Gabriella Swallow

An ambitious and lavish 18-day online festival of music, food, art, history, politics, dance and theatre has been announced by Oxford Festival of the Arts, kicking off on June 18.

As the festival’s digital media partner, can exclusively reveal the extensive #OFAvirtual online programme which boasts an extraordinarily ambitious line-up of events based around this year’s theme The Field Of Cloth Of Gold.

Suzannah Lipscomb has been announced as a speaker

“We could not have our The Field Of Cloth Of Gold lavish celebration on our own glorious grounds this year, but we shall still be feasting with wonderful things for 18 days, just as would have happened at Calais in 1520,” Festival director Dr Michelle Castelletti said.

So what are the highlights? “We will be featuring discussions and excerpts from Sir James MacMillan’s newly commissioned work for 40-voices by ORA SINGERS, as well as some beautiful Thomas Tallis and other choral works, led by Suzi Digby,” Michelle says proudly.

ORA Singers Photo credit- Nick Rutter

“I could not be prouder of our speaker series, with names such as Suzannah Lipscomb and Janina Ramirez – two hugely respected scholars as well as authors, historians and presenters.”

Politics – possibly important now more than ever – will be represented by a discussion between Oxford East MP and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds in conversation with BBC Political Correspondent Rob Watson.

Anneliese Dodds

Michelle added that she is overjoyed to have started a partnership with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and there will also be workshops for children.

Jazz will spice up the evenings, from quite minimalist, slick jazz with Zoe Gilby and Andy Champion a double bass and voice duo, to a throw-back trip to Harlem and the roaring 1920s with The Easy Rollers the festival’s twist on Golden Age jazz. 

Zoe Gilby

Calligraphy and the exquisite art of illumination will take the shape of clips and top tips from professional scribe and illuminator and Chair of the Heritage Crafts Association Patricia Lovett.  

Patrica Lovett

“Many might remember her involvement in the recent phenomenal Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library, or, her reproduction of a “Book of Hours” originally owned by the Cromwell family for the Hilary Mantel/BBC Wolf Hall,” Michelle adds.

Michelle, a famous musician, singer and composer in her own right, will be opening the festival with her “wonderful friend and compatriot with the molten gold voice, Joseph Calleja!”

Joseph Calleja

Every day, Tudor scholar and specialist Glenn Richardson will set the scene for the equivalent day in 1520 in a Field Of Cloth Of Gold trail to remember when King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France met in an ostentatious display of power, wealth and status.

Michelle will be sharing little #TudorTasters gems every day, and, yes, there will be an own e-trial where you get to be the jury: was Anne Boleyn really guilty or not? You will decide.  

Of course, Henry VIII had to be featured as well! ” I am absolutely thrilled by our collaboration with TORCH, Brasenose and Creation Theatre for our digital production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.  

“We shall also be going to our own city’s Modern Art Oxford with Emma Ridgway We will sadly not have our “take a selfie with Henry” booth, but Hal and I will be there to guide everyone along the way… and we are very much looking forward to it!” 

Further musical highlights include the cellist Gabriella Swallow performing “a kind of Bach amuse bouche”, with new music interspersed between the movements of Bach’s ever popular first Cello Suite; and Alleyne Dance performing excerpts from their incredibly powerful works, including what we call the “Chair solo” from A Night’s Game.”

Alleyne dance

Throw in a Tudor cooking session with former Masterchef contestant Alexis Thompson (OFA’s marketing and sponsorship manager), Paul Max Edlin’s ‘Dance of the Fantastic Dragon’, little pockets of activity for children and an appropriate nod to Beethoven’s 250 anniversary, and there really is something for everyone.

“To say I am thrilled is an understatement,” Michelle acknowledges. “This is where the beautiful thing called camaraderie comes into its own. The enthusiasm and willingness to work together and try out new things has just been fantastic. I believe in relationships, partnership and creating marvellous things together; and I implicitly trust what has been my loyal friend, ally, refuge and companion, throughout my life – the Arts.   

“I cannot thank my friends and colleagues enough. We have had endless hours of sparkling conversation to find ways to be with our brilliant audiences, in this “new reality” we are living in.  

“There is a great sadness and uncertainty in the world right now. I hope #OFAvirtual will bring everyone joy, excitement, fascination, insight, “welling up” and fun. It was certainly an extraordinary ride to create this!”

The digital version of the festival has been work in progress since the beginning of lockdown. The hard working festival team have tried to capture all art forms usually represented within the Oxford Festival of the Arts – music, dance, drama, art and diverse speaker events ranging, politics, goddesses, as well as workshops – for younger participants, youths, as well as adults.

The event has been a huge logistical and technological feat, made possible by a number of collaborations and partnerships and Michelle is hugely grateful to everyone who has been involved.

She said: “I must once again thank the generosity and willingness of everyone to venture together into this new world. There has been a lot of mentions of #ourworldwithout on social media. Can you imagine our world without the arts? Thank you to all our donors, sponsors and partners who have helped us financially or otherwise to support freelance artists and creatives and make #OFAvirtual happen, in particular Magdalen College School, and its Master, Helen Pike, without whom none of this would have been possible.

“I always say I am proudest of our association with MCS. Its belief in the arts and the creative subjects is unsurpassed. It has been a joy to create and curate this with you all! Please do follow us, share, retweet, comment, watch with us… let us try to go round the world by going digital – and do check out our Vitamin A(rts) page at”

The Oxford Festival of the Arts #OFAVirtual will run from June 18 to July 5.

Ox In A Box are proud to be the digital media partners for this incredible event. For more information go to


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