Musicians on song

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A festival of the lyrical, linguistic, sung and said.

This is the enticing description of the University of Sheffield’s SongMakers’ Festival

This celebration of the human voice sees a range of outstanding vocalists performing a varied and exciting programme, not least Roderick Williams, a singer with international star pedigree after performing lead baritone to an audience of millions in the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms 2014 and currently Singer in Residence of Sheffield’s Music in the Round.

As well as giving a sold-out performance of Schubert’s intense, relentless Die Winterreise cycle hosted in collaboration with Music in the Round in the Crucible Studio on Friday, Williams will be joined by academics from the Universities of Sheffield and Birmingham at Firth Hall on Saturday morning for a fascinating exploration of the relationship between language and music in Germansong, complete with a masterclass demonstration by University of Sheffield student singers.

Later on Saturday, Upper Chapel hosts two acclaimed young singers in mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, a former BBC New Generation Artist, and Simon Lepper, hailed as one of his generation’s most talented accompanists.

They will perform a selection of evocative works by Jonathan Dove, Debussy, Vaughn Williams and more.

Those staying on at Upper Chapel for the next concert will be treated to two powerful Shostakovich works sung by Joan Rodgers, one of the most celebrated British sopranos of recent times and a particular specialist in Russian songs, joined by the Phoenix Piano Trio.

Saturday evening sees two contrasting concerts at Firth Hall. In the first, pianist Simon Lepper and soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand team up for Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi, a complex masterpiece of modernism inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde. In the next soprano Raphaela Papadakis and pianist Sholto Kynoch perform a selection of playful and bawdy Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs)straight from the nightclubs of turn-of - the-century Berlin.

Firth Hall opens proceedings on Sunday, hosting hotly tipped tenor Daniel Norman, Sholto Kynoch and the Gildas Quartet for Vaughan Williams’ haunting, wintery take on AE Housman’s poem On Wenlock Edge.

Up next, gifted young baritone Benedict Nelson joins renowned pianist Graham Johnson for ‘Odysseus’, a programme of works by Schubert, Zemlinksy, Clara Scumann, Robert Schumann and Fauré, evoking the epic journey of Homer’s Odyssey.

Raphaela Papadakis and the Gildas Quartet return for the festival’s final bow at Firth Hall, performing works by Schumann, Brahms and Mendelssohn, arranged by Aribert Reimann. Expect sumptuous, spellbinding strings and soaring golden soprano.

Attention then turns to the Octagon Centre for the SongMakers Festival’s spectacular finale.

A massed choir featuring more than 100 voices from groups including University of Sheffield Chamber Choir, Sheffield Cathedral choir and English Touring Opera will unite for a new, multi-faith reading of Bach’s stunning St John Passion, shaking the Octagon’s eight walls with jaw-dropping, immersive sound.

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