Norfolk and Norwich Festival

The festival runs from Friday May 4 to Saturday May 19 and it looks set to be another bumper year of the best symphony orchestras, choirs, jazz acts, crooners and swooners!It kicks off with a spectacular free celebration for all the family outside The Forum in Norwich city centre and ends with a chance for the people of Norfolk to kick their heels at a swinging party in the company of the BBC Jazz Awards' Best Band 2006.

The festival runs from Friday May 4 to Saturday May 19 and it looks set to be another bumper year of the best symphony orchestras, choirs, jazz acts, crooners and swooners!

It kicks off with a spectacular free celebration for all the family outside The Forum in Norwich city centre and ends with a chance for the people of Norfolk to kick their heels at a swinging party in the company of the BBC Jazz Awards' Best Band 2006.

This year also sees the launch of a major programme of performances, workshops and activities for children.

Jonathan Holloway, festival director, said: “World-class music continues to be at the heart of this year's festival, but another one of our aims is to bring unusual and unexpected shows to the area.

“There's so much to experience over the 16 days, but then festivals are the best excuse for artistic excess I know, the best excuse to spend far more time and energy than you actually have on things that excite, interest and inspire you. A festival should exhaust you, if you're doing it right.”

Classical highlights include concerts by Viktoria Mullova and Sir Charles Mackerras with the Philharmonia, the Festival Chorus (Verdi's Requiem, conducted by the new festival chorus director, David Parry), the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and a fully-staged production of Purcell's enchanting opera The Fairy Queen in the most unusual of settings - Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.

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There's also electrifying jazz from Julian Joseph and Mark Latimer, high-octane tomfoolery from Circus Ronaldo and an “open-therapy” session in which Bobby Baker will teach new skills to a frozen pea with a personality disorder!

Another highlight is brilliant young cellist Natalie Clein who gives the only recital of the festival at the John Innes Centre, Colney Lane, Norwich, on Thursday May 10 (7.30pm), accompanied by Katya Apekisheva on piano.

Her programme comprises Bach's Suite no. 1 in G major, a piece that will showcase her technical ability, plus Schubert's Arpeggione sonata and Rachmaninov's G minor cello sonata. Ms Clein's exceptional talent earned her the BBC Young Musician of the Year award in 1994 and the Classical Brit Award for Young British Performer of 2005.

t Tickets £18, £14, under-26s £5.

Children are more than well catered for in this year's festival.

Among the many events is a free, carnival-style family day, the delightful Oogly Boogly (a show for babies between 12 and 18 months), a mysterious labyrinth called The Upside Down World where children have to use shrewdness and imagination, not to mention their senses of smell, taste and touch to find their way through, and a concert in which poet Ian McMillan will narrate Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale in his trademark Barnsley accent.

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