Roundabout way of celebrating magnetic Franz

Ensemble 360 pianist Tim Horton'source: Music In the Round'photographer: Benjamin Ealovega
Ensemble 360 pianist Tim Horton'source: Music In the Round'photographer: Benjamin Ealovega
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Music in the Round is living up to its name with its exploring Franz Schubert mini-festival next month.

Now in its 30th anniversary year, the Sheffield-based charity made its name by staging concerts in the Crucible Studio Theatre, an ‘in-the-round’ venue in which the audience sits on all four sides, with the performers in the middle.

It makes for an unusually intimate, intense atmosphere in which to experience classical music.

Artistic director Angus Smith explains that “this enables us to stage festivals that really bring audience members to the heart of the music. A few days of experiencing performances of the highest quality at very close quarters, such as in the Studio, offers a superb way into the realm of classical music.”

Angus describes the forthcoming mini-festival as “a miniature series of events that cover Schubert in many dimensions, offering audiences the chance to immerse themselves in a wide cross-section of this magnetic composer’s life and work.” A substantial discount is offered on a full weekend pass, enabling audiences to look forward to three days of musical discovery.

The programme aims not only to present some of the composer’s most inspired and beguiling works, but to provide a well-rounded view of his achievements through other events such as a lecture-recital and a programme of partsongs given by the local choir The Abbeydale Singers.

Professor Julian Horton provides an academic perspective in his Saturday-teatime appearance alongside the musicians – though Angus emphasises that the session will offer something for everyone, with musical examples and commentary offered in the usual informal, inspiring way. Meanwhile, internationally renowned baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist James Baillieu offer two of Schubert’s most profoundly intense song cycles, exploring extremes of emotion. A highlight is bound to be Friday night’s presentation of the song-cycle Die Winterreise, described by the composer himself as “terrifying” – an experience which will only be heightened by the close-packed environment of the Crucible Studio.

Music in the Round’s resident musicians ensemble 360 – their name giving another reference to the wide sweep of the organisation’s aims, and to the formation in which the players sit in the Studio – also play a prominent part in the programme. Individually, they are members of groups across the world, and many are prominent soloists in their own right. They come together in Sheffield for Music in the Round’s three concert series and two festivals each year plus a wide range of community engagement activities, a lively programme that has developed in the nine years since they replaced the retiring Lindsay String Quartet in 2005.

Pianist Tim Horton, whose ongoing cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas is another centrepiece of Music in the Round’s programme, is relishing the occasion.

“Of course Schubert’s chamber music is one of the main reasons any Ensemble wants to play together and the festival gives us all the chance to explore a cross-section in depth.

“The Studio is a very special space for performer and audience alike and in some ways gets close to the original, intimate atmosphere of the first performances of these works. I’m looking forward to it!” His personal highlight?

“Apart from being able to hear the extraordinary G major String Quartet on Saturday afternoon, I think to be able to play the two great Piano Trios in close succession (Saturday night and Sunday morning) is a rare honour.”

In a final kind of ‘roundness’, the festival showcases Music in the Round’s philosophy of offering something for every generation.

Children and families are catered for by the splendidly titled “Something Fishy Family Concert” in which Schubert’s Trout Quintet is presented alongside other classical pieces by Debussy and Saint-Saëns, plus the theme from Jaws and the folksong ‘When the boat comes in’, in an eclectic programme that helps children take their first steps in musical discovery.

It’s masterminded by creative director Polly Ives, who also presents the concert. “The emphasis of our family concerts is always on taking part and having fun. We will be playing lots of music related to fish, and it’s a great opportunity for people of all ages to engage with high-quality live music. We’re looking forward to it as always!

Music In The Round, Ensemble 360, March 9 at the Crucible Studio.