Thursday, 9 October 2008

Oxford Lieder Festival starts Oct 10

This year's Oxford Lieder Festival starts October 10th, kicking off with a "Schubert Weekend" , three days of the big cycles – Florian Boesch in Winterreise, James Gilchrist in Die Schöne Müllerin, and Joshua Ellicott in Schwanen
. Then there's the "lost" cycle, Kosegarten. This is a compilation of existing songs which Prof. Morten Solvik believes may have been presented as a group in Schubert’s time. It’s rarely heard in this form and while it won’t challenge the existing canon, it should be interesting. It’s Schubert, after all!

Two of the greatest names in English singing will be featured. Ian Partridge will be giving his farewell recital. Solid technique and good husbandry have kept him singing to the age of 70. Sir Thomas Allen is a Patron of Oxford Lieder so he's singing a recital on Friday 17th, accompanied by Roger Vignoles. Seats are selling fast as Allen is so much loved. This concert is being held in the church of St Mary The Virgin where John later Cardinal Newman preached: it's the University Church in which the formal religious part of University life takes place – just across from the Sheldonian and the Old Bodleian.

Another reason for going to hear ThomasAllen is to follow him up with the extra late night concert at the Holywell Music Room. It's Gweneth-Ann Jeffers singing Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi , a stunning tour de force which is also rarely heard as it’s such a demanding piece to perform. There’s also Zigeunerlieder, an evening of gypsy-inspired songs by Brahms, Liszt, Janacek and Schumann performed by the Prince Consort, one of the more exciting vocal ensembles to emerge in the last few years, who specialise in relatively neglected repertoire. Along with some rarely heard songs by Liszt and Brahms they are doing Janàček's Diary of One Who Disappeared. The buzz is that this will be one of the highlights, so keep Oct 16th free if you can. The evening before is devoted to Czech song (Martinu, Dvorak, Smetana).

It's Michael Berkeley's 60th birthday this year and Julius Drake suggested he write a voice/piano arrangement of his Speaking Silence. So Drake will be playing this, with Susan Bickley singing – she's a specialist in new repertoire, and very good. More local colour comes later with another David Owen Norris special, "An Oxford Song Book": various 18th century songs by composers who worked in the university. There will also be an "Oxford Musical Walk" earlier in the day. This isn't any average guided tour but is designed around Oxford’s musical history. This is very rich indeed, as the Holywell Music Society was one of the first to encourage serious listening and music making in this country in the 18th century. The Holywell Music Room, built in 1740, hosted performances by Mozart and Hadyn, no less.
The final evening concert is more like conventional "gala" insofar as a festival as original and lively as Oxford Lieder does "conventional". and this year, the stars like Sir Thomas Allen are choosing young singers for "Fifteen minutes of fame" singing pre-concert extras before the main events. It is extremely important that young singers are given such exposure, because song as an artform needs live performances, rather than over-dependence on recordings. Sarah Walker will be conducting master classes. Again this is a typical Oxford droll understatement, for Walker is an amazing personality, who communicates her love and enthusiasm for voice so well that these master classes are worth attending even if you don't sing. They have become almost legendary. Richard Stokes, Eugene Asti and Julius Drake are also leading classes, so these are seriously useful, for anyone wanting to polish their Lieder skills. Participants get to put on a full concert of their own, too. Oxford Lieder is special, an important feature of musical life in Britain..Please read more from the festival web site and try to support it

The photo is Sholto Kynoch who organises Oxford Lieder and plays in many programmes. This is a guy who could curate a week at Kings Place worth making the trek for !

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