The week that was

The last seven days saw a lot of activity in the Oxford Baroque world: we had rehearsals , a live appearance on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune with Sean Rafferty, and a concert at the Brighton Early Music Festival, which marked the culmination of our participation in their Live! scheme for outstanding young ensembles.

We met on Monday to rehearse at Mark Ransom’s studio, an increasingly familiar spot near Paddington that is as convenient for our members still residing in Oxford as those who ply their trade elsewhere nowadays . We spent several hours working on the programmes for the week, spending particular attention on the Schütz piece ‘Es steh Gott auf”, a colorful setting of the first three verses of Psalm 68. It’s a really incredible piece, which falls into two main sections: the first sets the psalm text’s fiery, brimstone-filled words, invoking God’s enemies to be variously scattered, driven like smoke and melted as wax in the fire, before falling into a joyful ciaconna. It seems that Schütz probably nicked this from his time in Italy (cf. his acknowledged incorporation of works by Grandi and Gabrieli into extended contrafacta). It came together in the end and, along with the fun ‘Ch’io non mi fido’ by Tarquinio Merula which David dug up and edited, proved to be one of the highlights for people who heard us that week.

1Friday’s broadcast on BBC Radio 3‘s In Tune was always going to be a little mad. Most of us had other concerts going on in London that evening, at venues as disparate as St John’s, Smith Square, Greenwich and King’s Place, and we were all slightly delayed in getting to Broadcasting House for our soundcheck. However, in the end, it all came together and it seems we gave a good account of ourselves, judging by the feedback we’ve been receiving via email! There was just one moment, where David turned a page in horror to find that he had his pages in the wrong order, however, it seems that the radio is a good medium for hiding an extremely flushed countenance. Catch it again on iPlayer for the  next week here.

Saturday saw us travel to Brighton, to perform as part of the Autumn Lates event at St Bartholomew’s, in Brighton Early Music Festival. It was a very (very!) cold day. The event saw us perform alongside the other groups selected for the scheme and it was fascinating to meet other young musicians and hear their programmes – each and every one of them stunning and totally original in its own way. We were placed last on the running order, so we finally took to the stage at around 22:00 for our first performance, before it was repeated. For the concert, which aims to bring in unfamiliar audiences to early music, we received a creative budget, which we used to commission a short silent film from Yaiza Gardner, which played on a cyclical theme inspired by the repetitive nature of the works we were performing, based on images she had taken of the Kent coastline. We received a number of really nice comments from members of the audience who said how much they’d enjoyed the music and the images. It was really encouraging to see such a vibrant and eclectic crowd: there were people from all walks of life, ranging from (at a guess) septuagenarians to some incredibly trendy looking hipsters. It’s good to see (and hear!) that they can all appreciate music by Monteverdi, Schütz and lesser known members of the Bach family as much as we can.

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We closed off the evening shortly after midnight, making it the latest show we’ve ever done. All in all, it was a fantastic evening for us, as I tried to express in the cavernous acoustic of St Bart’s, to the bemusement of those any more than about 10 metres away. Being part of the scheme has been invaluable for OB, as we’ve been able to learn the practical skills of how to make the transition from a student ensemble to a fully professional ensemble. Our heartfelt thanks to Clare Norburn, Deborah Roberts and Cathy Boyes for their help and support over the last few months. BREMF is a truly amazing festival, which deserves support and funding, in the face of adversity, after its Arts Council funding was cut this year.

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In the next few weeks, we’ll be working towards concerts with the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, and of course putting together our programme for the Christmas Festival at St John’s, Smith Square. It’d be great to see you at SJSS – it’s a pretty scary prospect for us,  to be performing alongside some very well established and eminent ensembles, and it’d be reassuring to see some friendly faces in the audience! For information on how to get tickets, click here.