|Leeds - A City of Music|
A Centre of Musical Excellence
Leeds’ vibrant musical infrastructure has been built upon an ethos of self-help, a long tradition of community involvement and the support of an enlightened local authority. The city produces and nurtures many instrumentalists and singers at both an amateur and professional level. In both of these categories, the pursuit of the highest artistic standards has led to national and international recognition of the city as a centre of musical excellence.
Home to a large selection of music venues, Leeds stages a variety of music festivals, competitions and shows throughout the year. Annual music events include:
- Live at Leeds
- Leeds Festival
- Leeds International Concert Season
- Slam Dunk Festival
- Opera North Season
- Let’s Rock Leeds!
- Otley Folk Festival
- Made in Leeds Festival
- Headingley Music Festival
- Black Dyke Brass Festival
Popular but less regular music events in the city include:
- The Leeds International Piano Competition
- Leeds Lieder Festival
- Leeds Conductors Competition
From 1998 to 2014, Temple Newsam hosted the free Opera in the Park and Party in the Park festivals.
Leeds International Concert Season is Britain’s largest Local Authority music programme, promoting more than 200 events annually including:
- the International Orchestral series, in which national and international orchestras visit Leeds Town Hall on Saturday nights
- brass band concerts at Morley Town Hall, Yeadon Town Hall and Pudsey Civic Centre
- lunchtime chamber music recitals at The Venue, Leeds College of Music
- family concerts at the Carriageworks Theatre
- regular Orchestra of Opera North concerts
- summer band concerts in the parks
- free lunchtime organ concerts on Mondays
150 Years of Music in Leeds Town Hall
Leeds Town Hall, for 150 years the focus of Leeds orchestral and choral music and, since 1980, the home of Leeds International Concert Season, is now also the home of Leeds Philharmonic Chorus. The city’s longest serving choir has been in continuous existence since 1870, and now over 150 of their singing members perform regularly at Leeds Town Hall.
The Opera North Centre – a permanent home for Leeds’ national opera company
Leeds based Opera North is the National Opera Company for the North of England. In addition to some fifty performances annually at Leeds Grand Theatre, the company tours its productions to the key regional centres of Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Hull. It has also appeared at London’s Sadlers Wells Theatre, and Opera North’s international appearances have included Barcelona’s Liceu Opera House, BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, Edinburgh International Festival and other major European festivals.
2008 witnessed the completion of the £32m transformation of Leeds Grand Theatre as the permanent home of Opera North. The project’s crowning glory is the £10m restoration of the Howard Assembly Room which opened to the public in January 2009. This inspirational and beautiful space now offers a unique and eclectic mix of art, talks, events and performances, all programmed by Opera North. The Howard Assembly Room is also the rehearsal base of the Orchestra & Chorus of Opera North, the creative hub of Opera North Education and Opera North Projects, and a focal venue for DARE – Opera North and the University of Leeds’ ground-breaking partnership.
Leeds’ Resident Orchestra plays in both Opera House and Concert Hall
The internationally acclaimed Orchestra of Opera North leads a double life as Leeds’ and Yorkshire’s resident professional symphony orchestra. Some thirty concerts annually include Leeds International Concert Season, Kirklees International Orchestral Season, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Oldham’s William Walton Festival and collaborative concerts with some of the region’s leading choral societies.
Leeds based Northern Ballet Theatre’s orchestra also makes appearances on concert platforms around the Yorkshire region in which capacity it plays under the name of the North of England Concert Orchestra. Regular engagements include Halifax Choral Society and Leeds City Council’s annual “Classical Fantasia” at Kirkstall Abbey.
Great Choirs fill Church and Concert Hall
Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and Leeds Festival Chorus present major choral works in partnership with Leeds International Concert Season and also promote their own concerts in Leeds Town Hall. Both choirs broadcast regularly and appear in other major venues such as Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Leeds Guild of Singers likewise give regular concerts in Leeds and across the region.
The University of Leeds, Leeds College of Music and Leeds Met University all maintain thriving community choral societies. Both Leeds Paris Church and Leeds Cathedral maintain the highest standards of church music. Leeds Parish Church’s illustrious musical tradition goes back to 1842 when Samuel Sebastian Wesley was appointed organist and master of the music. The musical life of both great city churches continues to enrich the City of Leeds and beyond.
The presence of several thriving amateur opera groups underlines the city’s importance as a seedbed for home grown talent. Leeds Youth Opera, founded in 1971 to give young people the opportunity to perform in fully staged operas, remains unique in this country. Nearly sixty operas including modern works by Benjamin Bitten, Philip Glass and Stephen Sondheim have been staged since LYO’s inception.
West Riding Opera’s annual production since 1954 have included the northern premieres of rarely performed operas by Delibes, Gounod, Lortzing and many others. Both societies now stage their productions at the Carriageworks Theatre which opened in 2005, replacing the Civic Theatre.
Leeds Symphony Orchestra, the Sinfonia of Leeds, City of Leeds Youth Orchestra, Leeds University Union Musical Society Symphony Orchestra and Leeds College of Music Community Symphony Orchestra all give regular concerts in the city and across the region. The recently formed Leeds based West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra plays to audiences in both Leeds and Wakefield. Alwoodley Sinfonia performs in halls and churches in north Leeds, and the newly formed Otley Chamber Orchestra is resident at the town’s Courthouse Arts Centre.
A Centre of Learning with a leading Conservatoire and the renowned School of Music at the University of Leeds
Since modest beginnings in 1961 as Leeds Music Centre, Leeds College of Music has become the country’s largest college of music and is recognised as one of the UK’s leading conservatoires. Leeds College of Music and the renowned School of Music at the University of Leeds have added an exciting dimension to the musical life of the Leeds City Region over the past four decades.
Both institutions promote busy performance schedules featuring their respective orchestral, instrumental and vocal ensembles. The University’s music programme is centred mainly on the elegant Clothworkers Centenary Concert hall and features established artists (including distinguished alumni) and students of the School of Music. The programme also reflects the work of the various research centres at the School.
Leeds College of Music’s performance programme is centred on The Venue, a purpose-built 350 seater concert hall which opened in 2003. The Venue is located on Quarry Hill, near the West Yorkshire Playhouse which is only a short walk away.
It is now firmly established as the setting for Leeds International Concert Season’s free lunchtime recitals, the annual residency of the Endellion String Quartet and other major chamber music series or “mini-festivals” promoted by LICS. These recently featured six concerts curated by conductor Martin Brabbins surveying the Language of Music between 1880 and 1920 and a survey of Russian piano music curated by Dimitri Alexeev.
Daily Lunchtime Music
In addition to recitals in Leeds Town Hall and The Venue, regular lunchtime recitals take place at Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, Leeds Cathedral, Leeds Parish Church, Holy Trinity Church and Mill Hill Chapel.
Leeds Lieder+ is a biennial weekend festival of art song founded in 2004 to revive interest in song recitals and to introduce the art song to new audiences. Concerts take place in The Venue at Leeds College of Music, the Howard Assembly Room at Opera North and the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall at Leeds University. Recitals by renowned international and prize-winning, up-and-coming young artists feature new, specially commissioned works alongside the established repertoire. Leeds Lieder+ encourages new talent through the Composers + Poets Forum and Masterclasses for young singers and pianists from conservatoires and universities given by distinguished international artists. Every festival includes a workshop and performance showcasing songs from another culture. Education projects linked to each festival regularly reach over five hundred children and young people in Leeds primary and secondary schools.
In between festivals, audiences are able to enjoy a programme of recitals, talks and informal performance opportunities. A Day of Song, which premiered on Sunday 14 October 2012, was a new initiative which has become a regular feature of the Leeds cultural calendar.
Changing Music Scene
Leeds is not only renowned for classical music. With a wide variety of music venues throughout the city, TimeOut.com say “Leeds is up there with the best of 'em, with a diverse and very credible selection of musical goodies ranging from hip hop and house to rock, reggae, rockabilly and everything in between”. (September 25, 2014)
Forming in the year 2000, Mercury-nominated indie rock band The Kaiser Chiefs have become the first mega-selling band to originate from the city since the Sisters of Mercy in the 1980s.
Leeds now has a large number of artists originating in the city; bands such as The Music, The Pigeon Detectives, Duels, The Dunwells, Forward Russia!, Beun Chico, iLIKETRAINS, The Sunshine Underground and singer Corinne Bailey Rae. All have achieved success in the national charts or have built up cult followings in the area.
By 2007, the city was widely recognised to have one of the UK’s most diverse electronic music scenes. Artists such as Headcleaner, Kubex, Gwylo, Micoland and Aunt Orange are among the leaders of the current electronic music scene with local D.I.Y record labels such as Gonzo run Dirtyload Records and breakcore label, Marionette, providing an outlet for the wealth of electronic music coming out of Leeds.
Since 1999, Leeds Festival, a northern leg of the Reading Festival, has taken place over August Bank Holiday weekend, at Temple Newsam until 2002 and since 2003, at Bramham Park. The current capacity is 70,000 and the festival is extensively covered by BBC TV and Radio, red button and online.
Leeds possesses several established music venues, including:
- O2 Academy Leeds – on Cookridge Street, the 2300 capacity venue, which opened in 2008, hosts several pop and rock concerts throughout the year.
- The Cockpit – opening in 1994, the Cockpit was a popular rock music venue. Situated under the railway arches with a main room capacity of 500, the venue closed down permanently in 2014 due to the building’s poor condition.
- Brudenell Social Club – In Hyde Park, Brudenell Social Club is home to the city’s indie scene, hosting small, almost daily shows and the occasional secret gig.
- The Wardrobe – not just a bar and restaurant, since opening its doors in 1999, The Wardrobe also hosts regular live music shows.
- Leeds Beckett Students’ Union – formerly the Met, the 1100 capacity venue a short walk away from the railway station hosts various gigs during the year as well as being the location of popular festival Live at Leeds.
The Kaiser Chiefs played the 7000 capacity Millennium Square in 2006, as did the Pigeon Detectives in 2008. Also in 2008, the Kaiser Chiefs performed to a 35,000 capacity crowd at Elland Road Stadium. Later that year, the chart-topping band launched their UK tour with a barnstorming gig to open the Leeds Academy (now O2 Academy Leeds).
Roundhay Park Arena has been the spectacular setting for concerts by The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna and Genesis. Michael Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop, took Roundhay Park Arena by storm in both 1988 and 1992. Some critics at the time hailed his 1988 performance as “perhaps the most dazzling two hours of showmanship ever witnessed in Britain”. In 2006, Robbie Williams gave two performances to sell-out crowds totalling 180,000.
First Direct Arena
Arguably Leeds’ most prominent and impressive music venue, the 60m First Direct Arena (previously Leeds Arena) opened its doors in July 2013 with a sell-out concert by Bruce Springsteen. Since then, the 13,500 capacity “super theatre” has hosted some of the biggest names in the music industry including Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Robbie Williams, Prince, Slash, Manic Street Preachers, Queen, Status Quo and Leeds’ own, the Kaiser Chiefs. Stars of classical or “crossover” music to play the area include Andrea Bocelli, Andre Rieu, Il Divo, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Orchestra of Opera North. The Arena also hosted the MOBOs on November 4, 2015, broadcasted live on ITV2.
Leeds Lieder+ A Day of Song
Sinfonia of Leeds
Leeds College of Music
Leeds International Concert Season
Leeds University School of Music
Leeds Music Scene
|Click images to enlarge|
Opera North programme, 2004
Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra
Leeds Festival Chorus programme, 1989
Leeds International Piano Competition, 2003
Leeds St Anne's Cathedral
Leeds College of Music
Yorkshire Young Musicians booklet
Leeds Lieder programme
Northern Wagner Orchestra, programme for the Ring Cycle
FuseLeeds programme, 2004
Opera North Education's The Pied Piper 2005
National Children's Orchestra at Leeds Town Hall in August 2006
Yorkshire Voices and the Manchester Camerata at Leeds Town Hall performing Verdi's Requiem, June 2008
Leeds Festival Chorus, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and the Orchestra of Opera North on 6th September 2008 at Leeds Town Hall 150th Anniversary Concert performing Walton's Belshazzer's Feast.
The James band crowd at Leeds Academy December 2008
Opera in the Park, 2009
'Chorus' Installation at Howard Assembly Room, February 2009. Photographer Jonxyz
Classical Spectacular at Leeds Arena, November 2013
Danny Elfman's Music for the Films of Tim Burton, Leeds Arena, October 2013
The John Wilson Orchestra at Leeds Town Hall November 2012.
Kaiser Chiefs, Leeds Direct Arena 13th September, 2013