Gearing up for a festival double bill

EMMA LEE It is just a few weeks until the start of two of the region’s biggest arts events. EMMA LEE looks at the highlights of the Norfolk and Norwich and Bury St Edmunds festivals.

EMMA LEE

In a few weeks renowned performers from all over the world head to East Anglia for two of the region's most prestigious arts events.

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival runs from May 3 to May 13. And the Bury St Edmunds Festival runs from May 12 until May 28.

Attendance at last year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival doubled overall.

And it's a landmark year for its ever-popular Suffolk counterpart, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary.

The Bury St Edmunds Festival began as a Weekend of Words and Music. Now events span more than two weeks and the programme boasts dozens of concerts.

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What do the events have in store?

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival boasts two symphony orchestras, six choirs, four world premieres and an opera.

Building on last year's introduction of 'leftfield' attractions, such as the Luminarium in Chapelfield Gardens to give the festival a wider appeal, the Forum in the heart of the city is the setting for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival's launch on May 3.

Free family events include the Sienta La Cabeza wacky hairdressing show, which has proved popular at street festivals across Europe, and a carnival.

The same evening there will be a performance of Tomas Luis de Victoria's Requiem of 1605 at Norwich Cathedral. Saxophonist Soweto Kinch - described as one of Britain's most exciting young jazz musicians - is at Norwich Arts Centre and Circus Ronaldo gives its first performance of acrobatics in the big top at Chapelfield Gardens.

Throughout the festival there is the usual mix of classical and chamber, early, choral, jazz and world music at venues across the city.

Highlights include the Festival Gala Concert, at St Andrew's Hall, on Friday, May 12, which sees the Philharm-onia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Jazz band Polar Bear, who were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize last year, are at the Playhouse on May 6.

The same evening composer Joby Talbot - who wrote the soundtrack to last year's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film and the music for the television show the League of Gentleman - will premiere a choral work commissioned for the festival. The performance is at the cathedral.

The following day the Joby Talbot Band plays at the Playhouse.

There will also be performances by guitarists John Wil-liams and Juan Martin (who are also both at Bury St Edmunds) and Claire Martin, Barb Jungr and Mari Wilson bring their Girl Talk show to the Playhouse. According to the Evening Standard, “Think the Three Tenors with added sparkle”.

Angel Hill and Abbey Gardens are the setting for the launch of the Bury St Edmunds Festival on Friday, May 12.

Although it's a special year for the festival, manager Nick Wells says “lavish birthday celebrations would be a bit over the top”.

The start of festivities is heralded at Angel Hill, with the military splendour of the Beating Retreat ceremony by the band of the Grenadier Guards, this year celebrating its 350th anniversary.

Then, in Abbey Gardens, South African dance grooves will be fused with jazz at Mbawula, which will see a township choir of 300 local people perform.

The Brodsky Quartet, who are hailed as one of the most exciting quartets around at the moment, return to the festival on May 13, playing a new venue - the West Wing at Ickworth. Their programme includes Beamish's Opus California, written in response to the Beethoven quartet which opens the concert.

Organist and pianist Wayne Marshall and cellist Natalie Clein, who shot to fame as Young Musician of the Year in 1994 and last year won a classical Brit Award, perform at St Mary's Church on May 14. Their programme includes works by Saint-Sens, Proko-fiev and John Tavener.

Up and coming saxophonist Luke Annesley performs at the Corn Exchange on May 15

The Sitcom Sextet play their own jazz arrangements of well-known comedy film and television theme tunes of the 1960s and 1970s on May 19, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain appears on May 20 and on May 24 the Britten Sinfonia return to the festival.

The concert, which features the UK premiere of George Newson's concerto for two violins, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

And there will be jazz from the likes of Tina May, Andy Sheppard and Clare Teal.

Like the King's Lynn Festival and Festival Too, which is held in July, the Bury St Edmunds Festival has a 'pop' element in the shape of the Greene King Festival. On the final weekend three concerts are being held in Abbey Gardens. Friday, May 26 is a 1970s' night with tribute bands playing glam and disco hits. The following night Toyah will headline a night of 1980s' nostalgia, including tributes to Blondie, Wham! and Duran Duran.

And the festival ends in swinging style with a Salute to the Rat Pack.

For full details of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival telephone 01603 614921 or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk

For the Bury St Edmunds Festival programme telephone 01284 769505 or visit www.buryfestival.co.uk

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