written by Ben Hogwood
Sometimes judging a book by its cover can bring the best possible results. For a few years now the immaculate publicity and tempting programmes of the Oxford Lieder Festival have been beckoning me in – and 2018 was at last the year I travelled to Oxford for the day to experience a day in the company of song enthusiasts.
If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be attending a concert of classical song, let alone travelling for three hours to see a couple, I would have politely asked you to leave the room. Yet thanks to the Wigmore Hall I have gradually come to know and in some cases love the ‘Lieder’ repertoire, all the way through from Mozart to the present day.
I attended the festival on Wednesday, where the focus was on Italy, Russia and the Baltic countries, notably Estonia. As you will read in the following three reviews, to be published on Arcana later today, I could not praise the Oxford Lieder Festival highly enough for its ability to appeal to all concertgoers, regardless of what stage in their audience life they are at. A combination of slick organisation, a relaxed approach to concert going and a clear love of their cause shone through at all times. The performers clearly loved to be there too – in each of the three concerts smiles were frequent, long-lasting and genuine.
The ’fringe’ activities excelled too – the Language Labs, where people can get to know the characteristics of the language they will hear in song later in the day, are invaluable. A talk about The Grand Tour from the Ashmolean Museum’s Matthew Winterbottom was entertaining and informative, throwing the Italian vocal compositions of the time into a fresh context. The integration of restaurants and bars into a mix already containing some striking venues was a great plus too, showing the city of Oxford at its best.
The festival, then, is greater than the sum of its many parts – and there really is something for everyone in the twists and turns of its Grand Journey this year. If you are within striking distance of Oxford, I heartily recommend it.