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Music in the Round: Sheffield Chamber Music Festival

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Sheffield Chamber Music Festival is set to bring a fantastic programme of events to the city from Saturday 11 - Sunday 19 May. We sat down for a chat with Music in the Round's executive director Jo Towler, to find out what we've got to look forward to in the coming week.

Firstly, for those who might not already know, what is chamber music?

Chamber music is a bit of a catch-all term that refers to music written for a small group of instruments. Originally it was for a group that would fit in a small room or chamber, hence the term, but nowadays it has a broader meaning that is any art music performed by a small number of artists. At Music in the Round, we present concerts that are not just by classical musicians, but also small groups of performers from a variety of backgrounds. This includes folk, jazz, Indian and fusion, as well as artists such as narrators, actors and poets.

What is the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival and how did it get started?

The Sheffield Chamber Music Festival began in 1984 with a series of concerts hosted by the Lindsay String Quartet, led by inspirational violinist Peter Cropper, who was a co-founder of Music in the Round. In collaboration with the Crucible Theatre, the Quartet continued to present concerts every year in May, and now it consists of nine days of concerts, talks, children's events and more.

The core musicians of the Festival are now Music in the Round's resident group, Ensemble 360, which comprises eleven musicians: five string players, five wind players and piano. Peter Cropper's vision was to use the unique setting of the Crucible Studio, where the audience surrounds the performers in close proximity, to bring people closer to the music and the musicians, resulting in an amazing, immersive, concert experience.

Sheffield is home to a really vibrant music scene. What are your hopes for the future of classical music in the city?

Since I came to Sheffield last summer, I have been struck by the amount and variety of music-making that goes on here. There are so many musicians of all backgrounds and abilities in the city, that it's a very exciting place to be. The recent Classical Weekend saw over 10,000 people attend dozens of events, from Indian Fusion and immersive 3D surround sound, to choral and orchestral concerts. I think this shows that the term 'classical music' can mean a wide variety of music that appeals to many people, especially when it's presented out and about around the city. My hope for the future is that this desire continues and grows, with music being part of the fabric of Sheffield's creative life, and that it becomes a city of half a million music-makers. Wouldn't that be amazing for everyone's well-being?

From my experience of classical music events in Sheffield, there seems to be a big focus on making the genre accessible for the younger generations. How does the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival do this?

Music in the Round offers tickets to all our concerts throughout the year for £5 for those under 35, and some concerts in the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival are also free to under-18s. We are also presenting a Family Concert (3-7s) and Concerteenies concerts (0-3s) geared to our younger audiences, but all our events are accessible to people of any age. There are more informal concerts lasting only an hour at lunch times and rush-hour when the musicians will be very chatty and relaxed. Events such as comedian Rainer Hersch's act and an afternoon concert of Animal Antics are also very laid-back.

There are so many fantastic musicians involved in the Festival. Which music makers are you most looking forward to people seeing?

There are indeed some amazing people coming to Sheffield for this Festival, and it's very hard to pick out just a few to highlight. Shiva Feshareki on the turntables is certainly one not to miss, following her recent appearance at the BBC Proms, and Stephen Hough is one of the best pianists in the country. However, I am most looking forward to our Meet the Musician concerts, as the performers tell their stories and anecdotes about the music and playing together - you get some rather interesting and entertaining insights into their lives!

See the full programme of events here.

Flick Jackson

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