Leeds Lieder starts 2023 with a recital celebrating English and American art song performed by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and accompanied by Festival Director Joseph Middleton

As part of the 2023 Contemporary Music Festival at the University of Leeds, Leeds Lieder will present a recital of art song of the 20th and 21st centuries by British and American composers.  This recital, one of four spring concerts, will take place at the Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall on Friday 10 February, performed by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and acclaimed pianist and Festival Director Joseph Middleton.

Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer Award 2021, and fondly referred to as the “Scouse Diva”, Jennifer Johnston returns to Leeds Lieder for the first time since 2016, when she was also accompanied by Joseph Middleton.

A prolific concert performer, she has performed with many of the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors, and regularly appears at the BBC Proms and opera houses throughout the world, including La Scala Milan and Munich, where a recent recording of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt with Jonas Kaufmann won her Gramophone Award’s ‘Recording of the Year 2022’.  Jennifer is known for having “one of the most generous and beautiful voices in the business”. 

Joseph specialises in the art of song accompaniment and chamber music and was the first accompanist to win the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award.  Described in ‘Opera’ magazine as “the rightful heir to legendary accompanist Gerald Moore” and as “one of the brightest stars in the world of song and Lieder” by BBC Music Magazine, he is Musician in Residence at Pembroke College, Cambridge and a Fellow of his alma mater, the Royal Academy of Music, where he is also a Professor.

The recital programme draws a thread through English and American song, opening with the unaccompanied song My Love is Mine by Jonathan Dove.  Jennifer is then joined by Joseph for a selection of songs by Benjamin Britten, including his Canticle 1.  These are followed by two of Ophelia’s songs from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that have attracted many composers, including Brahms and Strauss, but set here to music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad.  The first half ends with another song inspired by Shakespeare – the dramatic scena Lady Macbeth by Austrian-born British composer Joseph Horovitz who died in February 2022. 

The second half of the recital starts with a homage to the America composer Ned Rorem, who also died in 2022.  Known for his art songs, which number over 500, Jennifer and Joseph will perform five of his songs, including the popular Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.  This is followed by six songs by Samuel Barber, one of America’s most celebrated composers of the 20th century.  The programme concludes with British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s song cycle One Life Stand which was premièred by Jennifer and Joseph in 2011.  Using texts by Sophie Hannah, it is a response to Schumann’s 1840 cycle Frauenliebe und Leben, and is one of the few contemporary cycles that has bedded itself into the song canon.

Jennifer Johnston says of the cycle: “It’s 12 years since I sat having lunch with Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Sophie Hannah in Cambridge, discussing what we thought a song cycle about the life of a woman in the 21st century should look like, and a decade since Joseph Middleton and I premiered One Life Stand at Opera North.  Much has changed in the world since then, but the universal themes of love and loss remain consistent, and it’s a great pleasure for us to perform it again at Leeds Lieder.”

This recital is in partnership with the University of Leeds International Concert Series and is the first of four spring concerts to be presented by Leeds Lieder.  The 2023 Leeds Lieder Festival will take place from Friday 9 to Saturday 17 June – details to be announced on Monday 13 February.


Friday 10 February 2023 at 7.30pm
Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Programme: Frances-Hoad, Dove, Britten, Horovitz, Rorem, Barber
Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, The School of Music, University of Leeds LS2 9JT
Tickets: £15 (standard), Free (students)
Book tickets here
Presented in partnership with the University of Leeds  

Wednesday 15 February 2023 at 7.15pm
Miah Persson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Programme: Grieg, Nystroem, Sibelius, Strauss
Howard Assembly Room, 46 New Briggate, Leeds LS1 6NU
Presented in partnership with Opera North  

Saturday 4 March 2023 at 7.30pm – A Marvellous Party
Mary Bevan (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Programme:  Coward, Weill, Messager, Rorem, Satie, Poulenc, Gershwin, Britten, Walton
The Venue, Leeds Conservatoire, 3 Quarry Hill, Leeds LS2 7PD

Thursday 20 April 2023 at 7.30pm – The Fair Maid o the Mill (Die schöne Müllerin)
Roderick Williams (baritone), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Programme: Schubert
The Venue, Leeds Conservatoire, 3 Quarry Hill, Leeds LS2 7PD
Presented in partnership with Opera North