To celebrate the launch of British Art Show 8 in Southampton, són select a top-10 of all that’s great & good about the city’s vibrant arts & culture scene

Southampton is a busy, thriving modern city. It’s overflowing with opportunity when it comes to culture of all forms: music – classical, contemporary, jazz, folk, world, and all kinds of pop – plus plenty of art, dance, theatre and spoken word. With the launch of British Art Show 8 in the city this weekend – one of the most significant events in the conceptual art world – alongside a myriad of fringe events, as well as our very own 8 Seasons concert on October 22nd, we figured we’d celebrate all that’s culturally great in this most artistically diverse of cities.

The city’s culture quarter is growing at lightning speed artistically, spearheaded by Studio 144 – the new arts centre currently being completed at Guildhall Square – and aided by a Cultural Trust offering much-needed unity amongst the city’s artistic community. Of course, són is quickly flourishing and already striking a chord with both the concert-going public and the musical children of Southampton through our performances and inspiring education and outreach projects.

Ok, to business! There are so many great and good, weird and wonderful cultural activities going on in and around Southampton that we couldn’t include them all. We’ve narrowed the list down to our top-ten events, venues and places we think you should visit and explore… If you think we’ve missed a treat, add it to the comments below – we could include it in round 2…!

1. British Art Show 8

Between October 8th and January 15th Southampton hosts the final leg of British Art Show 8, one of the most exciting touring exhibitions of modern & conceptual art in the world. Two key art centres, the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton City Art Gallery plus the Bargate Monument all have portions of the exhibition on display. And, if that’s not enough, the University of Southampton is holding an additional off-site exhibition as well. The focus of this year’s show is ‘The changing role and status of the physical object in an increasingly digital age’ and includes artists such as Rachel Maclean and Åbäke. The show is at the forefront of contemporary art exhibition and demonstrates some of Britain’s best modern artists. Its very presence in Southampton vouches for the city’s increasing profile, impact and influence on the cultural scene of the UK.

Nuffield Theatre, Southampton (image credit: Hugh Groves)

2. The Nuffield Theatre

A key player in the cultural scene of Southampton – not only currently, but investing heavily in the city’s artistic future, too. One of the three Arts Trust venues, along with Turner Sims and the John Hansard Gallery on the University of Southampton campus, the Nuffield Theatre boasts the likes of Celia Imrie and Tom Hiddleston as its Associate Actors and has become a pioneer in the theatre industry. Awarded Regional Theatre of the Year last year in the Stage Awards, it hosts a number of shows and talks, including the Complete Deaths of Shakespeare (a parody of all his greatest plays), Fantastic Mr Fox and even talks from Griff Rhys Jones and cricket star Graeme Swann.

són on the Turner Sims stage  (image credit: Chris Christodoulou)

3. Turner Sims

Just a short walk away from the Nuffield, Turner Sims is undeniably one of the leading concert halls in the south of the UK, offering a rich and eclectic mix of classical (solo instrumental, vocal and orchestral), jazz, folk and world music. Even the Steinway grand piano is regarded as one of the greatest in the country, attracting keyboard luminaries from John Lill to Mitsuko Uchida and jazz legends Julian Joseph and Gwilym Simcock.

són have been have performed all their concerts so far on this most wonderful of stages, and are humbled to be in such esteemed company. A fabulous acoustic in a warm and intimate setting, coupled with a fascinating season of programming, means there’s something to cater for all tastes.

4. Art House Cafe

Heading back to centre of town, this cafe in the cultural quarter of Southampton is largely volunteer run and features not only an entirely organic menu, with vegan options, but also hosts art exhibitions and live acts, both theatrical and musical. Its friendly and colourful atmosphere makes the Art House a treat to visit, with the added bonus of a vintage clothes rail and hand-made decor. Plus the coffee’s great!

Studio 144 - the new arts centre in Southampton - image són & Robin Browning

Studio 144, Southampton  (image credit: Robin Browning)

5. Studio 144

A pivotal part of the new Guildhall Square area, and just a few doors down from the Art House Cafe, Studio 144 is the newest and one of the most exciting developments in Southampton’s cultural scene. Although still currently under construction, it will be run in conjunction with the Nuffield Theatre and will act as a second site for further productions. It’s actually a building in two halves: the north building will house a 447 seat main house theatre, complete with flexible modular seating offering various options, a 135 seat studio, screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop space and a cafe bar and bistro; its neighbour in the south building becomes the new home of the John Hansard Gallery next year, along with film and video co-operative City Eye. It will be ready to open in 2017, but if you are interested in seeing its development the Nuffield website has full details.

6. Southampton University Performing Arts

For those on a budget, Southampton University puts on performances to cater for every taste. For example, Easter boasts a huge dance festival called Pure Dance involving dance societies from bhangra to ballet. At the other end of the scale, Showstoppers, the musical theatre group, and the Light Opera Society hold shows throughout the year, including The Mikado next February. If you are after a more formal concert then the University also has many music groups including a Jazz Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonietta, Chamber Choir and Brass Band.

7. Bookshop Alehouse

Hidden away on Portswood Road, The Bookshop Alehouse is a perfect little micropub for a pint with a difference. If you fancy sitting for hours with a classic novel or even some science fiction, this bookshop allows you to do just that, all while enjoying a locally brewed craft beer or real ale in the process. This has proven to be a great place to enjoy a quiet night with friends and shows off yet another cultural quirk to our city.

8. The Mayflower Theatre

The Mayflower Theatre sits on the opposite side of the city to the Nuffield and generally holds the larger, touring shows. It’s an incredibly successful theatre offering a wide variety of shows, attracting large audiences to theatre, ballet, opera and musical performances. From the classical music world, Welsh National Opera and English National Ballet are regular visitors. Past shows have included Cats and An Inspector Calls, but if you are looking for a classic in the near future then the Mayflower is hosting the touring production of Stephen King’s novel Shawshank Redemption. 2017 brings the thirtieth anniversary of the Mayflower Theatre, meaning they will be holding a very special performance of Billy Elliot this coming February.

9. Live Music Pubs

There is a vast array of live music being played in Southampton and one of the biggest outlets for it are the many live music pubs scattered across the city. To name a few The Stage Door, The Talking Heads and The Alexandra Beer Emporium all showcase both individuals and groups in pop, jazz, funk and rock nights. This offers some of Southampton’s up-and-coming musicians a chance to play to a live audience. Depending on your tastes you can listen to a dynamic brass section or a calming acoustic session. These pubs, and many more, advertise on social media and post around the city so you are bound to stumble onto something!

són 8 Seasons Southampton Turn Sims © Balazs Borocz : Pilvax Studio copy

Violinist Daniel Rowland, soloist in 8 Seasons  (image credit: Balazs Barocz)

10. són

As Southampton’s professional orchestra, són offers great music, played at the highest level, to those throughout the city and beyond. Launching in 2015 with our Unwrapped series, we bring music to the audience in many very accessible ways, enabling listeners to not only enjoy the music but helping them to understand it too! However, it’s not just the adults who experience són: our family concert in June, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, combined a full orchestra with a live artist and presenter on stage, offering children three amazing ways to appreciate the beauty of brilliant music – through art, storytelling and through the music itself. A genuinely life-changing mix!

Our new season launches later this month – on October 22nd, charismatic virtuoso Daniel Rowland and our orchestra perform 8 seasons by Vivaldi and Piazzolla, an exciting and exotic exploration of the seasons on both sides of the globe.

Join us and experience són‘s part in the dramatic cultural dawn of Southampton!

Sophie Hart
són Creative Intern

October 2016

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