Get set for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Angi KennedyThe banners are already flying; the tickets are selling fast. The 2009 Norfolk and Norwich Festival is just days away, and as ANGI KENNEDY discovers, it's hard to see how they've packed so much into just 16 days.Norfolk and Norwich Festival websiteNorfolk and Norwich Festival websiteAngi Kennedy

Prepare to drink in the sights and sounds of some of the best of international music and entertainment when the 2009 Norfolk and Norwich Festival begins on May 1.

There is still time to grab a ticket for some of the events, and with so many world class and interesting performances planned this year it would be criminal to let the festival pass you by without enjoying at least a taste of what's on offer.

But what to choose? If big name song divas are your thing, you can't do better than Ute Lemper, who has been hailed as one of the world's best. Indeed it's been said of her that the world of cabaret can be divided into two distinct categories: Ute Lemper and everyone else! She'll be on stage at the Norwich Theatre Royal on Saturday May 16 with her show, Angels over Berlin and the World.

If you like your music to have real soul - then Mica Paris is your girl. She's coming to the Theatre Royal on Tuesday May 12 and her show promises to be a treat for everyone who is in awe of her sensational soul vocals.

Mica has been a star for more than 20 years and has collaborated with artists such as Prince, Natalie Cole and Anita Baker, as well as finding time to be an actress and TV and radio presenter.

For a true icon of the music world, you'll be hard pressed to find a more powerful composer than Philip Glass and he is also coming to the Theatre Royal on Friday May 15 in his first solo concert in the UK in two years. Through his operas, symphonies and collaborations with artists like David Bowie, Woody Allen and Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary impact on the musical life of his times.

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But it's not just about big name, headline grabbers. The festival always provides some real surprises and this year's diary looks packed with gems that will set the event sparkling.

New for this year, Chapelfield Gardens will be transformed into the Festival Gardens, a magical space where you'll be able to discover eclectic shows, exciting events and really soak up the atmosphere.

This is the place for The Garden Party on Saturday 9 and Sunday May 10, two days of fabulous, free, family fun, including the first performances of the groundbreaking Without Walls programme, the UK's consortium for development and creation of outdoor arts.

The Spiegeltent, a new festival venue, will also be erected in the heart of the gardens. This is said to be a festival club, cabaret salon and intimate performance venue all rolled into one - there's plenty of intriguing events planned there too, with a line-up of international circus, music and more.

The festival's free outdoor programme also includes some surprises. The festival will be launched by Ulik and Le SNOB with a free, unticketed event for all the family. This unusual street band will bring quite a spectacle to the Millennium Plain, outside The Forum in Norwich next Friday at 5.30pm and 10.15pm.

As ever, classical music features heavily in the festival.

For almost 240 years, the festival has presented orchestral, chamber and choral concerts of the highest calibre, and this year the organisers feel they are keeping up that tradition while also adding something special.

In a world-class celebration of classical music, the city will host a wide range of performers and performances, from the Endellion String Quartet with poet Wendy Cope at the John Innes centre on Saturday May 9, to world-famous soprano Dawn Upshaw with the Brodsky Quartet and the Andalucian Dogs at Norwich Cathedral on Thursday May 14.

A raft of contemporary music and performance events is also crammed into the first 16 days of May, including Courtney Pine and the Jazz Warriors with their Afropeans project at the Theatre Royal on Wednesday 13 and an evening with writer Martin Amis at Norwich Playhouse on Thursday 7.

And no Norfolk and Norwich Festival would be complete without its events for children and young people. This year's Children's Festival will see young visitors enjoying the kaleidoscope of colour that is Levity III, a 10,000-square foot inflatable walk-through sculpture; laughing riotously at Ian Billings' stand-up comedy show at Norwich Playhouse on Saturday May 2, and holding their breath while Circ Panic and The Chipolatas present a double bill of death-defying circus, acrobatics and all things madcap.

Artistic director of the festival, Jonathan Holloway believes Norwich is the perfect place to host such a diverse festival. He commented: 'Our part of the East of England is beautiful, vibrant and one of the best places in England to see great work.

'We've promised to build an international arts festival to make you proud to be in the east, a festival that expresses our confidence and places us at the centre of the artistic world each May.'

t Book online at www.nnfestival.org.uk, by phone on 01603 766400 or in person at the Theatre Royal Norwich box office (9.30am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday May 4).

Norfolk and Norwich Festival websiteNorfolk and Norwich Festival website