Cubitt Sessions offer the best free music and performance art in London this summer. Tommy Melville profiles three acts to look out for…
Casting an eye down the list of last year’s Cubitt Sessions artists, it’s hard not to be impressed by the staggering diversity on offer. That a traditional brass ensemble successfully shared the bill with a hair-raising opera ostensibly based around the protagonist’s love of hummus (but was in fact an analogy for a massacre he’d witnessed as a child) provides a sense of the excitement and unpredictability the festival, now in its fourth year, offers.
Nestled beside Central Saint Martins, Lewis Cubitt Square hosts — and gives its name to — this annual symposium of free outdoor performance that this year runs from Wednesday 25 July to Sunday 12 August. For 2018 the festival’s curators are pushing the diversity envelope hard, but Maxine Shannon (the festival’s project manager) is adamant ‘quality and accessibility’ remain key to attracting the hundreds of people that will flock to each performance.
Casting an eye down the list of 2018’s Cubitt Sessions artists, it’s clear that quality is certainly in abundance. With the likes of Roundhouse (located close by in Camden) and forward thinking ‘new opera’ company Tête à Tête providing acts, this year looks to set a new benchmark for the Sessions. Another local institution providing artists is Kings Place Music Foundation who present four acts, chief among them being Dinosaur, a modern jazz band led by award-winning trumpeter, and former BBC New Generation Artist, Laura Jurd.
The Foundation’s managing director Robert Read — who sits on the festival’s selection panel with Shannon — is ecstatic Dinosaur is performing. He says that, “jazz is a too small a word,” for what the band does, and suggests, “they represent what’s great about the current excitement surrounding the UK jazz scene.” The band, which, “fuses their work with a load of electronics and folk elements,” had their debut album, Together, As One, nominated for the 2017 Mercury Prize and are not to be missed when they hit the circular, bandstand-esque stage on Sunday 29 July at 1pm.
Read agrees with Shannon that Cubbitt Sessions is about accessibility, but its strength is also in celebrating the, “quality and diversity of young performers,” and helping to promote their art to a “different and wider audience than they would normally get.” That’s certainly the case with Toscatastrophe!, a comedic performance produced by Tête à Tête that goes about trashing — in some style — Puccini’s masterpiece, Tosca.
“The audience at Cubitt Square loved it, so we’re coming back”
Last year the opera company massacred La Bohème and, “the audience at Cubitt Square loved it, so we’re coming back for more,” says Leo Doulton, Tête à Tête’s digital marketer. This farcical performance by some of the UK opera scene’s leading lights sees Tosca and its soaring melodies — originally written for hundreds of singers — reduced to a hugely entertaining, misfiring performance “for two singers, one actor, and whatever instruments a two-man band can find.” If you’re looking for an introduction to the fascinating world of opera, Toscatastrophe! is unparalleled. If you’re a Puccini veteran brace yourself for a fresh, imaginative look at this classic. Toscatastrophe! will be performed on Friday 10 August at 6.30pm.
A healthy chunk of Cubitt Sessions’ programming is musical, but not all, and if you’re looking for something “completely different”, as Shannon puts it, the circus artists performing The Wheel House, a love story set in a post-apocalyptic world, is a must-see. The performance plays out across “the whole of Cubitt square” and the set, a giant wooden wheel, moves across the space as the actors interact with it. The Wheel House has been a huge success since it was first performed in 2008 and has travelled extensively abroad (including Moscow, Singapore and… Skegness) to huge acclaim. It has been estimated that well over 100-thousand people have watched it, so make sure you’re one of the next 100-thousand when the show rolls into town on Sunday 12 August, 1pm and 3pm.
The three artists profiled here show the variety and quality gracing this year’s Cubitt Sessions, but they offer only a small sample of the total programme. Like orchestral music? Kings Place’s Aurora Orchestra unofficially opens Cubitt Sessions on Sunday 1 July at 5pm with excerpts from Mozart’s Symphony No.40. After something a little surreal? Music from the show Nightshade — Aubergine provides classic troubadour tales themed around the humble aubergine on Thursday 9 August at 6.30pm. With acts like this, who needs an expensive festival ticket this summer?
Discover the full programme here.
This article first appeared in the summer 2018 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine.
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