For lovers of Lieder, that most superficially elite yet genuinely inclusive art, there were once only two special places – London’s Wigmore Hall, and the little Austrian village of Schwarzenberg, home of the Schubertiade; these have in recent years been joined by a third, the city of Oxford, which each October has presented a festival to rival its colleagues in distinction. The 2014 Oxford Lieder Festival is going one better: from October 10th to November 1st, many of the world’s finest singers, pianists and musical experts will take part in an ambitious project – the UK’s first complete performance of all of Schubert’s songs – some 650 in number.
The opening evening sets the tone and level of what is to come; on October 10th in the unique space that is Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, a stellar cast of singers including Sarah Connolly, John Mark Ainsley, James Gilchrist and Christopher Maltman will perform some of Schubert’s best-loved songs including ‘An die Musik’ and ‘Im Frühling’ – the concert will end with the exquisite but rarely performed Zögernd leise. A tough one to follow, but this festival continues in the same exalted style, with Liederabende from Kate Royal (Oct. 13), Ian Bostridge (Oct. 16), Dietrich Henschel (Oct. 17), Mark Padmore (Oct. 24) and Wolfgang Holzmair (Oct. 30). These and many more of the world’s greatest song specialists will be joined by some of the finest accompanists of our time, including Imogen Cooper, Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles and Julius Drake.
Lest you should experience a surfeit of Lieder, there will also be performances from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Doric String Quartet and the Schubert Ensemble, and the city will be buzzing with so many events that it looks as if it will be a challenge to fit it all in, especially if you have only a few days. There will be a pop-up theatre recreating one of the famous Schubertiade, many local restaurants will be featuring Viennese food and wine, Schubert’s sacred music will resound in college chapels (there is no better way to see them) and the Bodleian will be showing several Schubert manuscripts. Masterclasses – including one given by Felicity Lott – as well as talks and workshops abound, and the venues range from the Sheldonian and the Holywell Music Room to the Phoenix Cinema and the recently-restored Ashmolean Museum.
For those who can’t get to Oxford, or those lucky enough to be able to have a ‘preview’ before the full event, there will be a three-day ‘Mini-Festival’ at Kings Place in London, packed with recitals and other happenings. It’s hard to imagine how you could cram more high-quality programming into three short days; take for example the Friday evening alone (Oct. 3) when at 7.45pm you can hear Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson, and at 9.45pm, James Gilchrist, who will be performing Winterreise. The ‘mini-Festival’ opens with a recital by Sarah Connolly and Roderick Williams (Oct. 2) and closes with a concert by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Oct. 4).