A Good News Update – Does Music Work For You?

Music Works is a major campaign in Leeds to raise funds to transform Opera North’s current premises, improve the reception area for Leeds Grand Theatre and incorporate and transform currently vacant shop spaces to create comprehensive facilities for artists, budding artists, the general public and the staff.

The year-long works will begin as the Howard Assembly Room closes at the end of its 10th anniversary performances in March – and on 29 January, Opera North made a further announcement – see below!

There is to be a dedicated public entrance for Opera North, instead of shared access with the Grand Theatre, and the refurbishment will include improvements to Leeds Grand Theatre’s reception.   There’ll be stairs and a lift and a rather impressive atrium.  The facilities will be considerably enhanced by the addition of a restaurant and bar, with all day opening until late night, so that coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks will be available to members of the general public who aren’t necessarily there for a performance.

Artist’s impression of the restaurant on New Briggate.

Artists will enjoy a new green room, bearing in mind that the aim is to have twice as many performances post-renovation.  The Howard Assembly Room will continue to play host to a variety of events, such as jazz, folk and classical, as well as junior opera, film, talks and installations.

Families, schools, young people and early years will all have the advantage of an education studio, with flexible and  interlinked teaching and studio spaces as well as breakout areas.  There’ll even be a ‘secret garden’ and everyone will share the same entrance.

Significantly, there will be a music rehearsal studio for Opera North’s orchestra as well as its chorus – and three music practice rooms, alongside a refurbished costume workshop and dye room.

All of these plans are based on ensuring that the facilities are environmentally sustainable, including photovoltaic panels.  Digital technology will improve the everyday work of staff as well as performances.  It seems Opera North has it covered for many years to come.  They just need some more funding!

The target for the Music Works fundraising campaign is £18 million. £15 million of this will cover the structure and infrastructure, and £3 million is for education and development.  

Dr Keith Howard OBE, has made a philanthropic gift of £11.25 million.

Leeds City Council has contributed £750,000, together with the lease of the vacant shops on New Briggate. 

Private donors have also made valuable contributions to the fund.

Dr Howard is a longstanding supporter of Opera North.  His support previously included the first transformation of the Howard Assembly Room in 2005 – 2008, as well as improvements to Leeds Grand Theatre and the creation of the Emerald Grand Hall.   Opera North tells us:  ‘He was founding Chairman of the Opera North Future Fund and supports numerous other charities, organisations and causes. Dr Howard’s generosity and passionate belief in the importance of opera and music has been central in allowing the Company to deliver this transformational project.’

Left to right: Opera North General Director Richard Mantle with Dr Keith Howard, OBE. Photograph by Tom Arber.

 Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North said:

“We believe that music works. To inspire us, music works. To connect us, music works. To move us, music works. For our City, for everyone, music works.  

Music Works is about creating a building to make and experience music, but it’s also about creating thrilling, powerful performances and the opportunities for participation that will bring the new spaces to life for many years to come. The project will deliver a building, together with an associated programme of performance and educational activity, of significant value to our city and region.

We are extraordinarily grateful for the generosity and commitment of everyone who has supported Music Works to date, and in particular for the longstanding support of Dr Keith Howard OBE, whose transformative gift has enabled this project to come so far, bringing these ambitious plans within touching distance. We believe this represents one of the single largest philanthropic gifts ever made by one individual to an arts organisation in the UK and certainly outside of London, and we are indebted to Dr Howard for this extraordinary vote of confidence in the future growth of the Company. We still have a significant target of £5.3 million to raise, but we are confident we can be successful with the backing of our many supporters and stakeholders, ensuring we turn this plan into reality and make music work for everyone in Leeds.”

Dr Keith Howard OBE, President of Opera North and founder of Emerald Publishing, said:

“My long-held passion for music has been nurtured by Opera North over many years and it is my belief that this project will enable the Company to pursue its ambition to bring music to everyone. These new world-class facilities will create the perfect environment for artists, participants and audiences to come together and experience the joy that music and music-making can bring.

I sincerely hope that others will join me in supporting Music Works, which will create a place benefitting the people of Leeds and beyond, well into the future.”

Opera North permanently employs over 250 people.  As well as musicians, there are highly skilled costume-makers, stage managers, electricians, stage technicians, props-makers, sound and lighting technicians, educators and designers. The company works with around 370 freelance performers, creatives and artists each year, premiering its award-winning productions in Leeds before touring around the country.   


Capital Campaign Co-ordinator is Lizzie Watson:   lizzie.watson@operanorth.co.uk

Enjoy Design Ltd are the project’s architects, lead consultants and principal engineers.

Feature image shows the new atrium and access to Howard Assembly Room.  All images provided by Opera North.

29 January 2019 – An announcement from Opera North:

‘Opera North today announces additional support for Music Works, its upcoming project to redevelop its buildings, with a £1 million gift from The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation. A major supporter of the arts, especially within the Yorkshire region, The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation also supports urban regeneration and education programmes.   

Further support for Music Works has also been confirmed, with a significant contribution from Mrs Maureen Pettman and major gifts from a number of private individuals and existing Opera North audiences.  In addition, gifts have been pledged by The Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities, and Backstage Trust, which supports projects in the performing arts.’

Original article published on 9 January 2019.

Helen’s interests are wide-ranging, from food to music to art and comedy.   She is especially keen on writing about local charitable activity and events as well as the opportunities the City Region has to offer to those with hidden talents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *