We are delighted to announce the exciting programme for the 12th Oxford May Music Festival!
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Rehearsals are well underway in London before the musicians and the staff - welcome back Seb - arrive in Oxford today and tomorrow. Brian is in Hamburg Airport waiting for his flight. All roads lead to Oxford! Happy May Day and see you tomorrow at the first day of the Festival!
The Kaupo Kikkas exhibition is hung - and magnificent it is too. Worth a visit to SJE just to see that but we have so much more! All the logistics seem to be in place (touch wood) and we are awaiting the first visitors of the year. Friends of the Festival pick up their badge lanyards, acquaintances and friendships are renewed. The first day of the Festival is always special and we have a great lecture and concert to kick off the Festival. Come along and join the fun!
An excellent first day of the Festival! Professor Tim Leighton provided a clear musical link by exploring the "plink" of liquid dripping into another liquid and went on to explore a dizzyingly broad vista, from the liquid methane seas of Titan, via the hunting habits of whales and dolphins to cleanliness in the National Health service. In the evening, a gratifyingly large audience for a damp and cold May evening gathered to hear two string quartets, bookending Arvo Paert, York Bowen and Schumann. The Beethoven "Serioso" was wonderfully captured by old friends of the Festival, the Goldner String Quartet. Shostakovich Quartet No. 9 was no less arresting. Arguably the two greatest masters of the genre played by a world-renowned quartet - certainly starting the Festival with a bang. The York Bowen was a discovery and greatly appreciated by the audience after a mesmerising account of Paert's "Spiegel in spiegel" - not as originally advertised on the viola, but played on Jack's trusty Guadagnini. The Schumann was played with great panache by Paul Dean and Benjamin Roskams. A real fizzer to start the Festival. Join us today for another musically related lecture on how the brain adapts to hearing loss by leading researcher Professor Andrew King from Oxford, followed by, the coin a phrase, something completely different. Jazz giants Phronesis will thrill us with the inimitable music making. There are tickets left, so do join us!
The photo walk with Kaupo Kikkas will begin at 10.30 on Sunday morning 5th May. Please meet at the entrance to St. Stephen’s house (the parent body of SJE) at the main entrance on Marston Street.
Friday was miserable outside but great inside the Festival. You have to love the British weather - over Easter we had June weather in April, now in May we have March weather. Nothing dampened the spirits of the Festival goers however who seemed to be glad to be inside out of the cold. We started the day's proceedings with a wonderful lecture by Professor Andrew King who told us how the brain processes sound and adapts to changes in hearing. The MRI scan of a guitarist's brain listening to a recording of guitar music was truly amazing. At the end Andrew commented on cochlear implants. Festival veterans well remember the wonderful talk on this subject by Ian Shipsey a few years ago. Ian in now Head of Physics in Oxford, the main sponsor for the Festival. There were many questions from the audience to Andrew, which went on long after the talk ended.
The Phronesis concert was outstanding, as expected from such a distinguished group. The mood changes were amazing, from the peacefully contemplative to full-on high decibel excitement. At times the intensity was almost frightening; the virtuosity was always compelling. A large and enthusiastic audience cheered them to the (rather high) SJE rafters!
The weather today seems at least sunnier, but perhaps even colder. We have three exciting events as we enter the "weekend" format. We have two great concerts - "American Connection" at 2.30 with Dvorak "American" quartet with the Goldner String quartet, Copland and more, and in the evening "Austrian Brothers" including Mozart, Webern, Mahler and Paert. The lecture is topical, to say the least. Simon Boxall is a wonderful communicator and his talk on plastics pollution in the ocean promises to yet another highlight. Join us - Tickets Oxford booking will close for the holiday weekend at noon; after that, tickets can be bought either at the door or by emailing email@example.com
Please note that Tickets Oxford is now closed until Tuesday. Tickets can still be reserved on the tickets webpage, and are also available at the door.
Another day in which people arriving in SJE were pleased to get in out of the cold - although it was quite bracing in the church for a while! Today saw our first afternoon concert, which was extremely well attended and very enjoyable. The theme was connections with America. The Goldner String Quartet gave a warm and vibrant account of Dvorak's "American" quartet. The Copland Sextet is notoriously difficult to play but very interesting to listen to - it made a great impression. Then Trish O"Brien gave a wonderfully eloquent and moving performance of John William's elegy, ably supported by Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro on piano. He also partnered our Artistic Director, Jack Liebeck, who gave a sparkling account of some sparkling music - an early work by a long-term resident of Hollywood, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Today's lecturer, SImon Boxall, talked about plastic contamination in the ocean. Although he dispelled many myths about ocean garbage patches and newspaper "horror" photographs, the real situation he related was bad enough. At least some steps are being taken but it is sobering to be told that there is no way to extract the bulk of plastic pollution from the ocean - we need to stop putting the plastic in there! There was a lively discussion after the talk.
The evening saw the farewell appearances of the Goldners at this year's festival in two contrasting works. The "Langsamer Satz" by Webern was impressively structured and beautifully played, while the concluding Mozart Clarinet Quintet, led with a brilliant performance by Paul Dean, was a fitting finale. We began with one of Mozart's more unappreciated works, the second piano quartet. The first, in G minor, always steals the limelight, but the B flat major is in no way inferior as demonstrated by this excellent performance. The Mahler piano quartet is a rarity, a youthful work in which the emotional intensity of the composer is strongly revealed. The programme was completed by the Paert "Fratres" in the string quartet arrangement, with Sasha Raikhlina separated from the rest of the group. An eerie palate cleanser after the Mahler and before the masterpiece of Mozart's clarinet quintet.
Tomorrow starts with the photowalk with Kaupo Kikkas at 10.30 at the Marston Street entrance of St Stephen's House. There is some rare and wonderful vocal music with brilliant soprano Mary Bevan. In our lecture, Robin Grimes will tell us how solid materials get their strength - with audience participation! Finally, this evening gives us more Mozart and Paert but also first outings for Brahms, with the lovely Horn Trio with Richard Watkins playing the horn, Smetana with the piano trio Op. 15 and our own Paul Dean's composition in memory of his father, "Blue Ginger". There are tickets left for all events - do come along and escape the cold outside!
The penultimate day of the Festival was full of drama - musically and scientifically! We had a wonderful morning concert featuring Mary Bevan with a variety of accompaniments - violin played by our Musical Director, organ played by the highly versatile Daniel Grimwood, and clarinet played by our resident musician/composer, Paul Dean. Very few of the audience were familiar with the music played, except for the Schubert. It made a great impression. Then we had a wonderfully involving lecture by Robin Grimes, full of wonderful demonstrations and audience participation. I wish crystals had been taught with such panache when I was an undergraduate! The evening concert was also full or revelations, of which the greatest was the Smetana Piano Trio - this is an astonishing work, played astonishingly well by Jack, Thomas and Amandine. Why this is not more widely known is a mystery to me. The only Mozart violin sonata in a minor key began the evening, which was completed by Arvo Paert's "Da Pace Dominem" and a very moving and accomplished piece by Paul Dean - "Blue Ginger", written in memory of his father. The Brahms Horn Trio completed a memorable evening.
Today we end up with two wonderful lectures and the traditional Festival Finale, which features a piece which has the most players we have ever had on the Festival stage at any one time. That, and the Schubert Octet, promise a memorable end to a memorable Festival.
The screen has been disassembled, the projector re-boxed and stowed in the bowels of the physics department - another Festival is over. It was a wonderful success, with attendances up, particularly for the lectures. Everyone enjoyed yesterday's two lectures - firstly Kaupo Kikkas explained his relationship with Arvo Paert and what a privilege it was to be able to photograph him. He also explained his love and respect for Ansel Adams - the only memento he brought back from his first trip as a boy to London was a book of Adams' photographs. Everyone walked around the exhibition to the accompaniment of Amandine Savary's haunting playing of Paert's masterworks - a really spiritual experience. Dame Ottoline Leyser enthralled us with an explanation of how plants can make decisions in response to their environment - some chemicals flow down the main stem, others flow up; the dynamics and interplay of these factors allows buds to form or remain dormant. Fascinating stuff, greatly appreciated by the audience. The Finale was enormously enjoyable; from a masterwork by Schubert to a bit of fun from Wolf-Ferrari, both players and audience had great fun. Shutting one's eyes in the Wolf-Ferrari Chamber Symphony, it was easy to imagine that we had the whole LSO on the stage!
So Oxford May Music closes its doors for another year. If we are to keep it going, we urgently need your support. If you aren't already a Friend of the Festival, please consider becoming one. Just click here - it couldn't be easier. Hope to see you next year!