University’s new season has a spring in its step

Navarra String Quartet play University of Sheffield concert at the Crucible Studio on February 17
Navarra String Quartet play University of Sheffield concert at the Crucible Studio on February 17

THERE is wide diversity in the University of Sheffield’s spring concert season organised by the Department of Music.

Three concerts and spoken events built round Beethoven, Schumann and Ravel, explore links between music, disability, health and wellbeing; in Beethoven’s case, his well-documented long descent from hearing impairment to total deafness.

Fidelio Trio, University of Sheffield concert season at Crucible Studio  on February 28

Fidelio Trio, University of Sheffield concert season at Crucible Studio on February 28

As part of two collaborations in Music in the Round’s Exploring Beethoven weekend, the Navarra String Quartet play the composer’s Op 18 No 6, Op 74 and Op 59 No 2 quartets at the Crucible Studio on February 17, preceded by a pre-concert talk by William Drabkin, a Beethoven specialist at Southampton University.

The following afternoon he joins Peter Cropper, historian Timothy Baycroft and audiologist Harriet Crook, all from Sheffield University, for a Beethoven symposium/discussion with each offering a hypothesis on Beethoven’s music.

This takes place in the Crucible’s Adelphi Room and is chaired by MitR artistic director Angus Smith.

Thereafter, the season remains anchored at Firth Hall where on February 21 renowned British pianist Steven Osborne offers an evening of 11 pieces by Ravel, who suffered from dementia in later life.

No talk is scheduled, however, and all the composer’s solo piano music was written well before the malady set in.

Unlike Schumann, who had mental health problems (seemingly, all lumped under bipolar disorder these days) more or less throughout his life, which ended in an asylum after they worsened.

BBC Radio 3 presenter and music journalist Stephen Johnson, who has suffered from bipolar disorder, prefaces a concert by the much-acclaimed Fidelio Trio on February 28 with a talk on his experience with it and how he hears mania in Schumann’s music.

The composer’s Op 63 piano trio is a good work for him to get his teeth into in this respect, while completing the concert are Fauré’s late piano trio Op 120 (written when he was totally deaf!) and the Piano Trio Op 1, written in 1910 by an extremely healthy 13-year-old Erich Korngold.

Which leads neatly to a return visit on April 24 by the excellent Tippett Quartet who played a string quartet by an older Korngold and Mikos Rózsa’s Second String Quartet in a concert otherwise hinged on Bernard Herrmann’s music last February. This time they complete ‘the Rózsa set’ with his No 1 after playing five works by the other celebrated composer of film music born 100 years ago last year, Nino Rota, a fairly prolific composer of classical music as well as film music, most of the latter for director Federico Fellini.

The concert forms part of a week in partnership with the Sensoria Festival of Music Film and Digital which sees the university temporarily assuming the mantle of cinematic promoter.

Central to it is a screening of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (music by Rota) on April 25 which is sandwiched between two silent film masterpieces, Lon Chaney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame with an improvised piano soundtrack played by Darius Battiwalla on April 22 and, on April 26, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with the film’s original score played by a chamber orchestra of university musicians.

Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923), the father of modern Egyptian populist musical expression which endures today, is celebrated on March 13 when UK-born Palestinian singer and musicologist Reem Kelani, who was brought up in Kuwait, comes to town.

She was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square 12 months ago when Darwish’s music dominated the protests, as it did those elsewhere in Egypt.

The season starts on February 8 with brass and vocal music of the Italian Renaissance, plus contemporary brass works inspired by composers from the period, performed by Onyx Brass and the Songmen of Sheffield Cathedral Choir.

The vocal music represents the more familiar items on offer, including Giovanni Gabrieli’s Jubilate Deo, Allegri’s famous Miserere and Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli.

Elsewhere, there are concerts, as always, from the university’s in-house New Music Ensemble (March 6), Chamber Choir (March 20), Wind Orchestra (March 25), Chamber Orchestra (March 27 and Symphony Orchestra (May 6).

There are also further series of the weekly lunchtime concerts (various days), the Monday rush-hour concerts and fortnightly Friday gallery concerts in association with Museums Sheffield.