THE 2019 York Early Music Festival opens on Friday with the theme of Innovation, The Shock of the New.

The “new”, in this case, being new 500 years ago, as the festival draws inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci in a nine-day celebration of the composers, performers, instrument-makers and thinkers who, over the centuries, have moved music forward by daring to be different.

“The festival is delighted to welcome a host of the best specialist and innovative performers and musicians of our day, musicians who themselves can be sure to have something new to say about music familiar and unknown, proving that in early music, as in all art, nothing stands still,” says administrative director Delma Tomlin.

“In celebrating Leonardo da Vinci, surely one of the greatest innovators ever, we are highlighting his time of political change, technical change, when the changes to instruments and the ability to make them more ‘user friendly’ was so important.

“Now the fortepiano was available to play, where before it was only the harpsichord, and just because it was ‘new technology’ more than 400 years ago doesn’t mean it isn’t worth celebrating.”

Typical of the 2019 festival’s focus will be Ensemble Lucidarium’s concert, Leonardo: Music and Maths, at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on Sunday at 7pm.

“Leonardo da Vinci and his contemporaries considered music to be a mirror in which mathematical concepts could be applied and proven; polyphony in particular was a field for experimentation where research brought tangible results,” says Delma.

Da Vinci is credited with envisaging what became the helicopter, and likewise he came up with designs for musical instruments. “They remain a combination of studied scientific improvements and impossible dreams – they can’t be made or played – but they still exercise a fascination over us today, even if they occupied only a fraction of his sketchbooks,” says Delma.

Da Vinci knew how to sing and play an instrument. "We know he was musical, and though there is no music by da Vinci to celebrate, we can celebrate the music he would have heard being played,” says Delma.

"His professional life would have brought him into close contact with some of the greatest composers of his day, and as part of the cultural set he would have heard the best of the new music.You can't help but imagine he would have found that extraordinary."

This year's festival reflects how innovation has always made an impact in music. "We're celebrating music that pushed back boundaries, just as we do now," says Delma. "Early Music is definitely not something that just sits in aspic."

A case in point is the involvement of Key Stage 2 pupils, aged eight to ten, from Heworth School, who have been creating a response to Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo with the NCEM's education consultant, Cathryn Dew, and Indian Moon Theatre puppeteer Anna Ingleby, who runs the Beverley Puppet Festival. The resulting hour-long performance, Into The Underworld, opens the festival on Friday at the NCEM at 1.30pm.

Monteverdi masters I Fagiolini return to the festival under Robert Hollingworth's musical directorship to present a creative staging of this 400 year-old opera, combining singing, acting and puppetry, at the sold-out Lyons on Friday at 7.30pm. The work merges the new world of baroque vocal expression with the older Renaissance traditions of court entertainment and madrigal, a mixture of the novel and the unfamiliar.

Festival favourites the Rose Consort of Viols play the NCEM on Saturday at1pm; Alamire perform Thomas Tallis's Songs Of The Reformation at St Michael le Belfrey Church, Saturday, 7.30pm; fortepiano player Andreas Staier focuses on A New Touch at the NCEM, July 8, 8.45pm; The Sixteen's 40th anniversary is marked with their Choral Pilgrimage 2019, combining a cappella music past and present, York Minster, July 9, 7.30pm, and Florilegium highlight Bach's Brandenberg Concertos 6 To 1, Lyons Concert Hall, July 10, 6.30pm

Appearing at the festival for the first time will be Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, who sang at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, performing Private Passions, accompanied by harpsichordist Steven Devine at St Lawrence Church, Hull Road, on July 11, 7pm. Fellow debutants Vox Luminis, a Belgian vocal ensemble, present Bach Family Legacy at the candle-lit Chapter House, York Minster, July 12, 8pm.

BBC Radio 3’s The Early Music Show, presented by Hannah French and featuring festival guests Concerto di Margherita and singer Peter Harvey, will be broadcast live from the festival on Sunday at 2pm at the NCEM. Concerto di Margherita's concert, Blind Man's Buff, precedes the show at 10.30am at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate.

The full programme and ticket details can be found at Box office: 01904 658338.

Charles Hutchinson