With this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival fast approaching, festival founder Sholto Kynoch is in a celebratory mood – and with good reason.
Not only is the festival back as a fully live event, following the success of last year’s livestreamed festival, it is also celebrating its 20th year – and the party is only just beginning.
“20 new works will be premiered across the 20th anniversary season”
“We’re going to begin our 20th anniversary celebrations at our 20th festival and carry on next year as well,” says Sholto, who founded the festival while still a student at Oxford.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate with, arguably, our biggest festival ever and mark it with a really ambitious undertaking.”
It certainly is ambitious – over 200 musicians and speakers will be appearing at the festival in more than 100 events, covering a wide range of repertoire from Schubert and Schumann to new works and including a range of daytime and evening concerts, mastercourses and talks.
“a galaxy of stars has been lined up for the festival, including Dame Sarah Connolly, Benjamin Appl, Ian Bostridge, Katherine Broderick, Christopher Maltman, Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams”
For an event that started in 2002 with just seven concerts, the festival has certainly come a long way.
“The anniversary has come around quickly, and obviously the last couple of years have disappeared in this kind of whirlwind of reimagining how we do things, so it’s crept up on us.”
This year’s theme, Nature’s Songbook, reflects how important nature was to people during lockdown.
“I think it’s rather apt in a lot of ways. I don’t want a festival that dwells on Covid, and with so many people finding that connection with nature it’s a nice link to have in the festival.
“Obviously it’s a vast topic, but it allows us to be very broad and diverse in the programme. A lot of music and poetry is steeped in nature, so it opens up this vast array of repertoire.
“It’s not quite as curated as our other festivals, but there’s certainly enough around the nature theme that it is very present, and there’s some really interesting things in the programme.”
A highlight of the anniversary celebrations is that 20 new works will be premiered across the 20th anniversary season.
“It’s 20 commissions, co-commissions or world premieres,” Sholto clarifies. “We’ve not exclusively commissioned everything that we’re hearing. I think there’s going to be 15/20 in this year’s festival. The others are being commissioned as we speak and will be performed in 2022.”
Among the new commissions being premiered in this year’s festival is the song cycle Everything Grows Extravagantly by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, the festival’s Associate Composer and a Visiting Research Fellow at Merton College.
This co-commission with the Oxford Botanic Garden marks both the festival’s 20th anniversary and the Garden’s 400th, and features texts by poet Kate Wakeling.
The premiere will be given by baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Libby Burgess, alongside horticultural-themed songs by Finzi, Clara Schumann, Roussel, Tosti and Quilter.
As always, a galaxy of stars has been lined up for the festival, including Dame Sarah Connolly, Benjamin Appl, Ian Bostridge, Katherine Broderick, Christopher Maltman, Carolyn Sampson, Roderick Williams and many more.
“there’s plenty of chances to take in the festival if you can’t be there, and people are really excited to see what we’re doing”
Another festival milestone this year is the tenth anniversary of the Oxford Lieder Festival Young Artist Platform, which has been one of the festival’s many success stories. Former winning singer-pianist duos will be performing at the festival, while emerging young artists will give short recitals before the evening concerts.
To ensure social distancing, all evening concerts will be given twice, at 5.30pm and 8.15pm, with the second being livestreamed.
“The whole festival is going to be socially distanced, closely following government guidelines,” Sholto says. “The evening concerts will be slightly shorter, with no interval, but they will be almost the same length as a normal evening concert.”
Livestreaming the festival proved such a success last year, attracting an ever-growing overseas audience as well as seasoned festival-goers, that Sholto was keen to continue with it this year.
“We thought it was really worth doing,” he says. “The feedback we got last year was overwhelmingly positive. Lots of regulars were asking if the festival could be livestreamed again because they couldn’t always come to everything and wished they could!
“So there’s plenty of chances to take in the festival if you can’t be there, and people are really excited to see what we’re doing.”
The 20th Oxford Lieder Festival runs from 8th-23rd October. The majority of events take place at St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, and the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building. For full details and booking, visit www.oxfordlieder.co.uk