From Late Romantic Lieder to electronic experimentation, via Inuit throat singing and icons of African music, the Howard Assembly Room’s first 2017 season casts its net wide. There are visits from big names in jazz and folk, an outstanding FILMusic programme and screenings and talks echoing Opera North’s mainstage season of dark fairy tales.
Culminating in a newly-developed project revisiting the seminal 2010 album, the AfroCubism season explores the spectacularly fertile ground where two musical cultures meet. Western Saharan born and raised in Algeria, educated in Cuba and now living in Barcelona, Aziza Brahim opens the series with haunting songs informed by the hopes and pain of life in exile, and by the many musical cultures she has absorbed. Making their long-awaited debut at the Howard Assembly Room, the legendary Orchestra Baobab revolutionised African pop in the 1970s with a multi-ethnic blend of African styles and Cuban rhythms.
Formed in camps in Guinea, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars forge a different Afro-Caribbean hybrid, combining West African high life, Congolese soukous and Jamaican reggae, and radiating joy, passion and proof of the resilience of the human spirit. Fusing centuries-old traditions and led by the nephews of the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali perform mesmerising Sufi ritual music.
In jazz, too, the emphasis is on exchange and synthesis, with high energy improvisation in the shape of stellar New York trio Douglas–Ribot–Ibarra opening an impressive season of music from the four corners of jazz. Grammy Award-winner and University of Leeds alumnus Bill Laurance brings his third solo album Aftersun home to Leeds. Pianist Roberto Fonseca brings more Cuban sounds to the venue with his latest exhilarating reinventions of the music of his homeland, and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen is joined by compatriots Trio Mediaeval for a spine-tingling exploration of their country’s ancient musical dialogue with Iceland. In another unmissable collaboration, jazz giant Courtney Pine joins forces with neo soul trailblazer Omar.
There are more chances to see great classical talents in the Howard Assembly Room’s intimate chamber setting, beginning with a programme of Strauss and Wolf songs from one of today’s finest lyric sopranos, Anne Schwanewilms. Fine baritone and Opera North favourite Christopher Purves returns with a programme showing his full range and dramatic power, and Opera North’s Associate Artists Heather Lowe and Ellie Laugharne celebrate the coming of spring with a special Twilight Concert. Influenced by minimalism and Eastern philosophy, Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk brings his astonishing “continuous piano” music to Leeds.
Penguin Cafe brings together musicians from the likes of Suede and Gorillaz on classic Penguin Cafe Orchestra tunes and new material, all steeped in PCO’s distinctive genre-hopping folk, classical and world flavours. Fans of contemporary English folk will be delighted by the return of singer-songwriter-guitarist John Smith, and an overdue debut from consummate improvisers Leveret.
The centrepiece of a richly varied FILMusic season is an Easter celebration of Paolo Sorrentino’s extraordinary tragicomedy The Great Beauty. Following a screening of the film (8 April), the string section of the Orchestra of Opera North perform pieces by William Byrd, Arvo Pärt and others, in homage to the composers featured on the soundtrack (April 13).
A screening of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with live musical introduction is a bittersweet treat for Valentine’s Day, and the romance of lazy summer days in pre-war Berlin is conjured by Icelandic indie experimentalists múm’s live score to the 1930 silent masterpiece People on Sunday. Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq provides a remarkable live soundtrack to another pioneering silent, 1922 documentary Nanook of the North, and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart returns with a new David Lynch collaboration, HEXA - an uncompromising sonic response to the great director’s Factory Photographs.
To coincide with Opera North’s season of dark fairy tales, broadcaster and author Sir Christopher Frayling talks about Angela Carter and her influence on the contemporary Gothic, before introducing a screening of Jean Cocteau’s classic film La Belle et la Bête. Tariq Ali discusses the dilemmas of Lenin, and Stefan Collini delivers a devastating critique of the commercialisation of education.
Tickets for all events are available from the box office on 0844 848 2727 or at howardassemblyroom.co.uk