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A booster shot of cultural optimism

The Spectator, Richard Bratby

For a booster shot of cultural optimism there’s always Sheffield, where the resident Ensemble 360 launched its first post-plague Chamber Music Festival in the bearpit-like Crucible Studio. With the audience on all sides, the musicians have no choice but to be upfront.

Kathy Gowers (violin) and Rachel Roberts (viola) made Martinu’s fiendish Three Madrigals sound like the most fun two string players could have together, before the whole ensemble coalesced around pianist Tim Horton for a performance of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet that felt like one big smile.

And packed all around, silently urging them on, was an audience whose youth and diversity outstripped the most fevered imaginings of an Arts Council equality commissar. Elgar said it first, and he wasn’t entirely joking: ‘The living centre of music in Great Britain is not London, but somewhere further north’.

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