The Manchester Collective are committed to making world-class chamber music accessible to all. Yvette Huddleston reports.
Cross-country collaborations in the arts are likely to be presented with serious challenges over the next few years thanks to Brexit, so any project that seeks to highlight the importance of international creative partnerships is worthy of support.
The Manchester Collective, a group of young classically trained musicians mostly based in Manchester and joined by guest artists from around the world, was founded 18 months ago with the remit to bring world-class chamber music to the North of England, and to develop new, younger audiences.
Describing itself as ‘a creative arts organisation built from the ground up to meet the demands of the 21st century’, the Collective play classical masterpieces from the Western canon but combine this with a rich variety of other genres including world, folk and contemporary music to delight and challenge their audiences.
Following success with shows in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Salford, the Collective are heading for Leeds with a concert on Sunday at Lambert’s Yard entitled Accordion. “Leeds is going through a cultural resurgence and with the Capital of Culture bid launched for 2023, the people of Leeds have never been more culturally aware,” says cellist Adam Szabo, the Collective’s artistic director. “Our audiences are incredibly diverse and we’re eager to replicate that here. The North has such a rich musical heritage particularly in orchestral music and pop but for whatever reason this kind of medium-sized chamber music has not been supported in the same way.”
The Collective is committed to accessibility – their ticket prices are capped at £12, students can attend for free and all their concerts are streamed online, free for audiences to access – and that extends to the kind of venues they choose to perform in. They are taking live classical music out of the concert hall and into smaller, more intimate places where people who aren’t in the habit of going to listen to classical music might feel more comfortable – or less daunted. “All of the venues are places linked to either art or live music in the North but not traditionally associated with classical music,” says Szabo. “And there is something really special about being so close to a live music concert. Audiences are sometimes sitting less that a metre away from the musicians. When you are that close it is not just something you listen to, all your senses are involved. You realise that it is this kind of visceral and hard physical thing. You can see what it takes out of the musicians, so it is a really high-octane experience.”
Their approach to drawing people in is to create a performance – featuring around four to eight musicians – that has something extra or unusual about it. “Our programmes are often built around some kind of dramatic element – there may be a singer or another instrumentalist or storytelling or performed in the round – so the performances are quite different.”
Accordion features guest musician Bartosz Glowacki from Poland, one of the leading lights of a new generation of accordionists. “The programme is one of our most diverse and varied yet,” says Szabo. “It includes Argentinian tango music, Bulgarian folk music and Italian Baroque music.”
Audiences can certainly expect the unexpected – and, says Szabo, people respond to this raw, unfiltered way of presenting the music. “If you can get people in a room with this repertoire they will have a powerful experience. There is no knowledge or musical education required. And we find that often the music really changes people.”
Their message is simple, heartfelt and more important today than ever – art is where we find, and communicate, our humanity. “There is something special about coming to hear some music or seeing a work of art that inspires you in some way,” says Szabo. “Politically it is a really complicated time and we really believe that good art and theatre and music can bring together people from all walks of life.”
The Manchester Collective, Lambert’s Yard, Leeds on May 21, at 6pm. Tickets are £12, students can attend for free. www.manchestercollective.co.uk/the-accordion
“We have a wide range of people coming to our concerts and it is important we reflect that diversity in our own line-up,” says Szabo. “So for this programme we have a Polish accordionist, I am Hungarian-Australian and we have an Indian-Welsh violinist. We see that as a strength – we bring our varied experiences to the work we do and the music we play.”
Their next programme, The Hunt, comes to Sheffield in July. It will include Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor. “It is one of the Everests of pieces written for string quartets – it incorporates the whole of the human experience,” says Szabo.