YORK Early Music Festival is taking the theme of Musical Marriages as the inspiration for the 2010 programme.

Running from next Friday until July 17, the 30 or so events that make up the festival are designed to celebrate marriage in all senses of the word, from grand ceremonial occasions to intimate pieces written for composers’ spouses – as well as reflecting the “marriages” of different musical styles and genres from the Renaissance to the High Baroque.

“After the theme of death last year, we’ve moved on to musical marriages,” says Delma Tomlin, the festival’s administrative director.

“We even have some romances in there, though it’s mainly about marriage as a union of ideas or a union of states, as often composers travelled from court to court, and when royalty married they would bring a musical tradition from a different country with them, along with their musicians.”

Among this year’s guest artists are lutenist Hopkinson Smith; The Sixteen choir directed by Harry Christophers; Fretwork; I Fagiolini; Musica Fiata and La Capella Ducale directed by Roland Wilson; and Ensemble Lucidarium, all presenting concerts associated with marriage from one perspective or another.

“It would not of course be possible to celebrate an early music festival this year without acknowledging Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers publication, a 400-year-old masterpiece which we have chosen to celebrate in particular detail across three concerts,” says Delma.

“Meanwhile, to mark the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth we present both Frauenliebe Und Leben and Myrthen with soprano Barbara Schlick and tenor James Gilchrist, accompanied by Peter Seymour.”

One of the most significant concerts will be Ensemble Lucidarium’s Kehi Kinnor: Celebrating A Jewish Wedding In The Renaissance, at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on July 12 at 7.30pm.

“People are so interested in the complicated history of the Jewish community in York, which is why we’re also moving Sarah Rees Jones’s talk on York and its Jewish Community in the 12th and 13th Centuries on July 15 from Bedern Hall to the National Centre for Early Music.”

Hopkinson Smith’s Milano:Milan concert on July 15 at 1pm at the NCEM will combine works by the Italian Franceso de Milano and the Spaniard Luys Milan.

“We’ve been looking at bringing Hopkinson here for 15 years, and we’re delighted to have secured him for an exclusive British concert. Thought he’s an American he’s based at the Basle Conservatoire and in Who’s Who terms, he’s it, when it comes to lute players,” says Delma.

She draws attention to another lunchtime concert, Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord programme of works by Froberger, Louis Couperin and Bach, on July 16 at 1pm at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate.

“He’s the first keyboard specialist that the BBC has taken up for its New Generation Artists scheme on Radio 3,” says Delma.

The festival’s closing event, Theatre Of The Ayre, on July 17 at 7.30pm at St Michael le Belfrey Church, will be recorded for Radio 3’s opera series.

Despite the financial straitened times, ticket sales have been holding up well, so much so that eight events have sold out already and others, such as The Sixteen on July 16 at 7.30pm in York Minster, are “teetering on the brink”

• For tickets and full details of the festival programme, visit ncem.co.uk/yemf

Box office: 01904 658338.