Opera North’s (ON) Howard Assembly Room is set to reopen this October following significant renovation works to improve the building which started in March 2019, the Leeds-based company has announced. The revitalised and expanded 300-seat venue is named in honour of major donor Dr Keith Howard
The concert hall is housed within Leeds Grand Theatre in the heart of the city. It has undergone a massive £18 million redevelopment programme, Music Works, to create a new fully accessible entrance, box office, bar and restaurant, public atrium and improved front-of-house facilities.
Additional facilities for the company include a new music rehearsal studio for the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, along with coaching rooms and a new green room for artists. A new Education Studio will provide a permanent home for ON’s extensive learning and participation activities. The Opera North Youth Company was the first to benefit from the redevelopment.
Starting in October, the inaugural programme at the improved venue features a diverse schedule of gigs, recitals, new commissions, installations, talks and film screenings. This eclectic mix bridges the classical and the contemporary, showcasing top international touring artists from a diverse range of genres including jazz, folk, world music, classical recitals and chamber opera.
Artists already confirmed for the reopening season include legendary reeds maestro Courtney Pine and the brilliant MOBO Award-winning pianist Zoe Rahman performing a set featuring repertoire made famous by Duke Ellington and Nat ‘King’ Cole, among others. Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang and American mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy celebrate the golden age of American song in The Great American Songbook.
With The Great Jamaican Songbook, multi award-winning singer and composer Cleveland Watkiss MBE explores the island’s musical legacy, from its 1940s and ’50s mento roots to ska, reggae, dub and lovers rock. Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese griot and master of the kora Seckou Keita return to the hall to present a set of new material written during lockdown, accompanied by Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles.
Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron, who make up English folk trio Leveret, put a new spin on the English tradition, while outsider folk musician Richard Dawson brings a wildly original guitar style and a gift for contemporary storytelling.
A new commission for Opera North Projects’ FILMusic strand sees Leeds pianist Matthew Bourne performing a new live soundtrack to F W Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece Sunrise. For Leeds Light Night 2021, the venue will be transformed through a new and immersive installation on the theme of environmental crisis, featuring live music, lighting and sound design.
This is just a small selection of the varied opening programme. See Opera North’s website for further details.
“As the world re-opens to live music, we are thrilled to be back in the Howard Assembly Room to welcome audiences new and old to share music with us in this fabulous building,” Dominic Gray, projects director at Opera North, commented.
“With a season which includes both The Great American Songbook and The Great Jamaican Songbook, and musicians playing gamelan, oud, the musical saw and instruments made of ice, we are confident we’ve got your autumn covered for musical adventure.”
As the redevelopment work enters its final stages, Opera North has launched Making Music, a campaign to raise money to complete the project. The names of supporters will become part of a new installation symbolising a musical score. Wrapping around the central staircase in the new glass atrium, the installation will celebrate the making of music in the heart of the building.
Supporters can become part of this new artwork by placing a note. They choose a note size and add a personal message along with their donation of £250 (small note), £350 (medium note) or £500 (large note). See the website to get involved.
The Howard Assembly Room will reopen with its own dedicated entrance, new box office, bar and restaurant, public atrium and improved front-of-house facilities (Tom Arber).