Conductor John Lubbock has a few surprises up his sleeve when the Orchestra of St John’s heads to Dorchester Abbey next month.
The OSJ Unlocked concert series, which runs from September to December, will feature several rarely-performed pieces alongside classical favourites.
For John – who founded the OSJ in 1967 – lockdown has been an opportunity to spend time discovering an exciting range of little-known music.
“For the past fifty years I’ve always had a concert to prepare for,” he says. “I’m quite a slow learner – I like loads of time.
“I’ve been looking at music I don’t have to conduct, and I’ve found some marvellous pieces by composers I’ve never even heard of. There’s a wonderful string serenade by Karlowicz, which we’re going to do in the December concert, a brilliant piano concerto by Myaskovsky, a beautiful piece by Glazunov and then a wonderful concerto grosso for piano and strings by Bloch.
“Piano and strings is a strangely rare sound except for concertos, and it’s a very ballsy sound.”
The programmes for the OSJ Unlocked concerts have been partly inspired by the orchestra’s determination to tackle the lack of diversity in the classical music profession.
“It’s very difficult for an orchestra as small as mine to do much about it,” John admits. “But we are going to invite some youngsters into rehearsals, and also invite student players to come and play as guests, and hopefully in amongst them, we will include people of colour.
“I’ve also been looking into black composers and I’ve found some very good pieces. There’s the famous composer, Boulogne, who was nicknamed the ‘black Mozart’. The trouble is that the music of that period pretty much all sounded like Mozart, and he was the best at that!
“But when you come into the late 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, it doesn’t all sound the same and there’s some really good composers – George Walker, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and a fellow called Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, whose parents christened him that because of the composer, and he’s written a brilliant serenade.
“Then there’s the Negro Folk Symphony by William Dawson, which is very good. So we’re going to try to include some of those in our concerts.”
The first OSJ Unlocked concert, on September 26th, includes the Bloch Concerto Grosso, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s motet Summer is Gone and Dvorak’s String Serenade.
On October 17th, orchestra leader Jan Schmolck (violin) and Tim Horton (piano) perform Mozart’s Sonata in B flat, KV454, Brahms’ Sonata No.2 in A major, op.100 and Ravel’s Tzigane.
Soprano Ilona Domnich joins the orchestra on November 28th for a programme that includes Glazunov’s Intermezzo Romantico, Faure’s Four Songs, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s African Suite: Danse nègre and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.
The December concert (date to be announced) includes Karlowicz’s String Serenade, Hurd’s motet Love made me welcome and Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade.
Each concert lasts an hour and will be performed twice, at 6pm and 8pm, with an audience capacity of a hundred for each performance – spaced out according to social distancing guidelines, of course.
“Dorchester is ideal,” enthuses John. “I’ve managed to persuade them to let me turn the Abbey round, so we’re going to play in the pews, with two people in each pew, then the audience will be where you go in. We can put out however many chairs are needed, and there’s enough chairs available to change them all for the second concert.”
Coming up later in the year are the OSJ’s traditional Christmas concert at the Ashmolean (13th December) and New Year’s Eve Strauss Gala at Dorchester Abbey.
Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Handel’s Messiah are planned for 2021.
Meanwhile, John is hoping that the OSJ Unlocked concerts will go ahead. Nothing is certain these days, but his fingers are tightly crossed.
OSJ Unlocked runs from September 26th. For full details of this and other OSJ events, visit www.osj.org.uk