Candlemas Carol Service 2014

If you fancy getting away from the conventional classical music format, then the new Music At Oxford season is for you. Anniversaries and unexpected gems abound, with some exciting events that push the boundaries and bring audiences something a little bit different. 

“We’re trying to do unusual things this season,” says Rebecca Dawson, MAO’s General Manager.

“I think it’s important to take a few risks. We have a very loyal, fantastic core audience, but there are lots of other people who don’t come to our concerts, and it’s nice to try to reach out to them.

“Obviously we want to maintain our high quality classical performances, but when we can, we like to slip in something a little bit different to pull in a new audience.”

Coming up on November 8 is a homage to Leonardo da Vinci to mark the 500thanniversary of his death. In Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible, acclaimed vocal group I Fagiolini – formed in Oxford by Robert Hollingworth in 1986 – and Leonardo expert Professor Martin Kemp offer reflections on Leonardo’s works through the prism of choral music.

This will include works by Tallis, Howells, Monteverdi, and JS Bach, as well as a new commission – from which the concert takes its name – by Adrian Williams and poet Gillian Clarke.

“The idea is that it’s not necessarily music that Leonardo would have heard, but pieces that they feel closely reflect particular drawings,” explains Rebecca.

“We’re going to project Leonardo’s images, Professor Kemp is going to talk about each one and I Fagiolini are going to sing a piece that they feel in some way reflects that. 

“They’ve done this performance in several other places, and it’s worked really well. The music is out on CD as well, so it’s been very successful. 

Robert Hollingworth-founder and director of I Fagliolini

“We had I Fagiolini a couple of seasons ago and they were absolutely fantastic – really vibrant, brilliant singing. So I think this will be interesting and stimulating but really good fun as well.”

This is followed on November 14 by a concert marking the centenary of the Weimar Republic, with soprano/actor Sarah Gabriel and pianist Iain Farrington recreating the atmosphere of the underground nightclubs of Berlin with music, readings and images.

Featured composers are Kurt Weill, Edwin Schulhoff, Friedrich Hollaender and Richard Strauss, and there will be projected images and contemporary readings to give historical context.

“The Weimar Republic was a very febrile time,” says Rebecca. “Everything was breaking down, but you had all this wonderful cabaret music coming out of it.

“Richard Strauss, who of course was older, never quite understood what was going to happen to Germany afterwards, so it’s looking at that cabaret music through the prism of Richard Strauss.”

From there, the season moves on to something a little more contemporary, with percussionist George Barton and pianist Siwan Rhys performing music by some of the great American composers of the 20thcentury interspersed with music by living British composers. 

The beginning of December brings the second of a three-concert series, Bach, The Universe and Everything, a joint project by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute.

In The Creativity Code, the OAE will perform one of Bach’s Christmas cantatas, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Saviour of the gentiles), and Professor Marcus du Sautoy – who recently presented Music and Maths for Oxford Philharmonic – will talk about creativity, algorithms and whether artificial intelligence will ever be capable of writing a cantata as well as Bach.

“The OAE have been running this for a couple of seasons at King’s Place in London, which is their home, and they’ve had sell-out audiences,” says Rebecca.


“The concept is that Bach was really interested in maths and the universe and how everything linked together. 

“It’s 75 minutes, no interval, and makes for a really nice afternoon concert. We’ll have the café open in the Maths Institute so people can get tea and cake before they go and hear this talk with some nice music.

“There’s also going to be some audience participation, because the OAE is going to teach the audience how to sing a simple Bach chorale, and then we’ll all be singing that part way through.”

The third concert in the series, The Beauty of Mathematics, takes place in February 2020.

Marcus Du Sautoy

And so from all those unusual events to something very conventional – MAO’s annual Christmas concerts at Christ Church. The family concert is on December 7, followed by the two main concerts on December 13 and 18.

“The family concert works really well,” Rebecca says. “We do it as a fundraiser for the Christ Church Cathedral Music Trust, so the surplus goes directly back to support the choir. It’s really lovely, because it’s got all the wonderfully Christmassy elements of the evening concerts, but it’s much more relaxed and we do have kids running around!

Candlemas Carol Service

“The concerts sell out every year, and it’s wonderful working with Christ Church Choir. It’s lovely to be in that space.”

For more details about Music at Oxford’s new season, visit



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