Thursday 12 May 2016

Going from strength to strength - Saffron Hall's 2016-17 season

Vladimir Jurowski & the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Saffron Hall - photo Roger King
Vladimir Jurowski & the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Saffron Hall - photo Roger King
Saffron Hall seems to be going from strength to strength. Attendance at the hall has tripled in just two seasons, and they have just announced a strong 2016-17 season. I went along to hear chief executive Angela Dixon’s presentation of the new season, which took place at an evening for the hall’s members (on 9 May 2016), a testament to the growth of local support. We were also treated to music from two of the young artists appearing in concert during the 2016-17 season, guitarist Sean Shibe and pianist Richard Uttley. Sean Shibe played two fantasies by John Dowland and movements from Walton’s Five bagatelles, whilst Richard Uttley gave us a Chopin nocturne and Mark Simpson’s Barkham Fantasy which was written specially for Uttley (see my review of Uttley's recording of the work). Both artists' performances showed off the hall's critically acclaimed acoustics, achieving a real intimacy of sound.

The 2016-17 season will be opened by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with violinist Nicola Benedetti. The LPO is one of a number of major groups who are returning to play at the hall, and the season also sees the return of the English Concert directed by Rachel Podger. Other major groups include Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra whose programme includes Leonard Elschenbroich performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto, plus Yurki Temirkanov and the St Peterburg Philharmonic Orchestra who will be joined by Nikolai Lugansky in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on the theme of Paganini. Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort will make their Saffron Hall debut with Bach’s Easter Oratorio.

As the hall is based within Saffron Walden County High School, Education plays a large part in the hall’s programme, so that Nicola Benedetti doesn’t just perform but works with the local school children. Last season as a result of one of her sessions she inspired a group of children to work on with the hall sponsoring them for lessons. Whilst Gabrieli are at the hall there will be a project with Gabrieli Roar which hopes to get the entire school singing!
Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - photo Roger King
Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - photo Roger King
The Britten Sinfonia will become resident at the hall from the 2016-17 season. They are currently on their first tour to China so sent a video message to the presentation. The Britten Sinfonia concerts will include James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater (with The Sixteen), a concert celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, a programme of Beethoven and Gerald Barry conducted by Thomas Ades, and a Mediterranean themed evening directed by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.

On a smaller scale there are recitals by Stephen Hough, Gerald Finley & Antonio Pappano, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Sir Andras Schiff. Sir Willard White and the Brodsky Quartet will be paying tribute to Frank Sinatra and the Hollywood Quartet, whilst Madeleine Peyroux heralds a jazz and contemporary programme which is to be announced later this year. Young artist recitals are by Sean Shibe, Lous Schwizgebel, Laura van der Heijden and Richard Uttley.

Opera makes a strong showing during the season. The local Saffron Opera Group, having got Wagner’s Das Rheingold under its belt, moves on to Die Walkure and Siegfried in concert, whilst English Touring Opera (ETO) is bringing their staged performances of Cavalli’s La Calisto, Handel’s Xerxes and Monteverdi’s Ulysses Homecoming. ETO will also be performing Bach’s St John Passion with three local choirs. Another departure will be dance, and the hall’s first dance project will be announced later this year.

What is especially important is that the hall is developing its own particular identity with distinctive programming which doesn't just echo that available elsewhere. Especially notable is the way major ensembles are happy to come to the hall, thanks to its sympathetic and flexible acoustics, and particular cachet comes from the events which do not travel to one of the hall's big brothers in London.

The hall was built thanks to the generosity of the Yellow Car Trust, and the trust has also been supporting the hall’s programme. This support comes to an end at the end of the 2016-17 season, when they will be reliant on other channels of support so it is good to see that the hall's strong programming is already gaining good local support.

Full details of Saffron Hall's 2016-17 season from the hall's website

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