Jane Anthony had a dream. In the spring of 2002 the soprano, who is a senior lecturer at Leeds College of Music, imagined walking through the beautiful old Leeds shopping arcades to witness a succession of quality song recitals playing to full audiences - in shops and cafés! She woke up knowing that she had a great brainchild. Besides imagining the concept, Jane Anthony even had a name for the event: Leeds Lieder +.
Three years later, after much work and thought, Leeds Lieder + takes place on the weekend of 30 September to 2 October. And, yes, there will be singing in a variety of smaller venues around the City of Leeds though, alas, the original idea of using shops and cafés has had to go.
After dreaming the dream, Jane Anthony began writing letters. "Many people said: 'It's a good idea, but I can't do anything, I can't give any money'. That went on for a long time," she says. "The first person who was really keen was the pianist Marion Raper, formerly a tutor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Marion put me on to Iain Burnside. Then I was put in touch with Elizabeth Arnold, a retired professional singer married to businessman Olav Arnold. They both gave a generous donation. From that moment, we started."
The pianist and presenter of BBC Radio 3's Voices programme, Iain Burnside, became the Artistic Director of Leeds Lieder +. International singers booked to appear include Elly Ameling, Barbara Bonney, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Jonathan Lemalu and Susan Bickley. With his inside knowledge and keen understanding of singers Burnside, who presents the BBC Radio 3 Voices programme, has also cleverly recruited the best of the new singers, one of whom, Andrew Kennedy, has recently won the Cardiff Singer of the World recital prize.
The scope of the festival extends from the early lieder that influenced Schubert, via the core German romantic repertoire, to expand into French mélodie, and from Scandinavian lieder to English and American song today. Art song of the Indian sub-continent is also represented.
Jane Anthony regrets that usually there aren't many high-quality song recitals in Leeds. She believes that a song recital should be in a small place. "I was going to do one in the canteen of a factory," she says. "I couldn't; there are laws about putting on anything that needs a public entertainment licence. I was going to put one on in the Darbar Indian restaurant. That would have been great. Besides the entertainment license, there was the difficulty of getting the piano up the stairs. The Disability Access laws make it hopeless. I looked at lovely places. The Rehab Nightclub and the former Assembly Rooms above the Café Rouge, fantastic - but, again, impossible."
So, the events in Leeds Lieder + will be accommodated in the Clothworkers Hall, the Holy Trinity Church and the New Yorkshire Club, the latter where Elly Ameling will talk about her career. The beautiful Radisson SAS Hotel will be used for the reception. There will be concerts at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but the main events will take in Leeds College of Music's recently opened 350-seat hall, The Venue, about which Jane Anthony is particularly enthusiastic - despite obstructed sight lines in some of the upstairs seats and what some think to be a stark interior. "The Venue has fantastic acoustics for singing in, with a lovely, friendly, feel, just right for intimate song recitals," she says.
Jane Anthony says that she organised Leeds Lieder + first for the students, second for herself, and thirdly because Anthony herself (who was born in Leeds) wanted to attract people from further afield, to visit the city for the whole weekend. "I didn't want it to seem as though we were importing the whole thing from London," she says, hence the 'Made in Yorkshire' concert. As the title suggests, the performers Joanne Dexter, Adam Green and Gary Matthewman are from Yorkshire, and two of the composers featured - Delius and Finzi - have connections with the county, Delius with Bradford and Finzi with Harrogate. Leeds University has given access to the Clothworkers Hall venue, and David Hoult, Leeds College of Music Principal, has been keen and supportive in providing box office facilities and offering the use of The Venue.
The Radisson SAS Hotel and Jury's Hotel are doing special deals. "If you have a big enough event, then you can have the add-on attractions, like commissions and the other different things that we are doing," says Anthony. "I think that lieder in particular have an elitist image. I don't understand that, because although much is very, very, deep, equally a lot of it consists of beautiful tunes and beautiful poems."
Jane Anthony's enthusiasm is palpable. "Even if we sell out, it won't have been a success to me unless the whole country knows what we're doing. We've got fantasticsingers. It really is exciting. We have a focus, it is particular, and challenging because there's so much going on."
She feels that in Britain, attending a lieder recital tends to be like going to church. "We are very keen to make it much less formal than that. We're encouraging all of the artists to introduce what they're doing, to keep it friendly."
Speaking of friends, currently it costs ten pounds to be a Friend, fifteen pounds for joint membership. "I'm not certain of the number of Friends we've got now," she says, "But it must be about 300. We did a launch concert in May, invited all of the Friends, and 180 came to The Venue. The Friends are going to be an ongoing thing. We're going to do little recitals, 'Come and Sing' events, and educational development in the years in between the Festivals. I might sing at one of those."
Ah, yes - education. Jane Anthony has long been associated with Leeds College of Music, so it comes as no surprise to discover that music education is given an important place in Leeds Lieder +. "We asked Elly Ameling to do a three-hour master class with students nominated by their conservatories, " says Jane. "She volunteered to do another in the afternoon, which won't be open to the public but will be free to students." The students represent their respective colleges because of their outstanding achievements to date, and their promise for the future.
"Each has submitted two songs, with two reserve choices, from which Miss Ameling has selected a balanced programme," explains Jane Anthony's colleague Marion Raper. "To bring maximum benefit to singers and interest to listeners."
An innovative educational aspect of the event is the Composers' and Poets' forum. Jane Anthony produces photos of the meeting of the eight poets and eightcomposers who collaborated in creating the new works, "Pairing up before they go away together to create", she says, impishly. In the photos the participants radiate enthusiasm. The poets are of varying ages, while the composers are all of student age. "There was, miraculously, an identical number of both composers and poets," say Graham Hearn, of Leeds College of Music lecturer, who is administrating the forum. The young musicians include a well-commissioned composer, Elspeth Brooke from the Royal Academy, Gemma Wild from Leeds College of Music, Jonathan Green from Birmingham Conservatoire and Othon Mataragas from Trinity College of Music. The musical input into the forum came through Leeds College of Music's membership of the Conservatoires' Composers' Forum, an organisation of composition teachers from the nine UK Conservatoires, set up about eight years ago to promote the work of their students through a range of workshops and similar projects.
Regarding the historical scope of the event, Iain Burnside and Jane Anthony decided not to go back before Haydn and Mozart, but to represent art song only from that period to the present. "We could have gone to Dowland and his contemporaries as well. Some of us were keen to do that, some weren't." When asked why not, she cites the need to keep a focus. "I hope we've achieved that," she says. "We are including modern art song, even Indian art song. We decided that in each Festival we would investigate the art song of another culture. So we're doing Indian this year. We're hoping to do Chinese, African, and so on in future years, with a tie-up to the commissioning side of it. I also said 'no show songs', but in fact Iain Burnside has discovered a Jerome Kern song which has never been performed before, as far as we know."
Unbelievably - and I swear that this is the truth - at that moment we are interrupted by the arrival of the postman. The mail includes a generous cheque towards the Festival from that well-known local opera buff who is also the Queen's cousin: the Earl of Harewood.
Indeed, one of the many impressive aspects of the event is the fund raising that has taken place. After a pause to register wide-eyed delight with the arrival of the Harewood donation, Jane Anthony says: "We've had to raise all of the money. We've got the Arts Council grant, and the RVW Trust has paid for the commission from composer Edward Rushton, which is great. The libretto is by Leeds-born poet Tony Harrison. The piece is Palladas:songs." Rushton (b. 1974), whose opera Birds, Barks, Bones. Trojan Trilogy was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2004, also has Leeds connections, being the son of Julian Rushton, West Riding Professor of Music (Emeritus), University of Leeds.
Jane Anthony produces some pages from a file, the Rushton songs. "Elizabeth Atherton's going to sing these. She's David Atherton's daughter, a fabulous soprano, who won the 2001 Maggie Teyte Prize. I asked Ian Burnside whether he was pleased with the songs." Anthony shows me an email from Burnside: 'Absolutely happy. I think [the composition] is terrific, very unusual and strong, totally serious, hard for both parties. I think it'll make a big impression.'
With those appearances by Elly Ameling, Sue Bickley, Barbara Bonney, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Jonathan Lemalu and Andrew Kennedy, Leeds Lieder + looks set to be a success.
And what of the future? "Oh, it's going to happen every two years," says Jane Anthony.
She leaves a doubt-defying silence.