Instruments of Time and Truth is pleased to announce the appointment of William Anderson as its new Administrator. Will may already be a familiar face to Oxford audiences as a member of Christ Church Cathedral Choir and the Oxford Bach Soloists, as well as the Administrator of the Oxford Chamber Music Festival. We are delighted that he is taking up the post and Judith and Gay are thrilled to be welcoming him to the team.
Newsletter April 2019
I am currently sitting in bed nursing a sprained ankle which provides me with the opportunity for a long-overdue newsletter.
IT&T: Then and Now
I just skimmed through the January newsletter to remind myself of the events which have already taken place this year and am amazed at how few have actually involved me. For the first time, I am faced with tangible evidence of the growth of IT&T. I remember on September 23rd 2015 being in the box office at the Holywell Music Room in my concert clothes and realising, in a panic, that the orchestra was going on stage without me. Gone are those days when we were almost literally a one-man band and nowadays, our growing network of volunteers and supporters has taken much of the stress out of the logistical side of putting on concerts. I must thank Joelle Mann for her infectious enthusiasm and ability to charm punters into accepting donation forms (and even filling them in), Elizabeth Adams for her quiet capability and experience with the various Oxford venues, Jitka Fort for being there throughout, our trustees and the amazing Jessica Osborne who has rescued our books from the chaos wrought by one double bass player attempting to act simultaneously as fixer, distributer of flyers, poster putter-upper, accountant and occasionally, musician.
The day to day running of IT&T is still acheived by 3 people: myself, Gay Amherst and Aliye Cornish. Only Aliye is paid a modest hourly rate and she brings the youthful energy and technical savvy that is the powerhouse behind getting things done. Aliye is single-handedly responsible for the ambitious IT&T InSpires, our unique education project which aims to bring historically-informed performance into the mainstream for future musicans, which is already benefitting young performers in Oxfordshire. In the course of creating and running the project, Aliye has become incredibly effective in attracting funding for our work and has recently garnered donations from the Bishopsdown Charitable Trust, the University Community Fund, the Doris Field Charitable Trust and the British Croatian Society.
Staying true to our ethos
But despite having expanded, IT&T remains firmly committed to its ethos - that of providing concerts of the highest possible musical standard at the lowest possible cost. We still travel together, bake each other cakes and try and think collectively about using Arts funding as efficiently as possible. Not a penny is wasted.
You are invited to our 5th Birthday Party
Of course, fund-raising still lies at the heart of any charity's existence and since having had Development funds made available to us from Woodford Investments, we are much more focused on this as a priority. You may be aware of our 5th Anniversary Appeal - our bid to raise £10,000 in a hundred days. The hundred days will be up on June 5th when we host our 5th Birthday Party which happily coincides with the birthday of one of our staunchest supporters, Lady Margaret Bullard. If you would like to donate or become a Friend in time to attend the party, be entertained by Bojan Cicic and Chris Bucknall and meet the musicians, then please sign up via the website. The ebullient William Purefoy will act as auctioneer in our auction of promises which includes stays on the coast in Cornwall and Dorset, a flight in a private plane, as well as things we could all do with, like help in the garden. So please think about joining us, we would love to meet you and we are looking forward to a night where we allow ourselves to celebrate everything we have acheived over the past 5 years. Do hurry - we only have 14 tickets remaining.
2019 so far...
So, finally, to the music. Freelance musicans are traditionally unemployed in January and February, following the flurry of Christmas Oratorios and Messiahs, so IT&T’s continued activities in February were welcomed by the musicians (and hopefully the audiences): our Monteverdi Vespers with the Summertown Choral Society; Musica per la Sera and a side-by-side concert with The Bate Players and Oxybaroxy as part of the Keble Early Music Festival; as well as Digital Spaghetti in the Wotton Concert Series.
More recently, we have performed the St John Passion in Barnes with Tiffin School and, as I write this, IT&T is engaged in a tour of 3 performances of the same work in Spain. Closer to home, we very much enjoyed performing Concertos and Curiosities in the Holywell Music Room on March 23rd on the same evening that members of IT&T took part in Dido and Aeneas in New College Chapel! The audience in the Holywell were treated to two relatively unknown suites by Telemann and W F Bach (definitely the ‘Curiosities’ of the title), alongside J S Bach’s harpsichord concertos in D major and A minor - think C18th Heavy Metal! Our next Oxford appearance will be on April 14th at 5pm in Merton College Chapel in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, conducted by Ben Nicholas. Please see our website for booking information.
Fitting Finale for the 2018/19 Season
The final official concert of our 2018/19 Season takes place in SJE on May 25th. ‘Musick Restor’d’ or ‘The King shall Rejoice’ sees IT&T performing once again with Edward Higginbottom’s much-acclaimed Oxford Consort of Voices. With its programme of quintessential English music by Humfrey and Purcell (including his Ode to St Cecilia) and the added attraction of an appearance by actor, Tom Bateman, this concert promises to be a fitting conclusion to our vibrant Season. It is also the first live performance of music from our CD of Symphony Anthems which will be available on the night.
A couple of late additions to our programmed events will take place on June 1st. The first is a soiree at Worton Organic Garden where Bojan will perform, accompanied on the lute and guests will be treated to a mouth-watering supper prepared with literally the freshest organic ingredients from the eponymous garden (we have an a number of tickets reserved exclusively for Friends). The second is a rather special Evensong at Magdalen, where we will perform Bach’s Magnificat. I would describe both these events as examples of the privilege we enjoy living in Oxford and I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities.
That leaves us with one of the great features of our Temperate climate: the Summer Festival. Whether performed, audaciously, in the outdoors, or undercover, these festivals celebrate the special atmosphere of our light evenings. Where, half the year we are huddled in our dingy Victorian houses, we now surface into the light which lends every occasion a frisson of enjoyment, somehow enhanced by what has gone before and must come after.
Join us on 23rd June at Oxford Festival of the Arts for ‘Purefeo’ with William Purefoy, Helen Parker and Rebecca Bottone or on July 7th in the Assembly Rooms, Bath, as part of Martin Randall Travel’s West Country Choral Festival.
To be continued...
Plans are already well-advanced for our 2019/20 Season. Our opening concert on Friday, October 4th at the Sheldonian features Bojan Cicic in what can only be his original take on the Beethoven violin concerto. A musician of immense sensitivity and integrity, Bojan offers something far more profound than the swagger of a viruosic showman. Conducted by Edward Higginbottom, this concert unites these two exceptional talents. Do come along and, for this Season, perhaps you will bring along 1 new concert-goer each time.
For your diary, our ‘candlelit’ Messiah (health and safety-approved) takes place on December 21st at 5pm. Booking will open in September and this event will sell-out.
Later in the Season we will feature concerts directed by Bojan and by Chris Bucknall, as well as a further larger scale performance with Edward.
Further plans include a Monteverdi Vespers with Owen Rees and choir of The Queen’s College as part of the Divine Office Festival in 2020 and two projects in Malta, IT&T having been recommended to the Valetta Festival by the Director of St John's, Smith Square following our performances of The Triumph of Time and Truth.
Who we are
So our name is disseminated abroad, but Instruments of Time and Truth belongs in and to Oxford. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of each individual concert-goer. You are the lifeblood of the orchestra and IT&T will exist for as long as you demand it. Bring your friends, become Friends and make a personal investment in Oxford’s cultural identity. Thank you.
We are pleased to announce the kind support of the British Croatian Society who will be sponsoring our leader Bojan Cicic in his performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto on October 4th in the Sheldonian Theatre. This prestigious concert will open our 2019-2020 season and we are delighted that they have chosen to support it.
We are grateful to the Doris Field Charitable Trust for supporting our new trainee positions which we will be launching in 2019-2020. This is an exciting development for the organisation and allows us to operate more efficiently while also creating opportunities for young people seeking arts management experience.
You are joining IT&T as Director/Soloist for ‘Concertos and Curiosities’ . Do you have a particular favourite piece from this eclectic programme? And if so, what is it about this piece which distinguishes it above the others?
I must say that I don’t have a favourite, I love the variety that the programme offers! But if I’m allowed to choose two, I’ll pick the J S Bach D minor concerto and the W F Bach Suite. The concerto, because of it’s extraordinary depth of expression - I struggle to think of a more desolate slow movement or a more grittily determined finale. It’s also wonderful to play, somehow the resonances of the key really suit the instrument. And the W F Bach because it’s a new piece to me and I’m really intrigued to discover its rather unusual musical language.
Your work encompasses quite a broad spectrum; from instrumental soloist to directing operas. Is there a part of your professional life which you are most drawn to? Are there any aspects of it which you find particularly challenging?
I think deep down, my first love is the human voice. I realise that in all my work, whether it’s playing a harpsichord concerto, conducting an orchestra or coaching a singer, I’m looking for the power of speech and of line - as if it’s being sung. It unites all the music making I do. So then the challenge - and great privilege - is sharing that love with other musicians and audiences.
Which projects, professional or personal, are you particularly looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m really looking forward to working with students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which I conduct in March for them. Helping the young singers and players discover this extraordinary score is wonderful. I’m also looking forward to harpsichord concerto practice, a glut of Bach Passions and a week of East Anglian seaside with my wife and small children.
Christopher Bucknall directs Instruments of Time and Truth in 'Concertos and Curiosities' on March 23rd, 7.30pm at the Holywell Music Room. Tickets cost £25 (£5 NUS/U18) and Oxfordshire County Music Service students can sign up in advance for a free ticket. To find out more and book your tickets visit our 2018-2019 Season page.
We are pleased to announce that our 2019 Baroque Strings course will run on October 31st and November 1st 2019 at the Oxfordshire Centre for Music. We are planning a spooky theme to tie in with Halloween! For more info and to sign up please click here.
You are joining IT&T and the Summertown Choral Society for Monteverdi’s Vespers on February 9th. Do you have a particular favourite among Monteverdi's works? And if so, what is it about this piece which distinguishes it above the others?
Difficult question! His 5 part madrigals are amazing, for instance Hor Che’l Ciel, but there are also his operas - L’Orfeo is the best. But the Vespers is undoubtedly his masterpiece for me - it takes the listener on an incredible musical journey.
Your career encompasses concert performances and staged operas. Are there any particular challenges or delights associated with performing in a staged opera, in comparison to a concert performance?
With Opera it is very liberating to move around a stage without the score - it can really free the music making up and it is so satisfying when it all comes together. Recent challenges though include sitting on the floor 20 meters from the conductor...
Which projects, professional or personal, are you particularly looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m particularly looking forward to singing the role of Jupiter in a staged Semele (Handel) later this year, another phenomenal piece of music!
There is considerable interest at the moment in the music of William Hayes. BBC Radio 3's 'Early Music Show' yesterday featured 'O be joyful in God, all ye lands' from 'Ceremonial Oxford' by The Choir of Keble College, Oxford, on which IT&T appears.
You can listen to the full disc on our Listen page.
“Superbly stylish and convincing”.
We are glad to have received such a warm review of our Oxford performance of Handel’s ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ in the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, written by Anna Brunton. Read the full review here.
We are pleased to have heard that the Bishopsdown Charitable Trust will be supporting our IT&T InSpires scheme in 2019. Our vision is to make it possible for all 11 to 18 year olds in Oxfordshire to experience workshop and live performance opportunities, as well as working with historical bows and instruments. Historically informed approaches to performance have a wonderful potential for students to learn about the science, evolution and development of instruments, as well as the historical and social contexts of the music. This scheme is unique in Oxfordshire and we are delighted to be delivering it in partnership with the Oxfordshire County Music Service.
An American colleague of mine sometimes wears a t-shirt telling us that ‘Life is short; Opera is long’. If you live your life caught in the jaws of this dichotomy between brevity and urgency then you probably understand the textspeak TL; DR. In which case might I redirect you to our ‘At a Glance’ which Aliye will be forwarding shortly. This newsletter is particularly long and contains very little news.
Having borrowed from Handel in choosing our name, it seems only fitting that ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ can now be used to describe IT&T’s activities this Autumn. Not only did the oratorio form the backbone of our Autumn concerts with performances at the Tetbury Festival, King’s Place, London and the Sheldonian, but to my mind it identifies a shift in IT&T’s presence and a feeling that the orchestra is now being embraced by the Oxford audience.
Our season began in September with Digital Spaghetti, a fitting platform for the talents of our virtuosic leader, Bojan Cicic. When I first heard Bojan perform Locatelli’s Il Laberinto Armonico about 6 years ago, my reaction was to laugh in disbelief – not only that a composer would write something so mad, but that someone could actually play it. Ever since I have wanted everyone to hear Bojan perform that piece, and to realise the extent of his talent. I loved that we made our concert in the Holywell Music Room on September 22nd happen, for that reason. I think of Digital Spaghetti as the ‘thinking man’s totty’ of baroque music, in that it combines sophisticated composition with an irresistibly popular appeal. It’s the sort of programme we perhaps don’t get enough of in Oxford, a sort of guilty pleasure amidst a landscape rich in intellectual challenges.
But there is no shame in enjoying Art – I am most definitely in Philip Larkin’s camp here. His ‘enormous Yes’ epitomising what the arts mean to me – the ultimate affirmation of humanity and human experience.
This feels particularly apposite as I return from the latest Charity Futures conference in London. This is the third consecutive year I will have had the privilege of attending this conference at the invitation of Woodford Investment Management, and it is always a remarkable experience.
As a classical musician one can often feel like a fly-on-the-wall of real life: nothing ever seems to apply to us – categories and surveys never allow for the vagaries and uncertainties of a musician’s life, and people look blankly at me as I try to explain why I can’t regularly attend on a Tuesday, or why I shouldn’t pay exorbitant car insurance because, despite being ‘an entertainer’, I don’t give lifts to celebrities.
It’s a bit like that at Charity Futures. These are all intelligent people with proper jobs in challenging and worthy fields. They also understand what the speakers are on about and ask probing questions at the end. But no matter how alien an environment it can feel to a musician who also helps run a charity which has one administrator and three volunteers, there always comes a moment when I want to get up and shout, “That’s us! That’s what we do!”
This year that moment came when Roman Krznaric, who addressed ‘Planning for The Long Now’ (the need to think not in months but in millennia), asked us to discuss with our neighbour our most important experience of ‘Long Thinking and what it meant to us.’ Suddenly the Alien became the Native, for ‘The Long Now’ is where we classical musicians live. In particular early musicians trying to imagine and reproduce the vision of composers from hundreds of years ago, and act as conduits in entrusting that legacy to future generations. One of the intended interpretations of the word ‘Instruments’ in our name.
It is ironic that the moral of Handel’s oratorio ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ is belied by its very existence. Handel might have us believe that Beauty is transient and only Truth endures. But Art alone can be both beautiful and true. One wonders if Handel was a Long Thinker and if he is smiling now.
One of the other speakers at the Charity Futures conference was Andrew Mackay, a former senior officer in the British Army who commanded 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Central to his story was his need to know why he and his troops were in Helmand and how he had gone about answering that question and validating their presence there.
Again that sort of question is in our minds this weekend and is underlined by our Sheldonian concert this Friday, In Memoriam. Ticket sales are always an anxiety for a group in its infancy, but alongside our annual Messiah, In Memoriam promises to be our largest audience ever. Proof surely of the enduring power of music to express those ‘Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’ and which we, as humans, will continue to experience.
Judith Evans, Concerts Manager
“A terrific CD, and most warmly recommended.”
Cathedral Music magazine has printed a glowing review of ‘Ceremonial Oxford’, the disc which we made with The Choir of Keble College, Oxford under Matthew Martin. Buy your copy here.
"Band, choir (very effectively sited up in the Kings Place gallery) and soloists together drew every gramme of drama out of this endlessly various – and often ravishing – score. Higginbottom’s alert and cleverly-paced direction put a spring in everybody’s step…”
Read the full Arts Desk review of our King's Place concert on Friday night here.
“This is the most packed season we’ve had in Oxford,” Edward says. “What we’re wanting to do is engender a local audience who know and love us, who turn out for us, and who know that we’re their period orchestra.”
Read conductor Edward Higginbottom’s recent Oxford Times interview here.
You are joining IT&T for Handel’s ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ in October, and his Messiah on December 22nd. Do you have a particular favourite among Handel’s works? And if so, what is it about this piece which distinguishes it above the others?
It's a total cop-out to say, but there are just too many pieces that do so many different things to pick out just one! Obviously The Messiah is one of Western Culture’s pillars of achievement, and I adore the fact that it takes up most of my time every December, but I have a soft spot for his Ode to St. Cecilia for its range in representing so many magical facets of music and Jephtha is a total gift for a tenor and is dramatically utterly gripping (the same goes for Samson!). I could listen to his Concerti Grossi all day too.
Having been a choral scholar in Oxford was the transition into opera something that you had always wanted to do?
Yes, I think so, although I've never been one for a ‘five-year plan’, so it wasn't something I necessarily intended to move on to, but I did a lot of it while at university, and loved it all. While stage work is very important to me, concert repertoire is a big part of my professional life too, so the time I spent as a Choral Scholar has proved invaluable to the stuff I do now. The daily commitment, the teamwork and the level of musical excellence needed in that environment were all steep learning curves for me, which have provided skills I use daily. Work in the choir stalls and on the opera stage are more linked than people realise, I think!
Which projects, professional or personal, are you particularly looking forward to in the coming months?
Professionally, I'm looking forward to a recital in the Oxford Lieder Festival with fellow ex-New College musician, Ryan Wigglesworth, doing some Bach Cantatas with Harry Bicket and The English Concert at the Wigmore Hall, Bach’s Easter Oratorio with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and his St. John Passion in the USA with Jonathan Cohen, back home in London with Stephen Layton and the OAE, and of course in Spain with IT&T!
The ‘project’ I'm looking forward to the most though, is getting married at the end of the year to my wonderful fiancée, who is also singing with IT&T this month in the choir. It's certainly taken up a lot of our time recently, but we can't wait!
Nick joins IT&T for Handel’s ‘The Triumph of Time & Truth’ this month.
Corporate support for IT&T
For the last couple of years, IT&T has been fortunate enough to be amongst the many charities receiving support from Woodford Investments. As such, we have been afforded a glimpse into a very different environment from that of Baroque music and benefitted from the type of thinking that goes into building a successful business - until relatively recently, an approach quite alien to the Early Music world.
IT&T is now firmly established as a local community resource. Only last week I received enquiries for four concerts from a variety of local sources which is hugely gratifying and encouraging. But we don’t want to be satisfied with that - we are still pursuing our ambition of establishing a regular concert series in Oxford and of becoming a regional presence. Last month, Woodford’s way of thinking had me meeting a fundraising consultant in London, with a view to establishing a development strategy for IT&T. I find this business approach fascinating: with grandparents who ran a Gentleman’s Outfitters in Rhyl I have always suspected that perhaps I am closer to a shopkeeper than a musician!
IT&T needs you!
Anyway, the good news is that we are actually doing a lot of the right things and that time and stamina will do much for IT&T’s development. The even better news is that our instinct that you, our audience, is our greatest asset has been officially confirmed, which somehow makes me feel more courageous about involving you. Establish a significant following and a market for IT&T and the rest will follow.
IT&T has developed at an unprecented rate in the last four years, with the result that we now need your help- there is simply too much ground for Gay, Aliye and myself to cover. That help might come in many shapes and sizes - let me give you an example: the most recent addition to the IT&T ‘office’ is Jessica Osborne, a Friend with accounting experience who has taken over the day to day finances of IT&T and provided very welcome relief from this considerable responsibility. We are hugely grateful to Jessica and fortunate to benefit from the expertise she brings with her. We know the IT&T audience has talents in abundance - fundraising and marketing skills would be invaluable, but even if you don’t possess these, you could still hold the key to increasing the number of our supporters and improving our resilience.
Very early on we established that word of mouth was our most effective marketing tool and we have now been advised to capitalise on what is essentially an extension of this, by tapping into existing networks with a connection to our audience. Your network might be a Residents’ or Neighbourhood association, a choir, or a company noticeboard, whether real or virtual. You might simply forward our ‘Forthcoming concerts’ to people who live in your road, or buy an extra ticket for a friend, or possibly you work for a company that could be persuaded to sponsor a local entreprise if we were to encourage them with a couple of complimentary tickets? Another possibility is arranging a fundraising concert in your home or that of someone you know, with suggestions of people we might invite as potential sponsors.
On a more practical level, we always need volunteers at concerts, so if you fancy ‘playing shops’ in the box-office or schmoozing potential donors at a drinks reception, do let us know! All of this support would help us and would nurture a genuine feeling of ownership in IT&T which is our ambition for Oxford.
In order to facilitate this new initiative, you will be sent our ‘Forthcoming concerts’ in a separate email!
The news bit
We are now in the final third of our 17/18 Season, but with many enticing events still to come. We very much hope to see you either performing with the Summertown Choral Society on May 19th (there’s a network!) or at one of IT&T’s exciting new collaborations in June and July. If you plan to attend our intriguing Friends’ soirée at Worton Organic Garden on June 2nd, why not bring someone new to IT&T with you? Finally, do come and support us in the sumptuous surroundings of Longborough Opera and enjoy the quintessential musical experience of the English summer.
Hayes disc released
Definitely the most exciting moment so far in the journey that is IT&T was hearing the opening bars of ‘Ceremonial Oxford’ for the first time - our own tiny claim on immortality! Details of the release later in this Newsletter - do order your copies online and support an Oxford choir and orchestra performing the music of an Oxford composer which, together, we made happen.
I remember, about this time last year, looking at the IT&T diary and marvelling at the orchestra’s rate of development since 2014. I thought that, possibly, novelty was playing its part and the level of sustainable activity would settle after a couple of years. On the contrary, it continues to increase apace and I am literally in awe of IT&T’s success. As I have said before, the feeling is less that we have carved out a niche and more that we have uncovered a pre-existing niche in this extraordinary city.
It was a great moment when Aliye produced our 2017/18 brochure - evidence of increased financial resilience bringing with it the potential for forward planning. I knew one or two dates would come in after publication, but in fact, the orchestra’s season has increased beyond all expectations with a breadth of activity which has resulted in an inspiring and fulfilling work environment for the many musicians we have been able to employ. I hope our existence has also enhanced the lives of our audience, participants in our workshops, worshippers at evensong in various colleges and aspiring professionals who have played alongside us.
2018 so far...
Since our Season brochure has been overtaken by events, you will be updated in this Newsletter, but, before that, a quick recap of the last few weeks.
January and February are traditionally ‘resting’ months for freelance musicians following the flurry of Christmas concerts, but not so for IT&T. Early January saw a four-day project with the University baroque ensemble, ‘The Bate Players’, culminating with a side by-side concert in New College Chapel on January 12th. Led by IT&T’s leader, Bojan Cicic, this was a fascinating exploration of seventeenth and eighteenth century string music - Bojan’s area of expertise. As a double bass is not generally used in this repertoire, but the Bate Players include a double bass player, I was exposed to this music myself for the first time. I definitely learned as much as any of the students and felt there was a tangible exhilaration in the concluding performance. This is the sort of experience I would have loved to have had as a music student - to play alongside seasoned professionals on the same desk, but for me now, as that seasoned professional, the experience was equally valuable. It is a wonderful thing to perform beside a burgeoning musician. The professionals bring a well-honed instinct for timing, musical function and ensemble, which is combined with the students’ youthful energy and passion. The result is always stimulating and at its best you even get a sense of that elusive elixir which is Creativity.
In contrast, The Bach Project part II: the Concerto, found us playing a very different role. IT&T’s Dan Edgar performed alongside predominantly ‘modern’ violinist Alexander Janiczek in Bach’s Concerto for two violins, we also accompanied James Boyd in what some think is a spurious concerto for viola and were then joined by Natalie Clein for a performance of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, featuring IT&T’s Rachel Byrt alongside James Boyd as the two viola soloists. This idea of combining modern musicians and those dedicated to historically-informed performance is a controversial one, but again, as in the collaboration with the Bate Players, at its best both parties learn from and inspire the other.
On February 6th, Headington School hosted ‘A Day with IT&T’, for GCSE and A level students presented by Jeremy Summerly of St Peter’s College. The initiative of Headington’s new Head of Music, Aimee Bassett, students sang, played, listened and hopefully learned. Feedback from the day was extremely positive.
Then followed IT&T’s two appearances at the Keble Early Music Festival: Edward Higginbottom’s Abendmusik on February 22nd with a programme of his favoured French baroque music; and on the 24th a concert of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony and Requiem. This was a real highlight for me. It is rare these days for an early music group to perform this repertoire except with a choral society because the cost of the brass instruments can be prohibitive. While accompanying amateur choirs is a valued part of IT&T’s work, playing the Requiem with Keble College Choir again had the same appeal as playing alongside the Bate Players. To be immersed in the sound of those young voices, many of whom are performing the Requiem for the first time, is extremely moving.
That brings us to March and the busiest time in the baroque musician’s diary: Easter. March 4th saw a trio of IT&T musicians performing in Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri at evensong in St Edmund Hall, then the 6th was the first of IT&T’s three performances of Bach’s St John Passion, this one in Somerville College Chapel, conducted by William Dawes. This is followed by another performance of the St John on Saturday in Peterborough Cathedral conducted by Steven Grahl, who has just been appointed Director of Music at Christ Church. Our third St John Passion is on Sunday, with New College Choir under Robert Quinney (tickets available only to Friends of IT&T). We hope to see many of you there.
Our final concert in March is with the Merton College Choir under Ben Nicholas in Bach’s B minor Mass on the 25th. Please see the website for booking information.
Following a break for Easter, IT&T will next be appearing in the Holywell Music Room on April 27th in the third instalment of the Bach Project. With eminent soloists Claire Booth and Ian Bostridge this promises to be a treat for both players and audience alike.
Looking ahead, another treat for Friends of IT&T is Jonathan Rees’s performance at Worton Organic Garden on Saturday, June 2nd which forms the second part of our series, ‘All Roads Lead to Bach’. This recital will be accompanied by a delicious meal of organic produce from the garden and I know it will be a very special evening.
IT&T is looking forward to our new collaboration with the Oxford Bach Choir in the Sheldonian on June 9th, followed by another new collaboration, this time with Magdalen College Choir on July 1st.
Perhaps I should apologise for this Newsletter being so long, but hopefully, even if you don’t read it, you will enjoy with us this evidence of Oxford having taken IT&T to its heart.
For many of you, a report on our Messiah in University Church on December 16th will not be news, because you were there. However, I can’t embark on news about our 2018 activities without first describing something of this day from an IT&T perspective.
Since our very first concert in the Holywell Music Room back in September 2014, when I found myself still in the box office in my lucent blue get up while the rest of the orchestra was already on stage, I have found wearing the two hats of Management and Player a difficult juggling act (a bit like that mixed metaphor). As a player of more than 20 years in the Academy of Ancient Music I am as casual as the next person about getting back to my seat after a 17 minute (not the prescribed 15 minute) coffee break and no longer suffer heart palpitations as I sit in gridlock on the M40 less than an hour before the start of a rehearsal in Waterloo. Not so at IT&T! I find myself morphing into a Miss Trunchbull-style character at the slightest sign of a laissez-faire attitude or a concert dress of the wrong hue. It’s not a side of myself I like, yet the conflict in roles has my head spinning and I seem unable to resolve this ongoing identity crisis while continuing to ‘work’ and ‘play’. I therefore decided that since I was unable to undertake the Spanish trips because of family commitments, I would step down from participating in the concert and concentrate my energies on rolling out the day like a seamless red carpet for musicians and audience alike.
In the event, that decision proved more stressful than anticipated and the carpet was decidedly rucked in places (not least when we discovered in November, that a carol service had been scheduled in University Church during our one and only rehearsal!). I discovered that one definite advantage to playing in the concert is that it effectively removes you from the melee at the door. It’s a weird experience, as an adult, suddenly finding yourself in an unfamiliar role, but one you have observed many times and thought simple, only to discover not only is it more difficult than it looked, but also that you’re not very good at it: faced with an advancing mass of audience members I couldn’t work out how to get the Returns list to work; I couldn’t remember what the person I had just sold a ticket for looked like; I couldn’t find space for everyone because despite having shuffled along the pews several times in order to work out seating capacity, people don’t come in a standard size, especially when it’s cold and their coat has come too.
The worst of it was the concert. I had never heard the Messiah before except from within an orchestra and I was looking forward to the passive luxury of being a punter. But from the second it started my ear was glued to the bassline, experiencing all the niggles of the technical aspects of playing the part with none of the highs of performing. It wasn’t that I felt critical of the performance, more of Handel. Perhaps not the fully-fledged audience version of Miss Trunchbull, but a backseat driver nonetheless. I adjourned to the Old Library in order to escape myself.
About two hours twenty minutes later I stood in the doorway to hear the Dona Nobis Pacem and the Amen. At the end of a long work, the final page always brings a sense of release - you can stop worrying how sore you’re bottom is from sitting on the edge of a bass stool for two and a half hours, soon you will no longer be shivering/sweating (it is so rare to be the right temperature in a concert) and there is a long, thirst-quenching alcoholic drink awaiting you. But without all the physical discomforts of performing, in that last five minutes there was just that sense of transcendence that Handel both intended, musically and emotionally and in which he had faith and which was greeted by a standing ovation. A standing ovation is a very moving thing: a rare demonstration of unanimity in modern life and a collective, wordless expression of something inexpressible. A fitting response to Handel’s music.
Last year, IT&T’s Messiah was the first ever concert to sell out in University Church. This year, the audience’s response has had repercusions for health and safety and may prompt the introduction of a numbering system in the church (hurray! I won’t be dragging chairs into the front row at 5.02pm). Not only this, but the concert sold out two weeks sooner than last year and we have already had booking enquiries for next year.
This phenomenon that is the Messiah happens annually and is universal. It reminds me of that tv advert I used to see urging us that ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ - I want to say that about music. People will tell me openly they don’t like classical music, but will religiously sit through two and a half hours of the Messiah without ever considering coming to another concert; like the audiences in Kenwood stoically enduring an open-air concert in the pouring rain, but who wouldn’t dream of coming into a concert hall. It must be the same for vicars at Christmas.
But the two IT&T tours to Spain have inspired us to undertake something more inclusive in 2018. We will, of course, maintain our annual performance in University Church (December 22nd at 5pm, booking opens Sept 1st), but in addition we are planning a ‘Community Messiah’ earlier in December in the Sheldonian to which we will invite the choirs with whom we collaborate, to sing alongside Oxford Voices in the ‘big’ choruses and include players from Oxybaroxy (the Oxford County Music Service’s baroque youth orchestra) alongside IT&T. It is one of the great roles we at IT&T are privileged to occupy in Oxford - that of uniting diverse elements from within the city and university and establishing something truly communal. If you sing in a choir and would like to share the discomforts of performing a piece that lasts two and a half hours, on a hard seat, please get in touch! You will undoubtedly also get to experience the thrill of being part of a large-scale musical enterprise, which is unforgettable.
IT&T’s 2018 Season has expanded considerably since we went to print in September, so please keep an eye on email updates or check the concerts page on our website. This Friday, January 12th at 8pm in New College Chapel, Chris Bucknall, Director of Music at St Edmund Hall and Associate Director of IT&T, will direct a side-by-side concert with the Bate Players and members of IT&T. Programme and booking information is available on our website. This collaboration promises to be an enriching experience for all parties, where the freshness and enthusiasm of the Bate Players meets the experience and deeply crafted approach of IT&T.
This is followed by the next instalment of Natalie Clein’s ‘Bach Project’ presented through the University Music Faculty with booking via Ticketsoxford. The concert, in the Holywell Music Room , on Saturday January 27th is an exciting collaboration between ancient and modern, with IT&T accompanying ‘modern’ soloists Alexander Janiczek and James Boyd, alongside our own Daniel Edgar. The concert is preceded by a discussion led by distinguished Bach scholar, John Butt.
February sees Matthew Martin’s second annual Keble Early Music Festival. As last year, this features IT&T in two concerts: the first, on Thursday February 22nd, an intimate Abendmusik directed by Edward Higginbottom with a programme for soprano and small ensemble; the second a much larger scale concert, featuring two of Mozart’s greatest compositions - his Requiem and Jupiter Symphony - the former conducted by Matthew Martin and the latter, by Edward Higginbottom. I’m particularly looking forward to this, because it will be fascinating to work with two such profound musicians, one trained by the other, who nonetheless have very different conducting styles. There can’t be many cities in the world with this concentration of musical excellence.
Earlier in February, on Saturday 3rd, the Summertown Choral Society and IT&T will appear in the first of two collaborative concerts this year. This concert in St Andrew’s, Linton Rd features Handel’s wonderful ‘Israel in Egypt’ - perhaps the most dramatic of Handel’s oratorios and definitely my favourite.
March, of course, brings with it Passion season and Aliye will shortly be in touch with a booking invitation for Friends to IT&T’s St John Passion with New College Choir, conducted by Robert Quinney on Sunday March 11th. To avoid last year’s confusion, please note the start time is definitely 3pm!
We very much hope to see you at some or all of these varied concerts. It is nice to feel that, as an orchestra, we are starting to get to know our audience.
Judith Evans, Concerts Manager.