It’s that melodic time of year again, when Oxford goes into full musical throttle in celebration of classical music and poetry. For two weeks, the city falls under the spell of the Oxford Lieder Festival, which this year transports us to Tales of Beyond – Magic, Myths and Mortals in the tuneful company of some of the world’s greatest talent. Yours truly had a double festive serving last week, set in some stunning venues and in one of the world’s most beautiful cities – all of which leads me to wonder if I can change my blog name to Diary of an Oxfordess?
The Oxford Lieder is now in its 18th year, a festival which champions art song and the noteworthy marriage between words, music and performance. It was founded by Sholto Kynoch in 2001, and it’s now top dog in the city’s cultural calendar. This year’s festival transports us to the world of fairytales and fantasy, from Greek myth to the Brothers Grimm, and to the death-defying world of Nosferatus and Doppelgängers.
You’ll see a lot of Kynoch at the festival: he’s either on-stage tickling the ivories or introducing the events. Roderick Williams headlines this year with events which include a talk, a masterclass and three concerts. The Oxford Lieder lineup sees Graham Johnson, Louise Alder, Claire Booth, Dorothea Röschmann, Stéphane Degout, Malcolm Martineau, Marcus Farnsworth, Kitty Whately and James Gilchrist, as well as the bright young things of tomorrow.
In celebration of myth and magic, the festival is holding plenty of family events, talks, a spine-tingling ghost trail and a walk around a cemetery. And as you would expect, Lieder favourites Schubert, Schumann, Liszt and Debussy are on the musical menu, with Mr Sondheim getting a nod this year.
My week kicked off with an enchanting evening of Magical Mysteries in the Holywell Music Room, with German soprano Katharina Ruckgaber, baritone Ashley Riches and Sholto Kynoch on piano. They were in the ghostly company of Beethoven, Mozart, Loewe, Schumann and Schubert. We were treated to three versions of the manic Flea song (Beethoven’s ‘Es war einmal ein König,’ Busoni’s ‘There once was a King,’ and Mussorgsky’s ‘The Song of the Flea)’) all sung with demonic flair by Riches – and we were left feeling a tad itchy.
Sunday evening was A Night at the Museum, with the Ashmolean hosting. First up, a Baroque half hour in the glorious Mallett Gallery with some ethereal Purcell, including ‘Bess of Bedlam,’ the famous ‘Music for a while,’ and the lesser-known ‘O lead me to some peaceful gloom.’ Purcell expert and Yorkshire-born Rowan Pierce sang with Nathaniel Mander accompanying on a rare 1771 harpsichord. It was a pleasure listening to these two in such an intimate setting. Mander charmed us with his Purcell stories and Pierce delivered some beautiful notes with her crystalline voice. Unsurprisingly, she is a Rising Star of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment whilst he is in demand on the international stage (although this attractive duo could also just as easily co-star in Oxford’s Next Top Model).
Michael Scott, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Warwick University was next. We were treated to a talk on all things mythos. Scott gave us the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, a bit of Stephen Fry, a dollop of Boris and discussed the role of video games and myth in the new world. I left wanting to sign up to one of his classes.
The evening came to a close with the stellar Graham Johnson on the keys and with German baritone Benjamin Appl (another contender for Oxford’s Next Top Model, incidentally). Schubert’s songs were performed in a soirée setting against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Randolph Sculpture Gallery. We were treated to some English songs from Butterworth, Berkeley and Britten before the recital ended with the mighty ‘Prometheus’ by Schubert.
I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed a sleepover wasn’t on the cards, but all is forgiven for what was one of the most delightful evenings I’ve had in a long time. I’ll be waxing lyrical about the Oxford Lieder Festival until I return next year – you never know I might be blogging my way around Oxford by then!
Dates for your diary:
The Oxford Lieder is on until the 26 October 2019. £5 tickets and under 35s are available for all festival events.
The festival runs further events throughout the year.
- Oxford Lieder Festival 2020: 9 to 24 October
- Spring Song: 28 March to 4 April 2020
- Mahler at Wigmore Hall: 18 July 2020
- Check the website for various Oxford Lieder dates at the exquisite Fairlight Hall in East Sussex and Song at Wolfson in Oxford.
Oxford Lieder: where to eat
It’s slap-bang in the middle of Oxford Lieder land, and you can’t really go wrong with this place. It’s a bustling, friendly brasserie overlooking St Mary’s Church with excellent British and European fare.
Old Parsonage Hotel
Sister property to Quod, this 17th century parsonage is located in the heart of the historic city, close to the Ashmolean. It offers Afternoon Tea in the walled courtyard and a European all-day menu in the Parsonage Grill.
Originally a greengrocer and florist built in 1898, the restaurant offers Mediterranean dining set in a Grade II-listed Victorian glasshouse.
The Trout Inn
17th century pub in the thatched village of Wolvercote, approximately 15 minutes’ drive from central Oxford. The Trout features in ‘The Inspector Morse’ series as well as Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ The pub has a pretty a terrace overlooking the Thames.
In addition, the festival has partnered with four restaurants.
If you’re looking for accommodation, the Oxford Lieder has special rates with some local hotels.