N&N Festival Diary: Friday, May 16

Ian Collins Many rail that Norwich still lacks a purpose-built concert hall, when a German city of our stature would have its own opera house and resident company.

Ian Collins

Many rail that Norwich still lacks a purpose-built concert hall, when a German city of our stature would have its own opera house and resident company. But let's celebrate our architectural and aesthetic and acoustic legacy as one of the great medieval cities of Europe, despite the bombs and bulldozers.

Some of the most memorable festival events for me have been staged in ancient - ongoing, adapted or redundant - churches, of which we have more than any other English city save for London.

Last night I was again captivated by the sheer magic of St Peter Mancroft Church, this evening the focus is once more on that part of the 14th century Friary Church of the Blackfriars known as St Andrew's Hall and tomorrow brings a return to one of the greatest of England's 42 cathedrals.

You can't beat - or instantly recreate - that special atmosphere which has been laid down over many centuries.

So let's use and improve what we have - and with the £10m appeal to aid the cathedral, and a sound-proofing programme for St Andrew's Hall urgent for both visitors and residents alike, we are properly upgrading a precious legacy.

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Our festival began in 1772 with annual Handel oratorios in the cathedral to benefit the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, before a triennial gala launched in St Andrew's Hall in 1824. The rickety relic was fitted with gas lighting and a new organ for the occasion.

As the first rains of May fell on us yesterday, I was reminded of how earlier downpours had put a damper on festive spirits.

For the first nine triennial festivals, cellist Robert Lindly played his own concerto. But, as early as 1830, providence tried to halt the proceedings with what we might call a precipitative act. The gushing performer was soaked when the roof above him sprang a sudden leak.

Did he take the hint? Not a bit. A stoical spectator was summoned to hold an umbrella over his head so the show could go on (and on and on).

t Tonight's Philharmonia Orchestra concert - co-sponsored by the EDP's parent company, Archant, is our latest date with a pioneering band noted for amazing innovation and stamina since its founding in 1945.

Now the world's most recorded orchestra, with more than 1,000 albums to its credit, the Philharmonia still finds time for 100 public performances a year.

The terrific triple bill this evening - Fauré's Pelléas and Mélisande, Prokofiev's fifth and the sublime Chopin Piano concerto No 2 - has made for another St Andrew's Hall sellout.

Picking up the conductor's baton previously wielded by the likes of Klemperer, Karajan and Toscanini will be the dashing 29-year-old Russian, Tugan Sokhiev. He is already a firm company favourite.

And the pianist will be the splendidly-named multi-Grammy-Award-winning Emanuel Ax. This Ukraine-born son of very musical Holocaust survivors has been based in his adopted America since the age of 12, in 1961.

Remember: sellout events in our festival always have return tickets available at the door.

t For sheer exuberance of spirit, as well as virtuosity of musicianship, it's hard to beat the combined appeal of Prague-based violinists Veronika Jaruskova, Marie Fuxova, viola player Pavel Nikl and cellist Peter Jarusek. They've made the Pavel Haas Quartet one of the most exciting string quartets in the world today. In Norwich tonight, the holders of the Newcomer of the Year title in BBC Music Magazine, will continue to revel in the glories of the Czech repertoire with a programme of works by Janacek and Dvorak. It's a wonderfully intimate and appropriate way of celebrating Leos Janacek - this festival's featured composer on the 80th anniversary of his death.

t Our first memorial tribute to Janacek came in 1930, when Sir Henry Wood conducted the British premiere of Glagolitic Mass (aired again on the first weekend of this year's festival). That morning concert at St Andrew's Hall still rates as the most impressive musical marathon in our history.

The Janacek opener gave way to Bruch's Violin Concerto and the first performance of Vaughan Williams's Job (A Masque for Dancing). Then, after the interval, came Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade, Beethoven's Emperor and finally Honegger's Pacific 231. Those were the days when Norfolk audiences needed three years between festivals to recover.

t No, you're not seeing (or hearing) double. A Norfolk-born baritone by the name of Collett who is making big waves via operas and recitals is, of course only half of the local success story.

For twin brothers Gerard and Ronan Collett are reaping similar accolades from here to Australia.

Close to home, at the Assembly House this lunchtime, Gerard Collett will sing a French and German programme of works by Wolf, Loewe, Chausson and Fauré.

Pianist, in the last of this year's Royal Academy of Music series of recitals, will be James Baillieu.

t If asked to name the most festive and cultural city in Europe, most people would surely plump for Barcelona - a brilliant creative centre which got even better after hosting the Olympic Games.

Our festival director, Jonathan Holloway, is a big fan and a regular visitor - and some of the fruits of his journeys now ripen in Norwich each May. Take the tasteful theatrical feast now being offered by Teatro de los Sentidos in three final sell-out servings at the aptly-named Indulge, in Queen Street. Or last Sunday's performance by Circo de la Sombra.

Possibly the highlight of this cultural collaboration comes with tonight's sellout Barcelona Sunset spectacular at Norwich Playhouse - comprising film, live music, DJs and Erre Que Erre (one of Spain's most exciting contemporary dance companies). Choreography and dancer Sonia Gomez will give a performance calling in everyone from Tina Turner to her mum.

A joint festival commission with the National Theatre of Catalunya (Catalonia to you and me), Barcelona Sunset is then set to tour Europe - further raising the profile of Norwich on the continent's cultural map.

t Don't forget the Festival Club inside the brilliantly revamped Cinema City and its semi-covered courtyard. Tonight and tomorrow the party runs, and the bar stays open, until 2am. Free film shows will complete the fun. Entry is free on the door but subject to capacity. Best to guarantee entry by bagging a free “after hours” pass when you book or collect a ticket.

WHAT'S ON TODAY

1pm Royal Academy of Music: Gerard Collett and James Baillieu, Assembly House

7.30pm Philharmonia Orchestra, St Andrew's Hall. SOLD OUT

7.30pm Pavel Haas Quartet, John Innes Centre

8pm Barcelona Sunset, Norwich Playhouse. SOLD OUT

8pm NoFit State Circus, Earlham Park

8.30pm Teatro de los Sentidos, Indulge, (Queen Street). SOLD OUT

t For a brochure with full listings of all events this year, phone 01603 877750 (or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk). To book tickets call 01603 766400.

HOT TICKET

Today's two-for-one hot ticket offer is for the recital by Norfolk-born bass singer Gerard Collett and pianist James Baillieu, in the festival's Royal Academy of Music Series, at Norwich Assembly House from 1pm.

To bag this bargain call the box office - 01603 766400 - by noon.