A gilded setting
800 books of 23 carat gold leaf had been used in the restoration of the Town Hall's decor to its sumptuous Victorian splendour. The opulence of the setting was matched only by the stellar line-up of artists to launch this new era of Leeds music. More orchestral concerts than at any time before or since the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra years, regular recitals on the Town Hall's magnificent organ, brass bands, more lunchtime chamber music, celebrity recitals at Temple Newsam House - an astonishing 160 musical events each year.
In pursuit of excellence
A quest for excellence, the planning of ‘occasions’ realised by the imaginative programming of repertoire is the mantra of LICS. Occasions help to define a concert series: a monumental symphonic or choral work, a visit of a famous orchestra, a new or rarely heard piece; all of these are occasions to be keenly anticipated and (hopefully) savoured long after the event if their execution has captured that elusive ‘magic of the moment’.
Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
CBSO Chorus and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus conducted by Simon Rattle launched the inaugural 1980/81 season with Szymanowski's Stabat Mater and Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. Conductor and orchestra illuminated virtually every season until 1998 when Rattle made his farewell Leeds appearance as CBSO music director with Mahler's neglected 7th Symphony.
All five major London Orchestras
The 1981/82 brochure proclaimed that the 26 concerts would be "the most outstanding orchestral series ever mounted in the Yorkshire region". All five major London orchestras plus the Dresden Staatskapelle, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Oslo Philharmonic and Hungarian State Symphony were scheduled together with a roster of renowned artists: Menuhin, Brendel, Haendel, Harper, Blomstedt, Ameling, Hogwood, Tilson Thomas, Ferencsik.
Occasions in 1981/82 included Mahler's 5th and 6th Symphonies, Bruckner's 3rd and 5th, Sibelius' 1st with the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons. Kurt Masur conducted both the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Royal Philharmonic. The London Symphony Orchestra played under music director Claudio Abbado.
The Cream of Young Musicians
Any performance by the 150 strong National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain is guaranteed to be an occasion. The NYO's unforgettable concerts since 1981 have included performances of Strauss's Alpine Symphony, Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, Vaughan Williams' 4th Symphony, Suk's Asrael Symphony and Dvorak's Cello Concerto played by legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell.
LICS and Choirs in Partnership
Fruitful partnerships with the Philharmonic and Festival Choruses have been built. These have enabled the programming of extravagantly scored non-standard choral and symphonic works, creating some of the greatest occasions of the past 25 years.
Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’
Mahler's gigantic 8th Symphony was performed on 15th June 1985 by over 500 musicians. It was billed as the biggest-ever concert to be staged in Leeds Town hall and, not surprisingly, sold out within 24 hours of booking opening.
Some other occasions in that quite extraordinary 1984/85 season were: Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle with leading Hungarian singers Kolas Kovats, Sylvia Sass, BBC Philharmonic and Edward Downes; Mahler's 9th Symphony with the BBC Symphony and Sir John Pritchard, Messiaen's Des Canyon aux Etoiles with the London Sinfonietta and Elgar Howarth; Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Felicity Palmer, John Mitchinson and the Orchestra of Opera North conducted by David Lloyd Jones; Schumann's Piano Concerto (soloist Jorge Bolet) and Schubert's "Great C Major" Symphony with the London Philharmonic and the great Klaus Tennstedt. Leeds Phil, London Philharmonic Choir, English Chamber Orchestra and David Willcocks performed Bach's B Minor Mass; Delius's A Mass of Life, conducted by Sir Charles Groves, marked the 50th Anniversary of the composer's death.
Mackerras conducts Janacek
More giants of the choral repertoire followed in the late 80s: an evening of Janacek, including the Glagolitic Mass, was conducted by the composer's greatest living interpreter, Sir Charles Mackerras. Mackerras also conducted Sir Arthur Sullivan's oratorio The Golden Legend, exactly 100 years after its 1886 Leeds Triennial Festival premiere.
The Book of the Seven Seals
A nationally significant performance of Franz Schmidt's rarely heard apocalyptic choral work, The Book of the Seven Seals, was conducted by Edward Downes; Schoenberg's massive Gurrelieder was conducted by Groves, as were Elgar's oratorios The Apostles and The Kingdom. In 1987, Britten's War Requiem was led by two of the artists who took part in the 1962 premiere: conductor Meredith Davies and soprano Heather Harper.
Orchestra of Opera North (formerly English Northern Philharmonia)
It has of course been a cornerstone of every season: highlights during the last decade must include the first acts of Verdi's Otello and Puccini's Turandot conducted in 1996 by Mark Elder; Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony conducted in 1998 by Elgar Howarth, with the unique ondes martenot played by the artist for whom it was conceived 50 years earlier - Messiaen's sister-in-law Jeanne Loriod; Beethoven's Choral Symphony, Shostakovich's Leningrad, Mahler's Resurrection and 3rd symphonies were all memorably conducted by Steven Sloane. Austrian maestro Dietfried Bernet directed towering performances of Bruckner's 7th and 8th Symphonies.
Music’s response to the Tsunami
An awesome Verdi Requiem united the City's two great choirs with Opera North forces under the baton of Elgar Howarth - Leeds music community's generous response to the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami disaster appeal.
Town Hall’s better acoustics
Acoustic improvements since 2000 have ameliorated the reverberation and enhanced the balance of sound. Complex modern scores, voices, solo instruments and smaller ensembles now sound much clearer. An Easter 2003 performance of Bach's St John Passion with the Festival Chorus and Northern Sinfonia and a 2005 concert by the Academy of Ancient Music were both models of textural clarity. In this brighter acoustic, Wilfred Owen's poems set by Britten in his War Requiem acquired even greater sharpness and immediacy in Mark Elder's 2001 performance. Similarly, every detail of Simon Wright's 2004 Festival Chorus/BBC Philharmonic performance of Michael Tippett's deeply personal oratorio, A Child of our Time, was sharply etched.
Gatti and the RPO
Danielle Gatti and his Royal Philharmonic's 2002 concert paired excerpts from Gotterdammerung with Mahler's 5th Symphony. The programme demonstrated this generous acoustics’ suitability for the romantic repertoire as well as the enlarged stage's capacity for a Wagner-size orchestra.
Visitors from Stateside
In 1998, the Minnesota Symphony became the first front rank American orchestra to play in Leeds Town Hall since Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia forty years earlier. Conducted by Eije Oue, their programme included a searing Shostakovich 5th and a haunting Sibelius Violin Concerto played by Gil Shaham.
The Minnesota returned in 2004 conducted by Osmo Vanska and with virtuoso Joshua Bell in a mercurial Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The revered Leipzig Gewandhaus and kappellmeister Herbert Blomstedt returned after a long absence with Bruckner's 7th Symphony in 1999 and Brahms' 2nd in 2003. The fabulous Oslo Philharmonic also made a welcome return: their 2001 concert included a thrilling Tchaikovsky 5th conducted by Manfred Honeck.
An Authentic Russian Performance
In 2002, the St Petersburg Symphony and conductor Alexander Dmitriev collaborated with the Leeds and Sheffield Philharmonic Choruses for Rachmaninov’s choral symphony, The Bells, sung in Russian.
Ivan Fischer's superb Budapest Festival Orchestra fielded their full line-up of 60 burnished strings for Dvorak's 7th Symphony. Renowned American pianist Richard Goode was their soloist in Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto.
Triennial Festivals Revisited
Following Centenary revivals of Festival commissions The Golden Legend in 1986 and Elgar's cantata Caractacus in 1998; the closing concert of the 2003/04 season was devoted to Dvorak's Saint Ludmilla, a splendid 1886 Festival commission. Rising young British soprano Sally Matthews led a superlative cast with the Leeds and Sheffield Choruses, BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.
Few will forget actor Sam West's delivery of Henry V's rousing Agincourt speech in that 2002 performance of Walton's tuneful score for Olivier's film, with the Halle Orchestra and Choir under Mark Elder; or renowned American diva Christine Brewer's exquisitely floated top notes in Noseda's magnificent 2003 performance of Verdi's Requiem.
Brewer returned to the Town Hall earlier this year with the BBC Symphony and Donald Runnicles for sumptuous performances of Strauss's Three Hymns and the radiant vocal line of Isolde's Liebestod.
Jewels of the International Concert Season
The opening concert of the 2005/06 season is to be given by the Philharmonia, with their eminent principal conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. This great orchestra, with Vladimir Askenazy as both conductor and soloist, appeared in the inaugural season.
Although the finest visiting orchestras will doubtless form the backbone of the series for years to come; so many of those all-important, defining "occasions" have only been possible because of the excellence of the City's indigenous music community - the great amateur choirs, the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North and Leeds International Piano Competition - whose winners have frequently graced these concerts. These are the jewels of the Leeds International Concert Season.
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1983/4 Concert Season Brochure
1984/5 Concert Season Brochure
1984/5 Concert Season Brochure
1986/7 Concert Season Programme
1988/9 Concert Season Brochure
1989/90 Concert Season Brochure
1992/93 Concert Season Brochure
1996/7 Concert Programme
1997/8 Concert Programme
1997/8 Concert Season Brochure
1998/9 Concert Programme
Millennium Concert Programme
2001/2 Concert Season Programme
2001/2 Concert Season Programme
2002/3 Concert Season Programme
2002/3 Concert Season Programme
Academy of Ancient Music, Jan 2005
Philharmonia Orchestra, 8th October 2005