The final post of our 10th Anniversary season - also the first completely at SJE. The final day was excellent. Although Stephen Johnson sadly couldn't be with us, Kaupo Kikkas stepped in to expand his talk on trees and how he photographs them. This was a fascinating insight into so many beautiful and evocative images. The Elgar Piano Quintet which followed this has a link to trees in terms of a strange legend that apparently inspired the composer; inspired he certainly was in this true "one-off" piece - there is nothing else like it in the repertoire. Jack Cuzick gave a fascinating insight into the latest understanding of how to reduce the risk of contracting cancer. The take-home message is that if you are between the ages of 50 and 70, take aspirin once a day for ten years! The finale was a highpoint, as always. The Bach Goldberg variations are one of the greatest works in the classical oeuvre; to hear them in this masterly arrangement, led by the nephew of the arranger, Sasha Sitkovetsky, was both moving and insightful. The arrangement brings out aspects of the music that are in the original but perhaps not so obvious. This was a deeply illuminating experience. After the interval we had a palate cleanser with some light and frothy Saint-Saens followed by coming full circle to the piece with which we ended the first Festival - the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet. This incredible, coruscating performance brought the audience to its feet and ended the 10th Oxford May Music is real style!
So ends another Festival. We hope thanks to strong support from our Friends, both current and new, to be able to run the Festival again in 2018. From the point of view of the organisers, SJE is so much easier and the facilities so much better than at the Holywell - but we would be very interested in feedback from the audience and Friends! Please keep the input coming. We hope to see you again from 2 - 7 May, 2018.
The weekend at the Festival is always hectic and this one was no exception. Saturday was Cox day, when Brian made his regular visit. We managed to get almost 600 people into SJE for two separate performances of "The Seasons". Brian linked the seasons to the Earth's orbit and pointed out that the unusual size of the Moon allowed the large inclination of the Earth's axis to be stable, which could be a highly unusual situation in the Universe. This could be a reason while aliens have not - yet - come calling. Many other fascinating insights into the universe completed an inspirational talk. Afterwards our Musical Director was soloist in performances of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" which were met with great ovations from the audience. On Sunday we had two concerts and a lecture. Proceedings began with a very well attended concert at 2.30pm with two great masterpieces - Ravel's Piano Trio and the Mozart G Minor Piano Quintet. Trio Dali and SImon Oswell played out of their skins. Sarah Cleaveland from Glasgow University, just back from Thailand made a brief stop-over at the Festival before going on to Africa. Her research on the interdependence of human and animal health - "One Health" - was an inspirational story on how to save thousands of lives by attacking diseases such as rabies at their sources in the animal population. The audience was so enthusiastic that after the lecture Sarah answered questions almost until the start of the evening concert. I Fagiolini were spectacular in an eclectic programme anchored in Italian Baroque composers, particularly Monteverdi but then moving to England, from Byrd to Flanders and Swann, stopping off with the extraordinary sounds of Cathy Berberian's "Stripsody" on the way. Truly a weekend to remember.
Day 3 of the Festival saw the Oxford weather continuing its dismal run - cool if not even cold, gloomy and rain showers. In SJE however the temperature was almost tropical. The lecture today was given by Katherine Butler, one of the world's leading hand therapists who is investigating task-specific dystonia, a horrifying frequent condition affecting musicians, particularly soloists. Although much remains to be learned, much has already been discovered about methods of treating the problem and of helping musicians to be able to perform again.
The evening concert was our Schubert song gala. We were sorry that ill heath and an offer that could not be refused meant that Clara Mouriz and Mary Bevan were unable to appear. Their replacements however, Caitlin Hulcup and Gemma Sommerfield were excellent and an extremely rewarding evening was had by all.
The second day of the Festival got off to a fascinating start when Prof. Bill David gave us a novel insight into the future of energy storage. Having convinced us unambiguously of the evidence for man-made climate change, he addressed the technologies that can store the energy to smooth out the inevitable peaks and troughs from energy production from renewables such as solar, wind etc. The answer is ammonia - already industrially produced for fertilisers, enough could be produced to store much more energy that batteries ever could. We can even run our cars from it - in Belgium during the Second World War, the bus system ran on ammonia. It stinks a bit when you fill up, but it could be the wave of the future!
Our second concert was fantastic (sorry). "Fantasy!" explored the rich world of musical fantasies of various forms, quartets, trios and for solo piano. Illuminating the whole programme was the exceptional artistry of Nicholas Daniel, whose oboe was a joy to hear. We began with the early Britten "Fantasy" quartet for oboe and strings. Both Katya Apekisheva and Danny Driver had their solo piano slots in which to shine with Schumann and Chopin and they also accompanied Jack Liebeck, Thomas Carroll, Simon Oswell and Richard Lester in the wonderful Bridge Piano Trio and the bucolic early Carl Nielsen Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano. Works from some neglected composers as well as very popular ones made the evening's programme a real treasure-trove of great pieces.
The first Brian Cox/Seasons performance on tomorrow afternoon is now sold out - returns only. There are still a few tickets left for the evening performance but hurry as they are going fast. The photowalk tomorrow morning is now also fully subscribed.
The Festival got underway yesterday with a look back to its origins – the inspiration of Albert Einstein. Brian and Jack reprised their “Einstein’s Universe” lecture, given at the first OMM Festival and since given all round the world to audiences totalling more than 20000. Around 200 people attended the lecture, making it a record for a lecture not given by Brian Cox. After a lively set of questions, preparations began for the concert while the audience repaired to the bar area for refreshments. The concert was also inspired by music with an Einstein connection. He played the Brahms G major when a boy, the Martinu “Madrigal Stanzas” was dedicated to him and he gave the first performance, he was President of the Ernest Bloch Society. The final piece that Einstein was recorded as playing in was the Mozart G minor String Quintet. The whole day gave a clear picture of the fascination that classical music and the violin exerted over Einstein’s whole life and scientific career. It was a great way to kick off our tenth anniversary season – looking backwards to our origins but forward to the rest of the Festival yet to come.
We are now at SJE, setting everything up and getting ready for the first event - Jack & Brian will be performing their "Einstein's Universe" lecture, followed by a concert of music related to Einstein. There are still tickets available at the door, so make your way along the Iffley Road!