Opera + Classical Music Features

Overture Weekend

The South Bank is an exciting place to be throughout the year, but the weekend Friday 8 to Sunday 10 June promises to be very special indeed.

The aptly-titled Overture celebration announces the reopening of the beloved Royal Festival Hall after its expansive refurbishment.

Opening with three hours of 50s-styled ballroom dancing on the Riverside followed by six top choirs belting out a new work by Orlando Gough atop a barge sailing down the Thames, the weekend is packed with unusual and enticing acts and events.

Friday evening alone boasts the chance to hear the infectious, highly popular jazz group Led Bib and the opportunity to groove along to 50 years of popular music through headphones in a surreal, late-night Silent Disco. And if you are feeling adventurous, turn up to a Lucky Dip surprise concert in the Festival Hall Auditorium, hear some (hopefully) great music and see what the new acoustic is like.

The imaginative programming is what excites throughout the weekend. Nothing is standard or expected. The superb National Youth Choir will be there on Saturday, but singing from the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof of all places! On Sunday, the Philharmonia Orchestra will perform the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a choir of 1,300 (yes, that’s right, 1,300) voices and an exclusive new translation from Billy Bragg. And Bragg himself turns up for the last two days to busk in the streets, sign his popular book and rehearse with any fans who wish to join him.

The excellent Crouch End Festival Chorus make an appearance, the London Sinfonietta also. The Sixteen perform music by Britten and Tallis on Sunday (it looks to be the highlight of the weekend). With regard to dance, do not miss Flag: Original Dance and Music on Saturday, in which 180 leading performers perform a tightly choreographed set in the Festival Hall auditorium before breaking out through the corridors and onto the terraces and balconies (an inspiring sight, I imagine).

The London African Gospel Choir combine glorious sound with dance and costume. Or, if you are between 11 and 18, try your hand at a cappella singing in the Gospel Workshop on Sunday. Or perhaps you prefer martial arts? Then try the two workshops with top martial artist and dancer Jasmine Simhalan on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ballroom dancing? Join stars from Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps most importantly, every concert and event is free and open to all.

And the whole thing will have its own radio station, Overture Radio 87.7FM, presented and run by children from London schools. All in all, it’s a pretty sublime demonstration of how The Arts can (and should) stretch beyond the concert hall.

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