Saffron Hall’s impressive line-up for 2018

It’s nearly five years since Saffron Hall opened its doors. Next year the out-of-town Cambridgeshire concert venue’s programme of events shows evidence of its strategic direction.

Saffron’s 2018 line-up is impressive. A real boon for the school the concert hall is a part of, similarly for the local community.

Some personal treats are listed below.

Nicola Benedetti becomes Saffron Hall’s first ever Artist in Residence playing in three major concerts with conductor Marin Alsop and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Academy of Ancient Music, and an unaccompanied recital.

The Sixteen and Harry Christophers with a programme of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel

Percussionist Colin Currie returns with the Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals in a programme including Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, Mallet Quartet and Drumming.

Celebrating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein, the BBC Symphony Orchestra plays Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and Symphony No. 1

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor plays a programme of Bach, Brahms, Berg and Ravel

Resident band Britten Sinfonia plays three concerts including Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, conductor Thomas Adès and contemporary works by Gerald Barry

Emerson String Quartet makes its eagerly-anticipated Saffron Hall debut in music by Haydn, Ives and Schumann

Visit the Saffron Hall website for dates and tickets. 


Saffron Hall’s new 2016/17 Season

Saffron Hall’s 2016/17 season of concerts is now on sale. The daring 740-seat concert venue built alongside Saffron Walden County High School builds on its successful three years since launch with a characteristically ambitious programme that pulls in big names at the same time as giving a platform to local performers and groups.

Forty concerts over ten months are on offer including performances from the London Philharmonic, English Touring Opera, St Petersburg Philharmonic, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, pianist Stephen Hough, and Sir Andras Schiff. Resident orchestra Britten Sinfonia play a prominent part too.

I’m particularly drawn to hearing violinst Nicola Benedetti performing Brahms’ Violin Concerto No. 1 in what is an intimate setting on 24 September, the Britten Sinfonia’s Steve Reich gig with student hero Clark Rundell on Sunday 6 November, and the Robin Hood live screening with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Saturday 25 February.

The Royal Academy, Wigmore and Saffron Hall collaboration for dementia sufferers and carers also makes for an interesting proposition. I’m really pleased to see oboist Julian West’s great work to date now gaining greater recognition. Email for further information about the taster session in August 2016 and the main project in Spring 2017.

Full details on the Saffron Hall website. If you’re a Londoner and wondering why you’d even consider a concert in rural Essex, then consider this: the last train home leave nearby Audley End at 11.10pm, the journey takes just over an hour, and a single is £16. A bargain.

Saffron Hall’s 2015/2016 Season Launch

Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden is only an hour away from London on the train. There’s a shuttle bus from Audley End station that takes you from the station to the concert hall. “So it’s sort-of Glyndebourne then,” I quip with a guest at the press launch, “only north of London.”

Although I’m trying desperately to be droll because I think I need to be, there’s really no need. There’s already an urgency about proceedings – an enthusiasm – which is difficult to ignore.

The question posed by most people I speak to as we wait for chief executive Angela Dixon (formerly Head of Music at Barbican, London) to speak is as simple as it is predictable: “Have you been to Saffron Hall?” I confess I haven’t, but that I do really want to, that I do have friends there who could probably put me up for the night if I needed to, they did owe me a favour after all, and they are lovely people.  A typical response full of unnecessary detail from a Londonite who forgets that life really does exist the other side of the M25.

Saffron has something distinctive on offer which makes it a tantalising offer. A 740 seater hall built as part of a high-performing state school, attracting world-renowned artists and performing groups, as well as offering music education and participation projects which benefit the younger generation and the local community.

Angela Dixon at the Saffron Hall 2015/2016 Press Launch in London on Monday 1 June 2015
Angela Dixon at the Saffron Hall 2015/2016 Press Launch in London on Monday 1 June 2015

It was no accident Angela Dixon moved from the Barbican to Saffron Hall. She had been a consultant on the project long before building works commenced and although she was originally concerned that the music education element may not work, she happily admits that having seen the venue up and running for a year now, that’s she’s pleasantly surprised. “It’s been a whirlwind,” she explains as the waiters hover with canapes and bottles of wine, “There’s been a wave of positivity for Saffron – a real good news project. We’re very fleet of foot. We can have an idea one week and put it into practice the next.”

When I was at University arts administration was sold as the career move for those who knew they weren’t going to be able to perform professionally. Regional venues were seen as a stepping stone. Now, twenty-five years later, there seen as a great opportunity to increase reach.
Angela offers an unashamedly front-footed response. “Positioning the concert hall next to Saffron County High School is really important, especially when music education is experiencing a difficult time. For me, I think this kind of set up might be a way of fixing the problem we’ve got with music education in this country.”

I think back to my school experience and marvel at how lucky the County High school’s pupils are having Saffron Hall on their doorstep. What impact might it have on their future lives? Do they realise what a gift they have? I hope so.

The roster of artists for Saffron’s second year is impressive and a testament to Angela Dixon’s considerable experience drawn from her time at the Barbican. She proudly tells me that the moment that Jurowski stepped backstage after the LPO’s debut at Saffron, “he said he wanted to come back.” Violinist Nicola Benedetti returns too. Also on the list is the CBSO, The Sixteen, Benjamin Grosvenor, the Oslo Philharmonic, Leonidas Kavakos, Nikolai Lugansky, Joshua Bell and the BBC Singers.

We take these names for granted. Persuading those artists to come to a regional venue rooted in an education environment, where audience arriving by train can be transported to the concert hall by bus, is some considerable achievement. I am itching to visit.

Booking for the 2015/2016 season at Saffron Hall opens on Tuesday 2 June 2015