Chamber music stars to light up the Holywell

The Oxford Chamber Music Society’s new season features an exceptionally strong line-up of international stars and emerging talent, as well as a greater variety of ensembles and repertoire.

Having kicked off earlier this month with the world-renowned Pavel Haas String Quartet, the society is now looking forward to welcoming old friends such as the Doric String Quartet, the Maggini String Quartet and pianist Alasdair Beatson, as well as a few newcomers.

Then, close to the end of the season, there’s a special appearance by acclaimed violinist Tasmin Little as part of her farewell tour.

The society was founded in 1898 as the Oxford Ladies’ Musical Society, becoming the Oxford Chamber Music Society in 1968, and its original aims of putting on chamber music of the highest quality, with a mix of established and emerging artists, hasn’t wavered. 

“What we’re trying to do is get a combination of international soloists and ensembles, and some who are on the way up who’ve been recommended by conservatoires or academies,” explains Jennifer Hay, who has recently taken over as the society’s programme planner.

“We’re also getting some wind ensembles as well as strings, because a lot of stuff is strings and it’s nice to get a bit of variety. This time we’ve got a baroque group as well.

“I am particularly trying to get mainland European performers because they do like to come and they aren’t often heard in Oxford. 

“Many of the top players just want to come and play at the Holywell – they love it. The historical atmosphere of the place really gets them.”

Committee member Paul Johnson adds: “We are distinctive in what we do in terms of some of the really big names we bring as well as a mix of fresh and new and different people who otherwise aren’t around in Oxford.”

There is certainly a good mix this season. Coming up on December 1 is the Britten Oboe Quartet, which was founded by distinguished oboist Nicholas Daniel with colleagues from the Britten Sinfonia. Their eclectic programme includes Mozart’s Phantasy Quartet and Oboe Quartet K370 as well as pieces by Moeran, Lutyens, Françaix and Knussen.

The first concert of 2020 will be the Doric String Quartet in a programme of Haydn, Sibelius, Britten and Beethoven, followed by another wind ensemble, the Atéa Quintet, in February, playing music by Zemlinsky, Bozza, Tuur, Briccialdi, Bach and Nielsen.

March sees the return of the Maggini String Quartet, which was formed in 1988 and is now one of Britain’s longest-running and most outstanding string ensembles. Known for their commitment to the English chamber repertoire, the Magginis will be performing Rawsthorne’s Quartet No.1 alongside quartets by Haydn and Schubert.

They are followed by the prize-winning young recorder duo Flauti d’echo, who will be bringing a rare baroque programme to the OCMS season with music by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, Blow and Morley.

Pianist Alasdair Beatson will be in Oxford on May 17 with a group of friends – as yet unannounced – to play a selection of pieces by Dvorak, Hindemith, Suk and Schumann.

“That should be really glorious, because Alasdair always gets together an amazing array of people, really first class talent,” says Jennifer. “And you can tell they’re having a ball – they just want to do it.”

Violin legend Tasmin Little is the surprise ‘extra’ this season, appearing at the Holywell with pianist Andrey Gugnin in a programme of  Beethoven, Brahms and Pärt. This is an unmissable opportunity to catch this very special performer before she brings her distinguished concert playing career to a close in the summer.

The huge variety in repertoire is one of the hallmarks of the OCMS seasons. “We have a very musically informed audience,” Paul says. “And while people love to come out and hear the popular works, there are many in the audience who say, ‘Gosh, I haven’t heard that for years’, or ‘Wow, you’re doing that’. So some of the less well-known things that pop into our programme are, for some of our audience, a real treat.”

For full details of the current season, visit



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