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The EFG London Jazz Festival returns like never before with a whisper that Shabaka Hutchings will make a surprise guest appearance / jazzwise

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In recent years, the EFG London Jazz Festival has become one of the largest such events in the world, with dozens of gigs in everything from the city's biggest concert halls to small clubs. But in 2020, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have meant that festival director Pelin Opcin sees this year's event very differently. "The web is the core of our provision," she says. "It is the main platform for everything, and as such that's very exciting. The crisis has prompted us to develop the digital model far faster and in more depth than we would have done otherwise."

Indeed, with a second lockdown now in place in England, the entire programme is now set to be streamed across the week of the festival. Some shows will be broadcast live, others will be pre-recorded and streamed later. These two types of gig form the backbone of the festival, around which there are numerous further streamed events that viewers will subscribe to.

"It's made us look at the whole concept of digital commissioning," says Opcin (pictured right). "Coronavirus has accustomed audiences around the country to seeing artists staying in their own location and making music online. Of course nothing replaces actually being in the room as live music is being created, but audiences are finding new ways to experience it and to interact with artists. Our festival has always had an international dimension, and so we are still bringing artists from across the world to our festival. 

"This year we'll be celebrating with a mix of old and new music" Opcin reflects, and there's more than a whisper that there'll be a surprise guest appearance from Shabaka Hutchings." As mentioned in the September Jazzwise, this month's cover star Shabaka is himself the focus on Wednesday 18 November, where he'll be appearing with the Britten Sinfonia and blurring the lines between jazz and classical music. As well as featuring in Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto, originally commissioned by Benny Goodman, Shabaka will be taking Stravinsky's ‘Thee Pieces for Solo Clarinet' and then moving on into a solo clarinet improvisation of his own. "He's just a super-creative person," says Opcin. "This concert was originally planned for a Shabaka Marathon event in May, which obviously didn't happen, but we've been delighted to work with him and with the Barbican to make sure it is part of the festival, and it's not only already sold out, but will be live-streamed as well."

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