Spotlight on the Chorus of Opera North for two unique concerts this summer

Following their acclaimed performance in Opera North’s concert staging of Aida, the Company’s 36-strong Chorus will take centre stage this summer for two eclectic programmes ranging from the sublime early music of Palestrina and William Byrd to the avant-garde antics of Cornelius Cardew and the ‘holy minimalism’ of Arvo Pärt.

Performed at St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley on 6 June and Salts Mill, Saltaire on 21 June, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not is an evening of seductive, romantic song accompanied by a piano duet.

The concert begins with selections from Palestrina’s sensual arrangements of the Song of Songs, followed by Brahms’ romantic waltzes and a plunge into the astonishing early-20th century decadence of Florent Schmitt’s Chansons à quatre voix: settings of the French composer’s own words, the poetry of Alfred de Musset and ancient Arabic verse. Although Schmitt’s reputation has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, no recordings of the work are available, and performances are rare.

The second half of the evening opens with a pair of Gesualdo madrigals, and another uncommon treat in the shape of John Bevan Baker’s Songs of Courtship. These beautiful and imaginative settings of ancient Chinese poetry were written in 1992 for a choir on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands, where the composer was living at the time. Jazz standards by Fats Waller and Cole Porter close the programme on an exuberant note.

On 27 and 28 June, the Chorus will animate the space of Leeds Art Gallery’s Tiled Hall in Byrd-Cage: The Shape of Sound, a unique concert as part of the first ever Yorkshire Sculpture International festival.

In a programme hand-picked to explore the ability of sound to transform and affect space, the performance will bring together the Renaissance polyphony of Byrd, Andrea Gabrieli and Jacob Handl with the 20th and 21st-century minimalism of John Cage and Arvo Pärt, promising an immersion in the sculptural power and enduring mystery of the human voice.

At the heart of the concert is an excerpt from the revolutionary 1970 work The Great Learning, by the British composer Cornelius Cardew. To begin this piece, each performer chooses a pitch and sings the first line of the text softly eight times, each time for the duration of a breath. Then the ensemble moves around the space, listening to the other singers until they hear a new pitch of their choice, at which time they sing the second line five times at that pitch. The ensemble progresses through the work in this way, and a cloud of notes gradually forms into several clusters. The audience moves through the space along with the singers, creating an ever-changing, unrepeatable experience in space and sound for both groups.

Sandwiched between late-Renaissance works by Handl and Andrea Gabrieli, John Cage’s 1983 work ear for EAR provides the bridge between early music and 20th-century minimalism, composed in an antiphonal style familiar from Gregorian chants, but with a text that uses only the letters found in the word ‘ear’.

Jo Nockels, Head of Projects, Opera North, comments:

“It was quite a challenge to come up with a choral concert as part of a festival of sculpture, responding to the spaces of Leeds Art Gallery. While we might often start with a single artist’s work, in this case we wanted to explore sound as sculptural in itself; three dimensional and occupying space in different ways, with changing relationships to those listening.

“Cardew’s Paragraph 7 is a great example of this, with the singers moving through and around the audience, creating a heady sea of sound from which individual voices come into focus and fall away.”

She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not is performed at St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley on 6 June and Salts Mill, Saltaire on 21 June, with tickets priced from £12.00 – £15.00. Byrd-Cage is performed in the Tiled Hall at Leeds Art Gallery at 7.30pm and 9.00pm on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 June, with tickets at £10.00. Bookings for all of the performances are via Opera North Box Office on 0113 2233600 or online at