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Why you should go to MCR:Classical – by the people making it happen

Ahead of the huge MCR:Classical event coming to the city, we sat down with some of the major performers to talk about the event, and their love for Manchester's music scene.

MCR:Classical Manchester festival

MCR:Classical a two-day festival showcasing the city’s incredible classical music scene, is set to captivate audiences on Saturday, 24th June, and Sunday, 25th June 2023.

Organised in collaboration with Manchester’s top classical organisations, including the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Manchester Camerata, and Manchester Collective, this exceptional event promises 48 hours of non-stop music, film, food, crafts, and entertainment at the beautiful Bridgewater Hall.

From early morning until late in the evening, The Bridgewater Hall will come alive with the sounds of orchestras, ensembles, and talented artists, all coming together to celebrate Manchester’s rich musical heritage. The festival will feature hour-long concerts on the main stage, presenting a wide range of musical genres, from iconic symphonic works to mesmerising minimalist masterpieces.

Notably, the festival aims to make classical music accessible to all, including those who have never experienced the power of orchestral music before. Free performances will take place in the foyers and The Barbirolli Room, featuring groundbreaking groups like the Hallé choirs and students from the Royal Northern College of Music.

The festival’s lineup for the weekend is already brimming with exceptional performances. On Saturday, the Hallé will kick off the festivities with a Victoria Wood celebration, followed by concerts from the BBC Philharmonic, Manchester Collective, and a late-night performance by Manchester Camerata and violinist Daniel Pioro.

Sunday will see the BBC Philharmonic return for two captivating concerts, with the Hallé concluding the weekend with a mesmerising performance of Stravinsky’s iconic ballet score, The Rite of Spring.

Ahead of the big event, we sat down with the people who are making it happen to ask them, why should you go and see MCR:Classical.

BBC Philharmonic performances

Interim Director at BBC Philharmonic Beth Wells

Beth Wells

Can you tell us a bit about Manchester Classical, and how it will be different to other concerts in the city?

“Manchester Classical is something new and unique for the city – a real celebration of the great musical talent that we have here in Manchester.

“Unlike the usual evening concerts that we might do at The Bridgewater Hall, these concerts will be shorter – just an hour or less, more like a festival set, and they’re happening right across the weekend – we’ll have some performances starting at 11 am in the morning, and others going right up to 11 pm at night!

“Some of the concerts will be happening in The Bridgewater Hall’s main auditorium, our ‘main stage’ but also there will be smaller-scale events happening around the building throughout the day, where you can sit, have a drink and enjoy the music.

Please may you tell us a bit about the pieces that are going to be performed over the weekend?

“We’re mixing up some works that classical audiences might be familiar with, such as Beethoven, Ravel and Brahms, with some newer works that we love, such as Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu’s Towards the Sea II., and pieces by composers who haven’t historically been played on the concert stage as often as they deserved – for example we’re playing a piece in our Sunday morning concert from the African-American composer William Dawson.

To people looking to dip their toes into the world of classical music, what would you say to them to convince them to come down?

“We’d love for people to come and & try out an orchestra. A lot of the pieces the BBC Philharmonic and other orchestras involved are doing show off the incredible sounds that you only hear from a group of really top-class professional musicians performing together.

“We see this as an event you can dip in and out of – you could come to one hour-long event and then head off to do something else in Manchester, or if you’re keen to hear more, you might like to stay for the free music and craft activities happening around the building.
“We’re also keen to make this event feel relaxed, so unlike our usual concerts where you need to choose a seat when you book, you’ll be able to sit where you like. There’ll also be a food offering outside The Bridgewater Hall, so again that real festival vibe.

All of the organisations involved are passionate about making classical music accessible, so for this event, we’ve made the tickets for the individual hour-long concerts £10, or £2 for students or under-18s.

Can you tell us a bit about your views on Manchester and Music, do you think it’s a good place for music?

I’m from Stockport originally so Manchester and the music scene here has always felt like home. The city has such a rich and varied music scene and heritage – when you look at the festivals that Manchester hosts, and the sheer number of concerts, gigs and performances happening across the city, in venues from the size of the arena right down to music in pubs and cafés. You could see a different performance every night and still not scratch the surface of Manchester’s music.

I also think it’s a city where audiences are willing to support new artists and to search out new music, which definitely inspires us as an orchestra to keep working with different composers, and different soloists, and to help keep moving that diverse musical scene into the future.

The Hallé: Head of Ensembles Naomi Benn

Naomi Benn

Can you tell us a bit about A Northern Song and what it’s all about?

A Northern Song is a special new commissioned work celebrating the genius of Victoria Wood. Victoria’s songs are woven together in a hilarious new script by the wonderful Beth and Emma Kilcoyne, exploring what it is to feel northern, and how music is for everyone to experience and enjoy.

It’s a story, so I can’t reveal too much of the plot, but suffice to say it is brought to life by two amazing actors, Alex Jennings and Josie Lawrence, together with the Hallé Children’s Choir and Orchestra. The music is all sourced from original works by Victoria, which have been carefully collated and adapted by her dear friend and colleague, Nigel Lilley, in collaboration with the multi-award-winning composer, Howard Goodall. It’s going to be joyful and fun!

What makes this performance unique?

This performance is utterly unique! The whole piece has been specially written for the Hallé Children’s Choir, and adapted in rehearsals to make it as wonderful as it can be. Great care has been taken to respect Victoria’s original work and ethos, and it’s been a labour of love on all sides. To showcase this fabulous work as part of the Mcr:Classical weekend is so exciting, and we hope it will introduce the unforgettable Victoria Wood to a whole new generation.

Can you tell us about Victoria Wood and her legacy, why have you chosen to honour it with this performance?

The Hallé were lucky enough to work with Victoria on ‘That Day We Sang’ – which was itself a reflection on the famous 1929 Hallé recording of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds with the Manchester Children’s Choir. Our Youth Orchestra performed as part of the 2011 Manchester International Festival stage premiere, and when the work was adapted for film in 2014 it featured both our Children’s Choir and the Hallé Orchestra alongside Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball in the starring roles. (In 1929, the Orchestra was not as diverse as it is today, so for filming those scenes most of our female players got a day off while the men all grew moustaches to look like the fashions of 1929!) We had such a lot of fun working together, Victoria became the Patron of the Hallé Children’s Choir. Since Victoria sadly passed away in 2016, her legacy and support for the arts continues through the Victoria Wood Foundation. The Foundation generously supported the completion of Hallé St
Peter’s in Ancoats in 2019, and the Children’s Choir regularly rehearse in the Victoria Wood Hall there. This performance is the result of many discussions about how we could best honour Victoria’s memory.

Can you tell us a bit about the Hallé Children’s Choir?

Founded in 2008, the Hallé Children’s Choir is made up of over 90 children aged 8-13 years from across Greater Manchester and beyond. Led by the inspirational Shirley Court, it offers a chance to have the best possible introduction to singing at the highest level in a range of singing styles, and a lot of fun along the way. Membership is free and by annual audition.

Can you tell us a bit about your views on Manchester and its Music, do you think it’s a good place for musical creatives?

I think Manchester is a great city for anyone seeking a lively creative environment – there are so many varied opportunities to experience world class culture on your doorstep, and that’s not something we should ever take for granted!

Manchester Collective events

Manchester Collective: Artistic Director & Chief Executive Adam Szabo

Artistic Director & Chief Executive Adam Szabo

Can you tell us a bit about your view on Manchester as a musical destination, and why do you think that legacy endures?

Manchester has always been a music city – going all the way back to the founding of the Hallé Orchestra in 1858. Music is in our bones here. From Factory Records to The Factory, from the BBC Philharmonic to Manchester Collective, we create music because of a deep, internal drive to express ourselves. That drive, to communicate and to be understood, is universal. It exists in the thousands of performers that have emerged from this city, and in the audiences that flock to experience the music that they make.

Tell us a bit about the performance at MCR Classical, what’s planned and how will it be unique?

We’ve got a fabulous show planned – including the first ever screening of some stunning, previously unreleased footage from the Manchester club scene in the early 90s, paired with Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. Alongside that we’ll be performing new work by Hannah Peel, and an intimidatingly heavy work for solo cello and distortion pedal by Michael Gordon called ‘Industry’. All up – this is classical music, but probably not as you know it…

Why have you chosen to project the video over the performance?

This never-before-seen footage, shot by Graham Hector, captures something that we don’t often think about in the concert hall – joy, elation and total exhilaration. We felt that it was the perfect pairing for Steve Reich’s relentless, exuberant Double Sextet. The youthful energy and optimism captured in this unforgettable film is even more strongly communicated with the musical score.

If you were to try and sell the performance to your average man in the streets, what would you say to them to try and get them to dip their toes into classical music?

This show really does cover the full spectrum of human emotion. I’m confident that there is something for everyone in this set – from the awesome scale and terror of ‘Industry’ to Steve Reich’;s cool and iconic rhythms. We know how to put on a good show, and this is going to be a truly unforgettable musical party.

Manchester Camerata concerts

Manchester Camerata: Creative Producer Samantha McShane

Samantha McShane

Can you tell me a bit about Manchester Camerata and the music they perform?

Certainly! As an organisation we believe good music is good music regardless of genre and we work with the best creative talent to make this happen. You’re just as likely to see us opening Glastonbury in front of 40,000 people as touring Mozart internationally, or working collaboratively with amazing electronic producers we believe orchestras are for everyone.

We’re not just about performance though, we also work intimately in care homes with our sector leading music and dementia work, and, do all of this from our home in Gorton! We
believe music can elevate and enhance everybody’s lives, be it through performance or health or whatever really. Oh, we also celebrated our 50 th  birthday last year so we like to think we know a bit about what we’re doing.

What have you got planned for audiences at MCR classical?

Our special late-night concert, explores the chaos and disruption of modern times through music and the need to try and find a little peace. The world feels so unstable right now – wars on innocent people, the climate crisis, economic instability, the big questions around
AI! These are troubling times we live in, but we want the audience to join us as we experience the power of music in it all and its power to bring us together.  The programme will begin with a sonic meditation and explore visceral, jarring pieces of music alongside the calm, peace and tranquillity we all crave.

How did you select the pieces?

Daniel Pioro, our guest artist for the night, and I had many, many conversations. At first, we wanted the performance to give the audience one big meditative state through music like Vasks, Lonely Angel and Nikki Martin’s Kolysanka (Polish for lullaby) but we also felt that it
was important to reflect the times we live in, which will give the audience a one-hour, seamless experience exploring various emotional states.

It looks like it has really interesting subject matter, can you tell us a bit about the story behind the Daniel Pioro piece?

At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 there was a horse that refused to jump over obstacles in the pentathlon, losing his rider a gold medal. His name was Saint Boy.  Saint Boy, the work we will perform, was written by Daniel himself and orchestrated for us by Tom Coult is the title
track on Daniel’s latest album. Daniel is an incredibly unique artist and if you get to know him a little more, you’ll understand why that horse’s act of refusal at the Tokyo Olympics symbolises his relationship with the world of classical music!

What do you think of Manchester and its musical legacy, why do you think the city inspires so much great music?

Manchester has an incredible musical legacy with so much innovation – just look at The Factory and MIF that will launch later this month – we’ll be performing with AFRODEUTSCHE on 5 July, don’t miss that one!  We pride ourselves on being the UK’s most relentlessly pioneering orchestra, and it think it’s just that, Manchester never rests on its laurels, it’s always changing, challenging and questioning what’s next?

To see the full schedule of amazing events at MCR:Classical, please click here.

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