There are plenty of diverse cultural offerings emanating from LS1 this coming summer. And, as the roadmap out of lockdown cautiously continues, two of the North’s most dynamic arts organisations assembled for the first live, in-person concert at Leeds Town Hall for quite some time. 

But before we talk about the performance, special mention must go to the amazing team at Leeds Town Hall who, yet again, have been able to bring the most inspirational and essential creative moments to concertgoers in a COVID-19-safe and calm way with minimal fuss. Bravo!

And so to Manchester Collective and its meteoric journey, as much a sense of pride to the folk on the eastern side of the Pennines as on the west, and their latest offering has cemented the Collective’s position as one of Yorkshire’s favourite adoptees. Any Manchester Collective event is always a journey into the unknown. Working with some of the greatest international musicians, they repeatedly create moments that surprise and move audiences. But the pressure to constantly look at their art through an ever-changing lens must be immense. Szabo, Singh and the team are visionary.

This season, the internationally acclaimed Iranian harpsichordist, Mahan Esfahani joins the Collective. And, as it immediately became clear on the night of the concert, any prior thoughts about an instrument that musically dominated the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries had to be re-evaluated.

Manchester CollectiveAs guest curator of the 2019-20 chamber music series of the Leeds International Concert Season, Esfahani knows the venue and city well. He has clearly struck up a rapport with his fellow musicians, and his performance was engaging, informal and informative. Even his humble ‘salad dressing’ analogy, given when referring to the role of the harpsichord in the evening’s proceedings, couldn’t mask his sophisticated technical mastery of a wonderful instrument.

Górecki’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings opened the programme at lightning speed and immediately dispelled any suggestion that a sedate evening lay ahead. Laurence Osborn’s Coin-Op Automata followed and, with Esfahani’s explanation that the inspiration for the composition came from visits to Covent Garden’s Mechanical Theatre, the clunk and whirr of the piece made perfect sense.

Manchester CollectiveEsfahani’s arrangement of Bach’s Three Fugues and Three Canons from The Art of Fugue provided further contrast from an ensemble of musicians who actively seek out juxtaposition.

The final piece of the evening came from another musician who likes to push boundaries, Joseph Horovitz and his Jazz Concerto. This is the first time that I’ve attended a Manchester Collective performance where a drum kit was on stage. I’m not sure many concertgoers have experienced jazz drums alongside harpsichord, but the energy from the two instruments together with strings soon encouraged many of the audience members to nod their heads.

Again, Manchester Collective, in its constantly evolving state, brought something special to West Yorkshire. They’ve now headed back westward to prepare for their June residency at Salford’s iconic White Hotel. Dark Days, Luminous Nights, a highly immersive audio-visual experience, is shaping up to be their most ambitious and groundbreaking project to date.

By Colin Petch

Images courtesy of Manchester Collective 


Manchester CollectiveFor more information about Manchester Collective, click here

To read Adam Szabo’s (Chief Executive of Manchester Collective) thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic and the Collective’s latest, and most ambitious, project Dark Days, Luminous nights, click here.