Despite two lockdowns and stringent restrictions between and since, Leeds Town Hall has enabled professional musicians, school children and audiences to rehearse, perform and enjoy live music throughout the pandemic, all within the COVID-safe environment of its magnificent and naturally airy surroundings. It is the only major venue in the UK to have been able to do so to such an extent.
The Orchestra of Opera North returned to Leeds Town Hall in early July for socially distanced rehearsals. It was an emotional reunion for players who had not performed together since the UK lockdown in March cut short the company’s tour. They blew away the cobwebs with Brahms' Second Symphony and the Leeds United anthem Marching On Together, in celebration of the team’s promotion to the Premier League.
On August 28th Leeds International Concert Season (LICS) presented the Orchestra of Opera North’s concert of chamber and small orchestral works, which was one of the first live music events to take place in the UK following the lifting of the first lockdown. This was followed by recitals by internationally acclaimed artists including the pianist Kathryn Stott, cellist Steven Isserlis, Manchester Collective, Brass and Percussion of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, a live and livestreamed Leeds Lieder Festival. In addition to this, LICS presented free lunchtime concerts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through to the beginning of the current Tier 3 restrictions.
Leeds Town Hall also enabled Opera North’s Education department’s Summer Strings Academy to go ahead in August, offering young musicians an intensive week of tuition, support and inspiration from Opera North players.
The Town Hall’s superb acoustic and suitability for recordings enabled Opera North to record the soundtrack of a newly commissioned animation of Act III of Puccini’s La bohème, and for a major new commission from South African-born cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe. As You Are: A Soundwalk for Leeds features the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, which opened in central Leeds on Saturday 12 December. On the same day, Leeds Town Hall provided the setting for Opera North’s concert staging of Fidelio, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth which is available until Saturday 19 December via the Company’s new ONDemand platform.
Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Throughout this extremely difficult and challenging period for the city’s arts and culture sector, it has been absolutely fantastic to see such a wealth of musical activity continuing to take place at Leeds Town Hall. It cannot be underestimated how valuable these live events and rehearsal facilities have been in supporting the welfare of some of the most vulnerable members of our community and our professional and aspiring young musicians.
I am extremely proud and thankful to our Arts Events & Venues Service team at Leeds Town Hall for making our city’s best loved building safe and secure for so many people in our community to benefit from during this time.”
Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, comments: "For Opera North’s ensembles and Leeds Town Hall alike, months of enforced silence this year have been extremely difficult. But both organisations have responded to developments as they unfolded with imagination and determination, and our concert at the venue in late August was one of the very first to take place nationally as the country emerged from the first lockdown.
"Since then, the Town Hall has been Opera North’s base for rehearsing, performing, recording and streaming much of the output that we have programmed in response to the pandemic. We were delighted to return to the building to close our year with a livestream of our much-anticipated Fidelio. The latest in our innovative and acclaimed concert stagings at the venue, it was also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that we have achieved together against such adversity this year, and to look forward to a brighter New Year."
With a new year on the horizon Leeds Town Hall looks forward to welcoming audiences back in 2021 to enjoy comedy from Omid Djalili, Milton Jones and Sandy Toksvig, speakers including Tim Peake and Katie Piper, family shows including Zog, and some of the world’s finest orchestras and internationally acclaimed artists in Leeds International Concert Series.