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Author Archives: laurastevens

  1. Behind the music with…Echo Vocal Ensemble

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    Echo is an exciting new vocal ensemble who are doing things a little bit differently. The young vocalists explore the full range of what ensemble singing means – working with and without a conductor, exploring elements of improvisation and performing less traditional music. Founding member, conductor and singer Sarah Latto tells us a little bit more about the group’s ambitions and current projects.

    Can you tell us more about your Stoller Hall performance?

    We are very excited to perform in Manchester for the first time, particularly in such a fantastic venue as Stoller Hall. It will be the second concert of our ‘Already Gone’ UK Tour, which presents a programme of music dedicated to the environment. We hope to take audiences on a journey that celebrates the beauty and power of the natural world, but that also explores its vulnerability and acknowledges the challenges that our planet is facing. With music spanning nine centuries by composers including Hildegard of Bingen, Benjamin Britten and Judith Weir, we’re presenting a wonderfully eclectic, vibrant and (we hope) thought-provoking programme. It also showcases the winners (Lillie Harris and Rory Wainwright Johnston) and shortlist (James Brady and Janet Oates) of our 2019 Composition Competition. In fact, this Manchester concert will be the World Premier of our shortlisted pieces by James and Janet, and we’re so excited to share these with our audience at Stoller Hall.

    How can musicians highlight the climate challenge in a positive way for audiences?

    What’s so striking to me about the climate crisis is that drastic environmental changes that usually span centuries, are occurring within human lifetimes. This unprecedented acceleration of climate change across the world is frightening to witness. I think that artists have a unique opportunity to approach these issues. One of my favourite aspects of being a musician is witnessing how music brings people together. When performing for an audience, you create this collective experience within the room, and I think that’s really powerful. A concert hall isn’t primarily a political space, so there is a certain freedom to express particular feelings, present ideas and explore challenging subjects without coming across like you’re telling people what to think or how to feel. Alongside the obvious acoustic implications, our name ‘Echo’ stems from the idea of art being a reflection of society and politics. By presenting an exploration of nature and the climate emergency in this programme, we hope to affirm our connection with nature and our place within the natural world, as well as acknowledging how our actions are damaging it, and to give hope that we can make positive change to protect our planet’s future by coming together.

    Performer you most admire and why?

    That is a really tough question… But I’d say right now that it’s Joan Armatrading. Thanks to my parents, I grew up listening to her music (particularly on long car journeys) and in the last two years I’ve become obsessed. The more I get to know her music, lyrics and creative processes, the more I love it. There’s this magical emotional direct-ness to Joan’s music generally, but particularly her singing voice that just breaks my heart but also gives me hope all at once. It encapsulates the strength one shows by being unapologetically vulnerable, and that is something I’m striving for in my own singing. Most people will know the single ‘Weakness in Me’ which is stunning, but trust me – there is worlds more to Joan Armatrading than that song, and you won’t regret discovering more, I promise!

    Favourite live concert?

    Again, tough one! What immediately comes to mind is an opera I saw in Birmingham in 2012: Stockhausen’s Mittwoch Aus Licht, staged by Birmingham Opera Company. Hearing the word ‘opera’ you might think fancy auditorium, stage, period costumes and very long, dramatic arias – but this wasn’t anything like that. It was held in an old chemical factory, and so much happened that evening, it was quite extraordinary to be a part of. There were actors covered in paint and climbing the walls, a ‘world parliament’ of singers in umpire chairs, a trombonist in a paddling pool on wheels, live and puppet camels, and the infamous ‘Helicopter Quartet’ with four string players in their own personal helicopter flying above us – and that’s only some highlights. It was unforgettable and awe-inspiring, and I loved every bizarre minute of it, even though it was 6 hours long!

    What you’ve missed most about live music?

    The people. That collective experience in a room with other musicians and audiences, which simply can’t be replicated on a video call. Music can only really exist in the present moment, and I personally feel like the pandemic forced many of us to be stuck, pining for the past and/or worrying about the future (or vice versa). I’ve desperately missed that opportunity to set those thought-processes aside, to fully commit to a shared moment, and ‘leave everything on the dance floor’, or in this case, concert hall.

    Sam Cobb Co-Artistic Director, Echo Vocal Ensemble

    Echo Vocal Ensemble will perform live on Saturday 31 July – you can book tickets here.

  2. Behind the music with…Laurence Perkins

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    Based in Manchester, Laurence Perkins is one of Britain’s leading bassoonists. He has spent his career promoting the bassoon, helping the instrument and its solo repertoire to become better known

    He joined Manchester Camerata as their principal bassoonist before beginning his solo career with concert performances throughout the UK and Europe, including recitals at the Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room in London, concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra (at St. John’s, Smith Square) and with Manchester Camerata.

    This Summer Laurence is performing three special live concerts at The Stoller Hall, his first live shows since the pandemic began. We caught up with the bassoonist ahead of his performance to hear more about his inspiration on and off stage….

    Can you tell us more about your Stoller Hall concerts?

    They are my contribution towards re-starting live music and live concerts in Manchester. These programmes are musically substantial but highly accessible, with a wide appeal, and each concert is quite different with a mix of ensemble and solo music. The ‘feel-good’ factor is present throughout!

    What makes the bassoon so special to play?

    The bassoon is an incredibly expressive and versatile instrument. Many people are not aware of its qualities. In these concerts you have a chance to hear it solo and in ensemble with other woodwinds.

    Performer you most admire and why?

    On bassoon, Sophie Dervaux (now principal bassoon in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) is a wonderfully warm player, a real virtuoso in every musical as well as technical sense. However, in a broader context (i.e. not specifically bassoon) I have huge admiration for cellist Yo Yo Ma for his amazing innovation and imaginative projects, as well as his superb playing. We need new ideas, new approaches to concert presentation, and he has led the way with some superb ideas.

    Favourite live concert?

    There haven’t been many recently! I hugely enjoyed Jonathan Scott’s magnificent performance at the BBC Proms last year, when he played Dukas ’The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and Saint-Saens Organ Symphony – all solo on the massive Royal Albert Hall organ! What terrific musicianship, virtuosity and stamina – a real entertainment and musical experience.

    What you’ve missed most about live music?

    Live music is the life-blood of people and societies. Administrative bodies need to understand this – it is not an elitist ‘optional extra’ in life, it is a powerful and very positive influence, through all genres. Many have benefited from recorded and on-line music during lockdown, but even with top-quality playback equipment it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. Live music needs to be properly supported by Government and local authorities, so that all types of music can be experienced live, to everyone’s benefit. Professional musicians also need to live, and amateur musicians need to play and sing. Children in schools need the chance to discover the joy and importance of live music, and how they can be a part of it. There has never in the entire history of the human race been a society where music does not occupy a central role – and we need it more than ever before, right now!

    Laurence Perkins is performing at The Stoller Hall on Friday 16 July and Tuesday 27 July

  3. Behind the music…with Iain Ballamy

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    The next instalment in our Behind the Music series is a musician we’ve been wanting to see for sometime now.

    He has established himself as a player and composer of note on the world’s jazz stages, performing as a featured concerto soloist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras. 

    Listed in the BBC’s 100 Jazz Greats, Ballamy has a rare and beautiful sound on the tenor saxophone, both captivating and instantly recognisable. We spoke to him about his upcoming performance as part of our live jazz series.

    1. What are you most looking forward to about the return of live music?

    Everything! but above all the social and sociable aspect of performing and music making which creates the sense of occasion. We know from streaming concerts and playing on our own at home that nothing compares for the magic of live performance.

    2. What can audiences expect from your NQ Jazz performance?
    I anticipate an outpouring of joy! – we will be playing original material and some re-imagined classics so the program is broad.

    3. What has kept you busy during the last 12 months?
    Online teaching, writing and gathering ideas, closely followed by home schooling children and trying not to lose faith in the future of the live performing arts

    4. Has your musical perspective or perception of the industry changed over the past year?
    The industry has never been clear to me and nor has my perception of it! Musicians are like the coffee beans and the industry is those who deal in music. Music is their “commodity” but is our existence. Musicians ultimately don’t end up with a big piece of the cake sadly…

    5. Who has had a significant influence on your music?
    Hermeto Pascoal, Ivan Lins, Tom Jobim, Arvo Part, Herbie Hancock, John Taylor (Jazz not Duran Duran!) Chick Corea, R A Ramamani, Nancy Wilson, Sleaford Mods.

    6. Who are you most looking forward to seeing perform when live music returns? 
    All the musicians who I have spent my life playing with and not seen for over a year!

    Tickets for the Iain Ballamy Quartet are available now.

    Curated by NQ Jazz.

  4. The show goes on

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    In light of yesterday’s government COVID-19 roadmap announcement we wanted to reassure audiences that all our events over the next few months have been planned in line with Step 3 guidelines, and can still go ahead as originally intended.

    This means all our events will take place with social distancing and Covid-19 safety measures in place. So that we can keep staff and audiences safe, only a limited amount of seats in our Hall are currently available to book.

    It’s been great to see some of you back through our doors since we reopened and we looking forward to more live events throughout the summer and beyond.

    We’re working on plans for our Autumn season when we hope to be able to open to full capacity audiences. Watch this space for more details coming soon!

    For more information on our safety procedures click here.

    Photo: Chris Payne Photography

  5. Behind the music…with Norma Winstone

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    Best known for her wordless improvisation, English based Jazz vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone MBE has had a long and successful career, spanning over 50 years. Norma’s many achievements have led to her being highly regarded as one of the most respected jazz singers in the world. So naturally we were all ears when we spoke to Norma Winstone before her Stoller Hall debut, alongside jazz legends Nikki Iles, Stan Sulzmann & Dave Green.

    1. What are you most looking forward to about the return of live music?
    Making music with my friends and feeling a response from the audience.

    2. What can audiences expect from your NQ Jazz performances?
    I would hope a feeling of our love for the music of Bill Evans and our delight in performing it.

    3. What has kept you busy during the last 12 months?

    I have been writing lyrics (which I do anyway), and getting new material together for future projects. I have also been sorting through John Taylor’s music which found its way to my house. I have been scanning his compositions and organising some of his big band arrangements. A Hell of a job which I would not have had time to do but for the lockdown.

    4. Has your musical perspective or perception of the industry changed over the past year?
    Not really; I just feel that the scene might never be the same again, but that is too much to go into in a short answer.

    5. Who has had a significant influence on your music?
    No one person. Kenny Wheeler influenced my progress in music. His sound was something I aspired to with my voice. John Taylor, of course.

    6. What music are you listening to at the moment?
    I listen a lot to classical music, the French Impressionists and English composers Peter Warlock, E.J. Moeran for instance.

    Tickets for Norma Winstone are available now.

    Curated by NQ Jazz.

  6. Behind the music…with Ant Law

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    Live music is back; After 14 months of live streams we’re now open for live concerts!

    This includes guitarist and composer Ant Law. Described as ‘an innovator’ and ‘a game changer’ (The Guardian), British guitarist Ant lives in London and leads his quintet which includes Mike Chillingworth (Saxophone), Ivo Neame (Piano), Tom Farmer (Bass) and James Maddren (Drums). Ant will perform his first live concert in Manchester, following the UK’s lockdown on Monday 14 June. We spoke to him about his biggest musical influences and what he’s most looking forward to about returning to the stage…

    1. What are you most looking forward to about the return of live music?
    It’ll be really really great to play with other people in person – real life interaction is really the most important thing in jazz and that’s been VERY sorely missed by us all. I never thought I’d say this but I do miss the “community” aspect too – the hang!

    2. What can audiences expect from your NQ Jazz performances?
    Right now we are (musically speaking) like five caged animals waiting to be let loose… So I’ll let you imagine the results – I hope it will be exciting for audiences, it certainly will be for us!

    3. What has kept you busy during the last 12 months?
    I have been recording a huge amount of music and writing lots. I’ve been collaborating with artists all over the world for my “QZ” livestreams on Facebook/YouTube etc. These were weekly at one point but now monthly, which helps me keep things as good as I want them to be…  I also like playing video games when I have time. I went back through Last Of Us, Last Of Us 2, Horizon Zero Dawn and all the Uncharted series – so much fun! 

    4. Has your musical perspective or perception of the industry changed over the past year?
    Yes – I think taking an extended time out of the “sprinting to stand still” existence that I had become accustomed to has been helpful. I feel more focused and I am starting to practice guitar more.

    5. Who has had a significant influence on your music?
    I honestly don’t know, I’ll have to leave that to listeners to decide… Like many musicians I’ve listened to SO MUCH over the years.

    6. Who are you most looking forward to seeing perform when live music returns?
    I have tickets for Kurt Rosenwinkel, Louis Cole Big Band, Meshuggah & Sons of Apollo… I also love classical concerts… I love to drop in on my friends who are performing in London – I get a huge amount of inspiration from that. Some of my favourite artists (such as Ben Monder for example) don’t come to the UK very often so I hope to get back over to NYC to hear him and some other cats who are based there. Darbar festival is always so great – many amazing musicians come over from India and it is a total feast for that.

    Tickets for Ant Law are available now

  7. Live music after lockdown…with Soweto Kinch

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    Alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch was born in London, England, in 1978. His father, originally from Barbados, was a playwright, and his British-Jamaican mother an actress. Kinch began playing woodwinds at the age of nine, learning clarinet at primary school. After meeting Wynton Marsalis four years later, he discovered modern mainstream jazz, first practicing piano, and in his teenage years concentrating on the alto saxophone.

    Today he is one of the most exciting and versatile young musicians in the British jazz and hip hop scenes. Having received accolades and awards on both sides of the Atlantic – including a Mercury Music Prize nomination, two UMA Awards and a MOBO for best Jazz Act in 2003, in October 2007, he won his second MOBO Award, at the O2 Arena, London as the winner in the Best Jazz Act category.

    But with the live music hiatus caused by the pandemic, watching Soweto reopen The Stoller Hall promises to be a highlight of the summer season.

    1. What are you most looking forward to about the return of live music?Seeing and hearing audience reactions… and enjoying a drink afterwards.  

    2. What can audiences expect from your NQ Jazz performances?
    A dynamic mix of jazz and hip hop. Nail biting, edge of your seat, death defying improvisation… and some jokes.

    3. What has kept you busy during the last 12 months?
    I created on an online festival #BlackPeril2020, by visiting historic sites of race riots across Britain last year. This year I’m writing a new orchestral piece called White Juju with explores identity, public health, BLM and history in the age of a culture war.  

    4. Has your musical perspective or perception of the industry changed over the past year?
    It’s confirmed my worst suspicions of the music industry – gorging themselves on streaming income whilst artists and composers languish without a reasonable share. It’s also shown me artists who will rise to the challenge to responding to a watershed moment I’m excited to see where this all leads.

    5. Who has had a significant influence on your music?
    Steve Williamson, Bheki Mseleku, Kokayi, Pharaoh Monche  

    6. What music are you listening to at the moment?
    Igor Stravisky – The Rite of Spring 
    And Gary Bartz – Harlem Bush Music 

  8. Mental Health Awareness Week at The Stoller Hall

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    Our mental health seems more important than ever right now and we all need to find ways in which we can look after ourselves both physically, and mentally.

    This week we’re sharing new hobbies and interests that have helped Team Stoller to stay positive, connected and well over the last 12 months.

    ‘I love running in the hills with no one else about.  I’m not fast, and it’s not elegant (!) but it makes me happy, and makes it more ok to eat cake and drink beer!  Being at the top of a hill with a gale, hail and snow blowing right in my face definitely brings me straight into the moment.  The concentration needed for fell running also helps take me away from the PC and out of the day to day.’ – Fran (General Manager)

    ‘There are a couple of things that help me maintain a bit of perspective on life; focussing on something completely different can help distract from the pressures of work. Firstly, anything outdoors, be that going for a run, bike ride, doing some gardening or even mucking out the animals!  The second is my ‘other job’ playing the bass, not that there has been a lot of that recently, so my piano playing has improved as a result!’ – Simon (Deputy General Manager)

    ‘The best thing for my mental wellbeing at the moment is taking part in online circus classes. It gives me the opportunity to connect with friends and to get my body moving. It requires focus and spatial awareness to learn new skills which I find really helpful to get out of a busy mind. An added bonus is the laugh when I inevitably end up collapsed in a heap after an unsuccessful attempt at a new yoga pose or an over-optimistic handstand hold!’ – Aoife (Venue Administrator)

    ‘Exercise and being outside; whether it’s running, cycling, walking or even skipping, is where I’ve found solace over the last 12 months. Once I’ve forced myself out of the door, being outside in the fresh (often rainy) south Manchester air instantly lifts my spirits. I love the sense of achievement from finishing a long run or bike ride and I can’t wait for the return of events like Parkrun where I can travel the country to meet with family and friends and explore new places for exercise!’ – Laura (Marketing Manager)

    Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is Monday 10 May 2021 – Sunday 16 May 2021
  9. BBC Radio 3 Manchester Week at The Stoller Hall

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    We’re delighted that BBC Radio 3 will include two concerts from The Stoller Hall as part of the Manchester Week series.

    BBC Radio 3’s Manchester Week showcases some of the very best of the city’s orchestras, venues and musicians. We are delighted to be taking part with our performance recorded at the beautiful Stoller Hall.

    Tuesday 23 March, 7.30pm – Manchester Camerata

    This eclectic programme is directed by our Leader, Caroline Pether. Caroline directs music by Schoenberg, Janáček and Mozart alongside VENUS/ZOHREH by the acclaimed, experimental and Ivor Novello award-winning composer, turntable artist and broadcaster, Shiva Feshareki.

    Full Programme:

    JANÁČEK Mládí
    SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 (version for string sextet)
    MOZART Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550

    Tune in here

    Thursday 25 March, 7.30pm – Manchester Collective

    Manchester Collective will give the world premiere of ‘Talisman’, a new work written by the brilliant Freya Waley-Cohen, as part of their live concert broadcast.

    Full programme:

    JOHN DOWLAND Pavane: Lachrimae Antiquae
    FREYA WALEY-COHEN Talisman (World Premiere)
    GUSTAV MAHLER Symphony No.5, Adagietto

    CHRISTOPHER BRYAN New Works (poems)
    JOHN TAVENER Song for Athene
    JOHN ADAMS Shaker Loops

    Tune in here

  10. Lockdown Listening, one year on!

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    Today marks 12 months since we closed our doors to live audiences, and although it’s hard to believe we’re one year on, a lot has happened since our last in-person concert with Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Guy Johnston. Our team have been working hard to keep the music alive (I’m not sure we could have got through lockdown without it!). This includes setting up our successful live stream programme, providing online access to culture for audiences of all ages, reducing physical barriers to live music and providing a safe space for music professionals to record and rehearse. I’m sure we can all agree, it’s been *quite* the year!

    Right now, we’re busy getting ready for the day we can reopen and welcome you back into our beautiful concert hall. But while we wait, our live stream concerts continue! Seamlessly marking the anniversary of their brother Sheku’s closing concert, Braimah & Konya Kanneh-Mason will take to our stage on Wednesday 24 March.

    The siblings are from one of the most gifted family of musicians. Konya has already played to royalty twice and both have appeared on numerous television and radio programmes, most recently on BBC Radio 3 and in the BBC1 Imagine documentary, This House is Full of Music, created via Zoom during lockdown.

    To say we’re looking forward to their Stoller Hall performance would be an understatement…. so we caught up with Braimah & Konya ahead of their live stream concert!

    What first got you into music? 

    Braimah: I always grew up listening to music around the house and in car journeys. I first started playing music because I saw my elder sister Isata playing the piano. This made me, like any younger sibling, want to do what Isata was doing. Therefore, as soon as she started on the violin a year later, I followed.
    Konya: Being the middle child in a very musical family, by the time I came along, music felt an instinctive choice. I was inspired by my eldest sister, Isata, who plays the piano, and I decided I wanted to play it too.

    How have you been passing time during lockdown? 

    Braimah: (Trying) to learn German, running, and cooking.
    Konya: Reading, running, and spending lots of time with my family.

    What are you listening to right now? 

    Braimah: Slowly working through the Ébène Quartet complete recordings of Beethoven’s string quartets.
    Konya: Mozart Piano concerto no.23 K.488 – Mitsuko Uchida.

    Who would you most like to collaborate or work with?

    Braimah: The list would be way too long and the brilliant thing about the modern age is that we have access to listen to many inspiring artists through various platforms.
    Konya: Having been in lockdown for so long, collaborating with musicians is what I’m looking forward to most! I would say I’m most looking forward to performing alongside RAM students again and with friends.

    Least favourite musical instrument?

    Braimah: Piganino- look it up!
    Konya: I can’t answer that… I would be upsetting a few friends if I did.

    Hopes and dreams for 2021?

    Braimah: Go to as many theatres and concert halls as is possible. Finally make the most of live performances.
    Konya: My hopes and dreams for 2021 are being able to play with other musicians again, and to get back on stage in front of live audiences.

    You can book tickets here for Braimah & Konya on Wednesday 24 March