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The Brighton Early Music Festival kicks off in style

Love and heartbreak have remained central musical themes over the centuries, as this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival is set to prove.

The Argus: Joglaresa. Photo by Graham Wood. Joglaresa. Photo by Graham Wood.

The 2013 festival takes Passion as its theme – ranging from broken hearts and desire, to Christ’s love for humanity.

The three weekends of events closes with a performance of Bach’s magnificent St John Passion on Sunday, November 10, which is rarely heard outside of Easter.

“One of the concerts near the end of the festival, by The Telling, is about troubadour love songs,” says festival co-artistic director Clare Norburn of Tall Towers, Husbands And Other Obstacles To Love, which is at St Mary’s Church, in Rock Gardens, on Saturday, November 9.

“They are like modern singer-songwriters, singing about the torments of love – the basic human emotion which is always going to be there in music.”

This year’s programme includes visits by regular favourites, including a sold-out Handel programme by Red Priest on Friday, November 1, and Dame Emma Kirkby playing John Dowland’s music at St George’s Church on Friday, November 8. There will also be first-time visits from baroque violinist Rachel Podger at the Corn Exchange on Sunday, November 10, and Trio Goya at The Old Market, Hove, on Saturday, November 2.

Accessible shows

But the festival is also about introducing early music to new audiences – and so features a range of accessible shows.

Opening this year’s event tonight are Joglaresa with Songs Of Sinne And Subversion, which Norburn says will have people wanting to dance in the aisles.

“Belinda Sykes, who runs the group, is equally known in world music, so her whole performance style is very accessible,” she says. “It’s described as a medieval rock concert but it will have slow ballads too, so it’s not all hell for leather!”

Another good starting point for novices is the Early Music Club Night at St Bartholomew’s Church tomorrow, which builds on free events the early music festival used to run during White Night.

“It’s like a Later With Jools Holland for early music,” says Norburn, adding that BBC Radio 3 will be recording parts of the show for future broadcast.

“We have three stages and have cleared the seats out of the centre space so the audience can be really close to the musicians.

“People can sit on the floor or on the chairs along the walls, stand, lie down or move around between the three stages over the three hours.

“We have a sackbut [early trombone] quartet performing in the gallery, which will sound amazing as it resonates in the church. The joy of the different stages is we can use the different acoustics and atmospheres.”

The night – which features performances by the Little Baroque Company, Borromini String Quartet, I Flautisti, Flaugissimo, viol-player Alison Kinder and singers Esther Brazil and Greg Skidmore – will be introduced by Red Priest’s Piers Adams.

Passion is also at the heart of Profane Deliriums, which sees L’Avventura perform love songs from Portugal and Brazil in a cabaret-style show at St George’s Church on Saturday, November 9.

And the success of EL James’s erotic novel 50 Shades Of Grey has introduced a new audience to Thomas Tallis’s early music masterpiece – the 40-part motet Spem In Alium.

Brightonians may recall the piece being the focus of Janet Cardiff’s Fabrica installation 40 Part Motet during Brighton Festival 2011.

It will be one of the highlights of 40 Shades Of Spem In Alium at St Bartholomew’s Church on Sunday, October 27.

Norburn says the piece is so complex it is rarely performed live by amateur groups.

“You need 40 people who are all competent at singing their own lines,” she says. “We did some workshops leading up to the festival, where newcomers were buddied up with more experienced singers so they could get an experience of singing the piece.”

This performance, which also features music written by Tallis’s contemporary William Byrd, will feature the Brighton Early Music Festival’s Consort Of Voices and award-winning choir Chantage. Co-artistic director Deborah Roberts has written an introduction to the works and period, underlining the dangers both Catholic composers faced in Elizabethan England.

Narrative plays a part in some of the later pieces in this year’s festival – with Roberts penning Passion And The Princess, based around murder and madness in the court at Ferrara, while Norburn tells the story of murderous composer Carlo Gesualdo in Breaking The Rules. Pick up The Guide next week for more on both.

BREMF week one:

Joglaresa: Songs Of Sinne And Subversion
St George’s Church, St George’s Road, Brighton, Friday, October 25, 8pm, from £6.

Philomel: Passion Body And Soul
Sallis Benney Theatre, Grand Parade, Brighton, Saturday, October 26, 1pm, £12/£10.

Early Music Club Night: Cool Passion
St Bartholomew’s Church, Ann Street, Brighton, Saturday, October 26, 8pm, from £8/£5.

Leah Stuttard: The Wool Merchant And The Harp
St Andrew’s Church, Waterloo Street, Hove, Sunday, October 27, noon, £12/£10.

40 Shades Of Spem In Alium
St Bartholomew’s Church, Ann Street, Brighton, Sunday, October 27, 7.30pm, £16/£14.

  • BRIGHTON EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL 2013, various venues, Friday, October 25, to Sunday, November 10
  • For tickets, visit or call 01273 709709

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