Classical Preview: Many joys of spring as city's university unveils new season

Michael Collins, one of the few clarinettists to have created an international solo career, makes an all-too- rare UK recital appearance this year when he opens the Spring Season of concerts presented by York University.

Winner of the woodwind section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of 16, he was soon touring as a virtuoso concert artist, his New York debut at the Carnegie Hall coming at the age of 22.

Over the past few years he has increasingly turned towards conducting, his recent appointment as music director of the City of London Sinfonia providing him with a top-flight orchestra. His programme next Wednesday is shaped around the season's French flavour and features music by Debussy, Saint-Saens, and ending with Poulenc's spicy sonata.

Being fast-tracked towards that same musical elite is one of today's most talked about young musicians, the Iranian-born keyboardist, Mahan Esfahani. As the first harpsichordist named as a "BBC New Generation Artist", he has the key that opens musical doors, including a much acclaimed American debut. He plays just one work, Bach's monumental and taxing Goldberg Variations (Feb 9).

The Hilliard Ensemble was among the first to create the now fashionable programmes that combine both early and new music. Their evening in the York Minster Chapter House is typical of that esoteric mix, and contains sacred scores of Pisano, Petronius and Arcadelt from the 16th century, and a newly commissioned work from the York-based composer, Roger Marsh (Feb 23).

We move from that intimate world to the enormous demands of Messiaen's epic Turangalila Symphony, its orchestral requirements including an outstanding pianist and a seldom-heard instrument, the Ondes Martenot. One of its most celebrated performers, Cynthia Millar, has been invited to join with the pianist, Joseph Houston, as the soloists with a much enlarged University Orchestra (Mar 9). It is good to welcome back to the solo circuit the brilliant UK pianist, Kathryn Stott. Having spent some years savouring the delights of chamber music, including a season at The Venue, her love of everything French falls happily into the university's plans with an exacting programme of works by Faur, Ravel, Satie, Franck, and the music of Chopin composed in Paris (May 18).

Two complete days are essential dates for your diary. The first offers an exploration of songs written in the English language by composers working on both sides of the Atlantic. It features, among the soloists, Roderick Williams whose recent discs have been described as coming from "today's most outstanding British baritone". Divided into six workshops and recitals, the final concert moves to operetta, revues and cabaret music (Feb 5).

The second full day takes us on a journey around Europe during the Baroque era, calling in on Paris during the era of Couperin and Rameau; the invasion of London by musical migrants; Madrigals in Venice, and completing the tour with Johann Sebastian Bach in Leipzig (May 7).

Events are at various venues in York, full details and tickets from 01904 322439 or online at