units beneath it, due to be unveiled just after the venue itself. Everyone who likes going to the theatre will know that a pre-show snack is the ideal treat so it’s great to see Opera North proving this.

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.

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 Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, for a concert drawn from The Great American
Songbook
.

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.

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.

Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset brings together artists with a long tradition of living in arctic conditions for a unique performance on 16 November. In Arctic Ice Music, Inuit, Sami and Siberian singers, Scandinavia’s best jazz musicians, and Terje’s pioneering instruments made from ice, create extraordinary contemporary sounds, rooted in tradition and celebrating their ancient cultures’ respect for nature.

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 a 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 a vocal tour de force. 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.

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.”

Tickets are available to book via howardassemblyroom.co.uk. It’s certainly an exciting time for the team at Opera North, and it will be great to see members of the local community support them when they can.

Photograph credited to Justin Slee

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