Preview: Manchester Collective and Mahan Esfahani. Leeds Town Hall

Preview: Manchester Collective and Mahan Esfahani. Leeds Town Hall

An eagerly anticipated creative event on the ‘easing-of-lockdown’ calendar took place last night, as two of the North’s most dynamic arts organisations were back together.

Leeds Town Hall welcomed back Manchester Collective for the first ‘live, in-person’ concert of what promises to be a very special summer of diverse creative offerings emanating from LS1.

Manchester Collective’s meteoric journey is as much a sense of pride to the folk on the eastern side of the Pennines as on the west – and their latest offering cemented them further as one of Yorkshire’s favourite adoptees.

Before we talk about the performance itself, 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 concert goers, in a Covid-safe, calm and non-fussy way. Bravo!

It is true that a 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. 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 it immediately became clear last night, that anything previously understood of an instrument that musically dominated the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – had to be re-evaluated.

As guest curator of the 2019-20 chamber music series of the Leeds International Concert Season, Esfahani knows the venue – and city well and his rapport with his fellow musicians and the audience was engaging, informal and informative. His humble ‘salad-dressing’ analogy, for the role of the harpsichord in the evening’s proceedings, thankfully did not mask his sophisticated and incredibly technical mastery of a wonderful instrument.

Górecki’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings opened the programme at lightning speed, with any suggestion that a sedate evening was ahead, immediately dispelled.

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.

An Esfahani arrangement of Bach’s Three Fugues and Three Canons from The Art of Fugue, brought further contrast from an ensemble of musicians who actively seek out juxtaposition.

The final piece of the evening came from another pusher of musical boundaries: Joseph Horovitz and his Jazz Concerto. For the first time at a Manchester Collective performance that I have attended – a drum kit was on stage – and I am not sure many concert-goers have experienced jazz drums alongside harpsichord, but the energy from the two instruments, together with strings, had a number in the audience nodding their heads.

Again the Collective, in its constantly evolving state, brought something very special to West Yorkshire last night. They head back westward to prepare for their June residency at Salford’s iconic White Hotel, with Dark Days Luminous Nights – possibly their most ambitious and ground-breaking collaborative project to date.

Manchester Collective with Mahan Esfahani – 5 Stars.

Colin Petch

Image credits: César Vásquez Altamirano