The outstanding acoustics of its 740-seater auditorium are one of the main draws of Saffron Hall. The Saffron Walden concert hall opened to critical acclaim in 2013 and is now the destination for a number of the UK’s leading orchestras and ensembles. 

Saffron Hall
© Saffron Hall

The hall has built up a strong relationship with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been one of its Resident Orchestras since 2019. The autumn sees the LPO pay two visits. Principal Conductor Edward Gardner brings a programme of 20th-century English music, one of his specialities. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of England’s finest composers. His Serenade to Music draws on a text from Act 5 of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and was originally composed for 16 soloists. Here, Gardner conducts the choral version with an ensemble comprising the London Philharmonic Choir, the London Adventist Chorale and soloists from the Royal College of Music, which should make for a rich sound. It is followed by Michael Tippett’s secular oratorio A Child of Our Time, probably the composer’s most-performed work, especially his arrangements of African-American spirituals that lay at its heart. Gardner has a strong Tippett track record, having opened his first LPO season with a concert performance of The Midsummer Marriage, so expect an experienced hand on the tiller. 

Karina Canellakis
© Mathias Botor

Karina Canellakis is one of the most exciting arrivals on the conductor’s podium in many years and was appointed the LPO’s Principal Guest Conductor in 2020 after making an immediate impression in her debut performance. She pairs two repertoire favourites: Jean Sibelius’ fire-and-ice Violin Concerto, with young Swedish soloist Johan Dalene; and Ludwig van Beethoven’s revolutionary Eroica Symphony whose abrupt opening chords signalled something quite different from any symphony that had come before. 

Travelling from a little further afield, The Hallé – based in Manchester – brings a knockout Saturday afternoon programme. Pavel Kolesnikov tackles one of the toughest piano concertos in the repertoire, Rachmaninov’s Third, before Principal Conductor Sir Mark Elder navigates us down the River Vltava from its source all the way to Prague in the much-loved second symphonic poem of Smetana’s Má vlast. Sir Mark’s illustrious predecessor Sir John Barbirolli was a great Sibelius interpreter and the Hallé completes its concert with the Finn’s buoyant Third Symphony. 

Sir Mark Elder
© Groves Artists

English Touring Opera is often at its best in Baroque repertoire and it has produced some very fine Handel productions down the decades. A masterpiece of political intrigue – but also very funny in places – Agrippina is much in vogue at the moment. James Conway’s 2013 production, designed by Samal Blak and sung in English, is revived in the autumn with the period instrument Old Street Band. Many people will have seen Irish National Opera’s dramatic staging of Vivaldi’s Bajazet this season. Handel’s Tamerlano is essentially the same plot – the Emperor of the Tartars holds the Sultan of the Turks captive – and contains some wonderful music. Conway presents a new production as part of the company’s Handelfest, which should be one of the highlights of the season.

Isata Kanneh-Mason opens the season with her first Saffron Hall solo recital, where children are a running theme. She opens with Mozart’s Variations in C major on “Ah vous dirai-je, maman” – otherwise known to you and me as the nursery rhyme Twinkle, twinkle little star – but also includes Debussy’s Children’s Corner, dedicated to his daughter (known as “Chou-Chou”), and Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood). 

From France, the Quatuor Agate brings an unusual pairing of Baroque and Romantic composers, Luigi Boccherini and Johannes Brahms, for their Sunday matinee in October. The repertoire is strictly Classical in the Dunedin Consort’s visit south from Scotland. Joseph Haydn’s Symphony no. 80 in D minor – the same dark key as the overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni – is an intense, dramatic work. It is followed by Mozart’s Mass in C minor that features a distinguished quartet of soloists: Anna Dennis, Lucy Crowe, Benjamin Hulett and Robert Davies. 

Dunedin Consort
© Andy Catlin

Saffron Hall is a great place to visit for a special afternoon or evening out at Christmas or New Year. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen return to the hall for that key ingredient in the choral festive calendar, Handel’s Messiah. The London-based Tenebrae and director Nigel Short bring a very special programme of Christmas music, including Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols at its core. And for something light and jazzy, join star saxophonist Jess Gillam and her ensemble for festive fun, including their Nutcracker Medley. The BBC Concert Orchestra then kick off 2023 with a programme that includes Emma Johnson playing Mozart’s evergreen Clarinet Concerto. 

Click here to see all upcoming events at Saffron Hall.

This article was sponsored by Saffron Hall Trust.