Who we are:
Leeds Baroque - "[Their performance] was a life enhancing jewel in the sea of mediocrity which surrounds us!"
Founded in 2000, Leeds Baroque is a period instrument orchestra and choir specialising in music of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is made up of professional, student and talented amateur performers and directed by internationally regarded authority on the performance of this repertoire, Prof. Peter Holman MBE.
We were delighted when, in 2015, Sir Alan Langlands, accepted an invitation to become our Honorary Patron.
Sir Alan is Vice Chancellor of Leeds University and in addition to his many academic interests has a wide ranging interest in music and the arts. Leeds Baroque, since its inception, has had strong links with the University and the School of Music with both staff and students participating in our work. Sir Alan's continuing support is much appreciated.
Leeds Baroque has gained an enviable reputation for lively performances and academically informed programmes covering standard works from Monteverdi to Mozart as well as bold explorations of unfamiliar Baroque music
Their main base is Leeds, where they perform at The Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall at the University of Leeds School of Music, at The Venue at Leeds College of Music. Leeds Baroque also gives occasional concerts further afield in York, Hexham, Saltaire and Richmond (North Yorkshire). The Organisation receives little external funding and is largely supported by its ‘Friends’ organisation and ticket income.
Most of the performers are unpaid, playing in the belief that this specialist, but very accessible, repertoire should be more widely available and appreciated.
What we do:
Leeds Baroque performs three or four concerts per year, largely in the West Yorkshire region. They provide an opportunity for audiences to experience the very individual sounds of seventeenth and eighteenth century repertoire played on period instruments and with historically informed techniques based on recent research. This approach sheds new light on familiar repertoire and brings less familiar works to a new audience. We also provide educational opportunities for students to explore the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, with places in the orchestra and by providing a small number of period instruments on loan free of charge from the Leeds Baroque "Instrument Bank" supported by the Friends of Leeds Baroque and gifts from private donors.
Why are period instruments important to us?
The musical resources of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were very different to those of even the nineteenth century, let alone the twenty-first. Instrument construction was generally lighter; stringed instruments were strung with gut rather than the nylon and steel used on modern instruments. Woodwind instruments had fewer keys, brass instruments were generally constructed with a narrower bore and without valves, the piano had not yet been invented and “concert pitch” had yet to be established. These factors provide players with different technical challenges and the audience with a different sound world. Leeds Baroque uses such instruments for their performances.
Why do we need historical timpani?
A drum’s a drum for a’ that (with apologies to Robert Burns)
Images: The Military origins of timpani: the kettledrums | Timpanist Louise Goodwin with Baroque timpani
Timpani in the Baroque orchestra developed from the military kettle drums, much smaller and lighter than the modern instruments. As Louise Goodwin, the timpanist in our demonstration video explains, they provide a more incisive sound in keeping with the other instruments of a period orchestra. Much of the large-scale core Baroque repertoire that we perform requires period timpani – instruments that are hard to find in our region. The dynamic combination of “trumpets and drums” is used to illustrate ceremonial events, and to create tension and drama. The opening movement of Handel’s coronation anthem The King shall rejoice is a great example.
As a largely unfunded organisation with limited financial resources we can only occasionally cover the costs of hire and transport for these instruments, which limits our repertoire choices, and prevents us from performing music that we want to play and that would be enjoyed by our audience. It also limits the opportunities we can give to aspiring young timpanists to experience playing historically accurate instruments.
Who is supporting our project?
We are fortunate to have support from a wide range of luminaries with interest in this ambitious project:
Images from L-R: Honorary Patron, Sir Alan Langlands | Baroque trumpeter, Crispian Steele-Perkins | Musician, Comedian and Impressionist, Alistair McGowan (photo credit - Leeds International Piano Competition) | Director of the National Centre for Early Music, Dr Delma Tomlin MBE.
Our Honorary Patron Sir Alan Langlands: Thank you all for your contributions to this exciting project – every penny will make a huge difference to Leeds Baroque, and we hope that other groups in Yorkshire will also use the timpani from time to time, adding greatly to the range, depth and interest of their work.
One of the many things I enjoy about Leeds Baroque performances is Peter Holman’s direction of the ensemble from the harpsichord. Apparently without effort, he inspires coherence, togetherness and a great spirit in the group, blending the sound of the instruments and voices in a magical way. This is a largely voluntary ensemble with a truly professional attitude. The strength of their commitment is always evident in the warmth of their performances, which combine the enthusiasm of people giving up their own time to perform, with the detail, discipline and precision characteristic of professional music making.
Leeds Baroque performances have an intimacy of sound and ambience; they give me a sense of being transported to another age, perhaps relaxing in a seventeenth or eighteenth century salon! There is also something in the visual impact, in the sound and in the atmosphere of their performances that makes the whole experience special. This is always enhanced by the context provided in Peter's fascinating programme notes, meticulously prepared for each concert.
Leeds Baroque adds to the great diversity of the cultural offer in Leeds, and it makes a truly distinctive contribution. I know from personal experience that audiences across the age range value its performances, including many of the University's staff and students from home and abroad.
Adrian Bending - Professor of Timpani at the Royal College of Music and principal timpanist for the Orchestra of The Age of enlightenment. You can read his article on historical timpani HERE
Crispian Steele-Perkins - Baroque Trumpeter: "Henry Potters have been the foremost Drum manufacturers in London for the past 200 years. I have Potter trumpets and bugles in my private collection; they are made using traditional materials and techniques established in the 16th and 17th centuries.Their Drums are ideal for reproducing the sounds of former centuries and the opportunity to buy a pair of quality historic Timpani occurs rarely. I am happy to support your fundraising!
Best wishes, Crispian"
Alistair McGowan - Musician, Comedian and impressionist: "All the best to Leeds Baroque in their ambitious plans to acquire historically appropriate timpani".
Dr Delma Tomlin MBE - Director The National Centre for Early Music: "I’m delighted to support this ambitious project – a set of historically appropriate timpani will enable Leeds Baroque to widen its repertoire and be a resource for other period instrument groups in the region. I wish them every success and look forward to hearing their next performance – with timpani."
... and Finally
A project like this could not happen without the support of a team effort. Grateful thanks go to all those who have inspired the project, provided technical support, general encouragement throughout a year of planning and us 'banging on' about timpani. We hope their dedication to the outcome will encourage you to support us too.