YCMF began in 2013 when former York Minster chorister and now professional cellist Tim Lowe had an idea to add to the cultural vitality of the city a long-weekend feast of chamber music. His wish was to give back to his home city a festival focussing on the core chamber music repertoire bringing his mainly London-based friends and professional colleagues to York. The idea was that everyone, players and audiences, should have a happy, inspiring few days to refresh the soul in a way that perhaps only deep listening to chamber music can, with its intimate but compelling music.
Since its initial concerts in (it has to be said) a rather draughty and cold Guildhall in February 2013 and also supported by the use of the music department at Bootham School, the festival now takes place in mid-September and uses other York venues – the National Centre for Early Music (St Margaret’s church), the lovely intimate space of the Unitarian Chapel and the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall at the university.
The concerts have brought to the city some of the best musicians in the country and has focused on the beloved chamber music repertoire: Haydn and Mozart quartets and quintets, the chamber music of Mendelsohn and in recent seasons the magical musical imagination of Robert Schumann. Also highlighted have been English pastoral chamber music; of Frank Bridge, Herbert Howell’s string quartet, Elgar’s beautifully evocative, piano quintet. For the fifth anniversary a particularly memorable concert was given by the world famous cellist – and patron of YCMF – Steven Isserlis who came with violinist Anthony Marwood and pianist Ian Brown. Regular players have been Martyn Jackson (violin), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) and Tim Lowe himself (cello). Tim masterminds the artistic programme but is at pain to emphasise that this is not ‘his’ festival but is for the music lovers of York to enjoy world class chamber music.
During the lockdown in 2020 with the support of the National Centre for Early Music YCMF live streamed three concerts to great acclaim; “…we were stamping our feet at the end”, “Wow, wow, wow and you can quote me on that.” (Kate Billimore) At least 1,500 people watched some or all of the concerts and we celebrated the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth as we said we would. (These concerts are still available to view on the YCMF website.)
An editorial in The Guardian newspaper wrote about the necessity to support the many chamber music festivals, large and small, around the country. “The music making that goes on in them is fierce and profound, and the audiences who come, so politely and undemonstratively, leave with powerful feelings stirring their souls.” (The Guardian, Saturday 5th June 2021). We couldn’t agree more!