The Orchestra of St John’s is back with a fabulous autumn line-up of concerts in Dorchester Abbey and Oxford’s SJE Arts.
The action kicks off in Dorchester this Saturday (Sept 11) with a programme of strings and harp music by Debussy and Suk, to be repeated at the SJE on 25th September.
October then sees the world premiere of John Lubbock’s new orchestration of Schumann’s glorious song cycle Dichterliebe,with New Zealand baritone Julien van Mellaerts, and there will also be music by Suk, Bizet and Prokofiev.
catch THE PAVLOVA WIND QUINTET at St Michael’s at the Northgate this coming Saturday and the Sheldonian on Sunday as part of Oxford’s Open Doors weekend
A double bill of choral works by Fauré and Saint-Saëns follows in November – including Fauré’s exquisite Cantique de Jean Racine – and December sees the return of Handel’s Messiah in John Lubbock’s arrangement for wind, continuo, trumpets and timpani. Soloists are Hannah Fraser-Mackenzie (soprano), Charlie Tetley (alto), Xavier Hetherington (tenor) and Tom Mole (bass).
Dorchester audiences also get a couple of bonus concerts – Britten’s Ceremony of Carols (11th December) and the OSJ’s traditional New Year’s Eve bash with popular overtures and dances.
Incredibly, the OSJ managed to remain active throughout much of the pandemic according to OSJ’s Simon Payne.
OSJ has performed concerts to more than 130,000 children and staff at special schools all over the UK
In addition to his work with the OSJ, Simon is also responsible for the delightful Abbey Chamber Concerts in Abingdon, and the Pavlova Wind Quintet, whom you can catch at St Michael’s at the Northgate this coming Saturday and at the Sheldonian on Sunday as part of Oxford’s Open Doors weekend.
But back to OSJ, all change then? “We’ve started playing at the SJE, a new venue for us, so we’re building up a residency with good audiences this summer, which was very gratifying.
“Coincidentally, our name is similar to theirs as well, just to confuse everybody!” he adds with a chuckle.
But the OSJ had never been just about orchestral concerts. Community is very much at the heart of the orchestra’s mission, and this, too, has continued throughout the pandemic.
Occupying a special place in the orchestra’s schedule is Music for Autism, the charity founded in 2000 by Christine Cairns, wife of orchestra founder John Lubbock, following the diagnosis of their youngest son with autism.
“COMMUNITY IS VERY MUCH AT THE HEART OF THE ORCHESTRA’S MISSION, AND THIS, TOO, HAS CONTINUED THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC“
Over the years, the orchestra has performed concerts to more than 130,000 children and staff at special schools all over the UK. During the pandemic, the Music for Autism concerts continued via Zoom.
“In a way that was an advantage,” Simon says. “We were able to reach more classes at the same time, at the same school, so although we wouldn’t necessarily prefer to do it by Zoom, that was a good alternative and allowed us to keep going.
“Towards the end of last term we did start going into schools again, and we’ll be doing that this term as well, so that’s good news.”
“Also, we’ve long had the idea of getting other regional orchestras to put on Music for Autism concerts, so that’s quite exciting, and gives Music for Autism a bit more of a legacy.”
Another successful community project has been the orchestra’s work with Oxford Spires Academy.
“We have completed two projects there,” says Simon. “John Lubbock is looking after the next project, which will involve asking the students for their reactions to paintings. Our composer-in-residence, Toby Young, will then produce a piece of music, with their input, to be played at one of our concerts.”
The orchestra’s most recent initiative, which started during the pandemic, is serenading at local hospitals. Simon explains: “This currently takes the form of going into Littlemore Hospital twice a week. We go to three wards that have gardens, and we play to patients and staff, and it goes down very well.
“We have a pool of musicians who do this, with different instruments and different styles. So we’ve got a violinist, a viola player, a singer and a clarinettist, and it’s anything from straight classical to songs from the shows.
“We are also hoping to start going into the John Radcliffe Hospital and playing to nurses and the staff, possibly online but preferably in person.”
Meanwhile, in addition to his work with the OSJ, Simon is also responsible for the delightful Abbey Chamber Concerts in Abingdon, which he took over from founder David Pedder more than a decade ago, and the Pavlova Wind Quintet, which he co-founded in 1999 with flautist Chris Britton and in which he plays the bassoon.
The Abbey Chamber Concerts are showcases for local musicians and take place once a month on Sunday afternoons at St Nicolas Church, Abingdon. Coming up in October are the Radcliffe Strings and pianist Bethe Levy performing Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor, followed by pianist Diana Hinds in a programme of Schubert and Skempton in November, with the Pavlova Wind Quintet giving the traditional Christmas concert in December.
For more information and tickets for the Orchestra of St John’s events, visit www.osj.org.uk.