My Yorkshire: Director of Leeds Lieder Joseph Middleton

Director of the Leeds Leider Joseph Middleton.

Director of the Leeds Leider Joseph Middleton.

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Director of Leeds Lieder Joseph Middleton is a world-renowned pianist. Gloucestershire-born, the 35 year old is married to Madeleine, and they have one son, Max.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory? I can remember my parents taking us to all manner of educational and intellectually-improving ruins, and marching us on character-building hikes across country in the rain. However, the things that have remained etched on my childhood memory are the rancid smell at the Viking exhibition in York (which made me think how authentic it all was) eating fish and chips outside The Magpie in Whitby, and going on the water slides at Scarborough.

Joseph Middleton would invite Michael Palin to lunch, mainly to keep Judi Dench company. '''PA Photo/John Swannell.

Joseph Middleton would invite Michael Palin to lunch, mainly to keep Judi Dench company. '''PA Photo/John Swannell.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? The North York Moors, overlooking Harwood Dale, it’s where we spent family holidays when I was a teen. On one occasion we went up there for Christmas, and the snow was so thick that we almost didn’t make it. The coastal road was still closed, but, once we got there, we hunkered down in the warmth of the little cottage, and it was magical.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? Pottering around in Robin Hood’s Bay with my wife and three-year-old son. Relaxing with a nice pint after a picnic, and then reading something by that Yorkshire treasure Alan Bennett before heading to Leeds for a night at Opera North. Their forthcoming Ring Cycle will be one of the great opera projects of 2016, anywhere.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view? The stunning walk up on to the moors from Goathland, aiming for the waterfalls of Mallyan Spout or Thomasson Foss. Take in the pub at Beck Hole and it is pretty much the perfect walk.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? I am, sadly, far too greedy to even think of sharing my lunch with a sportsman.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? Dinner is a very different matter. My own “celebrity crush” is on Dame Judi Dench, but I fear that, in her presence, I would probably be reduced to a gibbering wreck, so may I be allowed to bend the rules a little, and also ask if Michael Palin could come along as well, so that Dame Judi would have someone sensible to talk to?

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? Shamelessly, I am going to nominate Leeds Lieder. Hopefully we aren’t seen as that much hidden, but it certainly it is a gem, which brings the finest international singer and pianists to Yorkshire, as well as spearheading an education project. This year alone, 500 schoolchildren across Leeds will be introduced to classical song through our workshops and it is a project very close to my heart.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? Culinary ingenuity. Any place that decides to roast some batter and serve it with lashing of lush gravy gets my vote. Once you’ve finished your Yorkshire Pud, it’s best to leave a little room with some Parkin, with a little Wensleydale cheese.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what? I am as useless at following sport as I am at playing it. Enough said.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? It’s not so much a restaurant or a pub as a great café. Tribeca City Café is just over the road from our Leeds Lieder offices in the Town Hall. This little gem offers locally-sourced, well-cooked lunches, salads, fish, sausage rolls, cakes and good coffee. It’s hidden away, but trust me, it is well-worth finding.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Every time I visit Salts Mill in Saltaire, I really enjoy eating in one of their cafes or restaurants. The whole place has a great energy to it, and I never ever tire of seeing the David Hockney opera set designs that they have on display.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? I would love more people to just dip their toes into the wonderful world of classical music. I hate the way that some people use the lazy and destructive word ‘elitist’ to hang around its neck. Classical music is only elitist in the sense that it is one of the most remarkable achievements of civilisation, but it belongs to all of us.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? Coming to my role as director of Leeds Lieder via my day job as a pianist, I have been overwhelmed by the philanthropic support that we receive from both individuals and trusts, without which we would cease to exist. Two very special people I’d love to mention are Liz and Terry Bramall, who give so very generously to so many Yorkshire-based cultural activities.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? I have always loved the work of Henry Moore, and I pass one of his monumental brass sculptures every time I walk from the station to our offices. In contrast there are his simple but characterful sketches of Yorkshire sheep. My grandfather died recently, and I was left a very modest sum of money. Rather than let this be swallowed up by general bills and mortgage repayments, I managed to buy an original Henry Moore lithograph, which I now treasure deeply.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? It has to be the magnificent York Minster, doesn’t it? And in particular the great East Window, which surely has to be one of the finest pieces of religious art in the whole world. I think that if an alien came down to earth and stood in front of that window, while listening to the Minster Choir singing, it’d think that mankind was really quite remarkable.

On February 18, Joseph will accompany soprano Lucy Crowe in a survey of English song at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. 0844 848 2727, howardassemblyroom.co.uk. The next Leeds Lieder Festival runs from April 1 to 3 in various venues across the city. leedslieder.org.uk

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