Friday 11 June 2021

Re-opening with an expanded season and its own entrance: Opera North's Howard Assembly Room

The Howard Assembly Room (Photo Justin Slee)
The Howard Assembly Room (Photo Justin Slee)
Opera North's Howard Assembly Room has been doubly closed (if that makes any sense). Not only were the venue's doors shut because of the present restrictions, but Opera North's £18M redevelopment campaign Music Works closed the whole building. But Music Works nears completion and the Howard Assembly Room reopens in October 2021 complete with its own front door!

The opening weekend of the season 9-10 October 2021 has an American feel to complement Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Bernstein double bill (Trouble in Tahiti and dances from West Side Story) at the Grand Theatre, so there are Tiger Lilies in their exploration of Cole Porter's songs, Love for Sale, and baritone Quirijn de Lang and mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy (who sing the leading roles in Opera North's production of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti) will be joined by principal guest conductor Anthony Hermus and members of the Opera North orchestra for songs from The Great American Songbook.

Other highlights include Yorkshire-born composer Gavin Bryars and his Ensemble performing two of his most seminal works, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Sinking of the Titanic, the Brodsky Quartet in Bach, Shostakovich and Schubert's Quintet with cellist Laura van der Heijden, the Tallis Scholars in Christmas mode, Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset performing with Inuit, Sami and Siberian singers, Scandinavian jazz greats… and instruments made from ice, and soprano Gweneth Ann Rand and pianist Simon Lepper in a programme which is a personal reflection of Black voices with music by Debussy, Ravel and spirituals, songs sung by Billie Holliday and Nina Simone, works by Adolphus Hailstork and Errollyn Wallen.

There is also an extensive folk and jazz programme featuring visits from artists such as Courtney Pine.

The auditorium, with its spectacular gilt, barrel-vaulted roof and leaded windows, first opened in 1879 as a respectable alternative to Leeds’ music halls, hosting concerts, conjuring shows, variety performances and public meetings. After spells as a fleapit cinema and a store during the following century, it reopened as the Howard Assembly Room in 2009. 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; 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.

Full details from the Howard Assembly Room website.

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