Classical Pride Returns For Five Days of Events

Oliver Zeffman, Founder and Artistic Director of Classical Pride. Pic: Sebastian Nevols

Following the huge success of its inaugural year, Classical Pride has grown in size to a five-day festival of major events taking place from 3-7 July, supported by Viiv Healthcare and Gay Times.

Kicking off with a world-first, Classical Drag on Wednesday 3 July that will take over Outernet in the heart of Soho and showcase some of the biggest names in drag and classical music. This curated “drag battle” will star UK talents such as Barbs, Snow White Trash, Vinegar Strokes, Freddie Love and Beau Jangles with celebrity judges and special performances from Ru Paul’s Drag Race alumni Monét X Change and Thorgy Thor. Classical Pride’s season also includes a choral concert featuring the world premiere of a new work by Isobel Waller-Bridge, a showcase of the top LGBTQ+ musicians from the London music colleges, a performance of Julian Eastman’s Gay Guerilla, and finally on Sunday 7 July the London Symphony Orchestra with Oliver Zeffman, Nick Grimshaw and a lineup of star soloists will present a diverse programme of LGBTQ+ composers at the Barbican including a world premiere of brand new work by Jake Heggie with a text by Taylor Mac.

Conductor Oliver Zeffman, Founder and Artistic Director of Classical Pride, announced that this year the programme has grown from one event to five, all showcasing the breadth, diversity and depth of talent of LGBTQ+ composers and artists, past, present and future.

Oliver Zeffman said: ‘At the inaugural Classical Pride concert last year, I was incredibly moved by the warm reception from the industry and audience alike. Now we‘re back with an expanded edition, celebrating the significant contribution the LGBTQ+ community makes – and has always made – to classical music. This year we’re showcasing both world-famous and emerging LGBTQ+ musicians, commissioning a diverse group of composers and broadening the range of styles and ensembles on offer. I’m particularly excited to be conducting the LSO, as well as making my first appearance in a drag show!’

Deborah Waterhouse, CEO ViiV Healthcare, President GSK Global Health and Chair of GSK’s LGBTQ+ Council said: ‘Last year’s Classical Pride concert was a fantastic recognition of the important contribution the LGBTQ+ community has made to the classical music genre. We’re proud to once again partner with Oliver Zeffman on this year’s expanded programme which will celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in all its glory and importantly, raise money for the partner charities. It’s so important that companies like ViiV and GSK continue to support events like this to champion diversity, equity and inclusion.’

The 5-day festival opens with the brand new concept – Classical Drag – live in the 2,000-capacity venue HERE at Outernet on 3 July. Together with a live orchestra of LGBTQ+ musicians and allies, conducted by Oliver Zeffman, competitors include Barbs (piano), Drag Race UK’s Vinegar Strokes (vocals), Snow White Trash (saxophone), drag king Beau Jangles and transgender opera performer extraordinaire Freddie Love. Judges and guests include soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, international drag artist Thorgy Thor, star operatic tenor Nicky Spence, London gay scene legend Jonny Woo and very special guest Monét X Change (Live Performance with Orchestra).

Expect lip-sync battles featuring big opera numbers from operas including La bohème and Tosca, a Philip Glass tribute, as well as an exciting interval act featuring rising stars of the capital’s raucous queer performance scene.

My Beloved Man (Milton Court Concert Hall, Friday 5 July), features London’s LGBTQ+ The Fourth Choir, conducted by Nicholas Chalmers in an exploration of the thirty-nine-year relationship between Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. The programme includes the world premiere of a new commission by Isobel Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Emma, Munich: The Edge of War), with text to be written by a refugee relocated by one of Classical Pride’s charity partners, Rainbow Railroad. Founded in 2013, The Fourth Choir have curated the programme which also includes texts read by radio legend Petroc Trelawney, and features music by Britten’s contemporaries.

A Proud Future (St Giles, Cripplegate, Saturday 6 July) features star performers and composers from the LGBTQ+ student bodies of the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in a series of concerts of LGBTQ+ music that has personal meaning for them. Taking place in the medieval parish church that sits at the heart of the Barbican Centre, the full programme, including some specially commissioned works, will be announced soon.

Before the finale on 7 July, audiences will have the chance to enjoy  Julius Eastman’s Gay Guerilla, a free performance in the Barbican’s foyer performed by the Julius Eastman Ensemble assembled by Stephen Upshaw in an arrangement by US composer Jessie Montgomery. The last in Eastman’s deliberately provocative ‘N***** Series’ of pieces from the late 1970s, Gay Guerrilla is an improvisatory, minimalist take on Martin Luther’s 16th-century hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, recast as a manifesto about being a gay, black man. As Eastman wrote, ‘What I am trying to achieve is to be what I am to the fullest – Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, and a homosexual to the fullest. It is important that I learn how to be, by that I mean accept everything about me.’

The culmination of 2024’s festival sees the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Oliver Zeffman performing works from LGBTQ+ composers past and present. They are joined by presenter Nick Grimshaw and star soloists Pavel Kolesnikov, Pumeza Matshikiza, and Russell Thomas, alongside an LGBTQ+ Community Choir.