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Sheffield Chamber Music Festival: Beethoven, Bryars and birdsong in music

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Ensemble 360 celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven.

Sheffield's festival of live chamber music returns to the Crucible from 8 to 16 May with a programme celebrating Beethoven's 250th anniversary.

The 2020 edition of the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival will also explore folklore, birdsong and contemporary composition.

"The truly unique thing about the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival is the magical setting of the Crucible Studio," Executive Director of Music In The Round Jo Towler told Now Then.

"You sit so close to the musicians you feel like you're absolutely in the moment with them, which is an amazing experience and there's no other music venue in the country quite like it!"

On 8 May, Ensemble 360 open the nine day event with three works by Beethoven, including his Septet in E flat and String Quartet in D.

This is followed by a series of free pop-up performances in the Winter Garden on Saturday, with clarinetist Matthew Hunt playing 'New York Counterpoint' by Steve Reich.

Later that evening, mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley performs works by Respighi, Weber and Schubert at the Crucible.

This year's programme also caters to families, including a 'Concerteenies' show for 0 to 3 year-olds featuring chart-topping guitarist Craig Ogden.

You sit so close to the musicians you feel like you're absolutely in the moment with them

On 9 May, British composer Gavin Bryars and his ensemble perform a career retrospective as part of a collaboration with the Festival of Debate.

Bryars' 1971 work 'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet' features a looped recording of a rough sleeper singing a sentimental ballad, set to a delicate piano accompaniment.

Other composers whose work will be showcased over the course of the festival include Liszt, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Bach.

As well as classical music, this year's festival takes a detour into folk music and traditional English song. On 13 May, Fay Hield sings about "faeries, ghosts and the animal kingdom", exploring in particular the realm between their world and our own.

In a discussion on 15 May, pianist and writer Peter Hill considers the influence of birdsong on twentieth-century music, "demonstrating how birdsong was used to not only present a mirror to human emotion, but also how the actual songs birds sing were often closely woven into pieces."

The talk will be illustrated by solo piano pieces from Ravel and birdsong field recordings made by Messiaen to transcribe from.

To close the festival on 16 May, Ensemble 360 perform Saint-Saëns' colourful 'Carnival of the Animals', with its glistening Aquarium movement.

Sam Gregory

Tickets for all events are available from Music in the Round.

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