Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Eight Songs from Isolation: first opera written for a socially distanced world

Conductor Oliver Zeffman has commissioned the very first opera for a socially distanced world, which is now available to watch exclusively on Apple Music. Eight Songs From Isolation has been written by eight leading composers, specifically for streaming - rather than live performance - and is the first opera written for a time when the performers were unable to meet in person.

Let Music Live

Leading freelance musicians unite in Parliament Square to call for targeted support for colleagues in the arts and entertainment sector.

Murphy & Attridge celebrate performers' humanity with a creative response to lockdown

Duo Lewis Murphy (composer) and Laura Attridge (writer) have launched a charitable song project entitled Notes From Isolation. The resulting songs, featuring some of the UK's top singing talent, are being released online between August and October 2020 and can be enjoyed free of charge.

The Royal Opera House unveils programme of new work alongside much-loved classics for live audiences this Autumn

The Royal Opera House is thrilled to announce an exciting, wide-ranging new line-up for its autumn programme. For the first time, extraordinary performances will be accessible online for a global audience through livestreams and for socially distanced live audiences at our home in Covent Garden. In a global first, we present a new opera in hyper-reality, alongside repertory favourites from both artistic companies.

Wexford Festival Opera Gala Concert - Remote Voices: as part of Waiting for Shakespeare …The Festival in the air

Some of the most famous and outstanding stars from the opera world are to take part in a very special evening from Wexford Festival Opera, including Aigul Akhmetshina, Joseph Calleja, Daniela Barcellona, Juan Diego Flórez, Igor Golovatenko, Ermonela Jaho, Sergey Romanovsky, and many more.

OperaStreaming announces second season of nine new productions from the opera houses of Emilia-Romagna, free to view on YouTube

Following its successful launch in 2019, OperaStreaming streams nine operas on YouTube from the historic opera houses of Emilia-Romagna during the 2020-21 season, with fully-staged productions of Verdi's La traviata in October from Modena and Verdi'sOtello from Bologna in...

Connections Across Time: Sholto Kynoch on the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival

‘A brief history of song’ is the subtitle of the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival (10th-17th October), which will present an ambitious, diverse and imaginative programme of 40 performances and events.

Bampton Classical Opera 2020: Gluck's The Crown at St John's Smith Square

Bampton Classical Opera returns to the Baroque splendour of London’s St John’s Smith Square on November 6 with a concert performance of Gluck’s one-act opera The Crown, the first in the UK since 1987. The performance will also be filmed and available to watch on demand on the Bampton website from 9 November.

A new opera written during lockdown with three different endings to choose from to premiere this October as part of Wexford Festival Opera

While many of us spent lockdown at home taking it a little easier, composer Andrew Synnott wrote an opera.

Grange Park Opera presents Britten’s Owen Wingrave, filmed on location in haunted houses in Surrey and London

Owen Wingrave is part of the new Interim Season of 19 brand new events, all free to view online between September and December 2020.

Music and Theatre For All launches three major new projects supported by The Arts Council

The Arts Council has awarded innovative UK charity Music and Theatre For All (MTFA) a major new grant to develop three ambitious new projects in the wake of Covid 19.

English National Opera to reopen the London Coliseum with performances of Mozart’s Requiem

English National Opera (ENO) will reopen the London Coliseum to socially distanced audiences on 6 and 7 November for special performances of Mozart’s Requiem. These will provide audiences with an opportunity to reflect upon and to commemorate the difficulties the nation has faced during the pandemic.

The Royal Opera House launches autumn digital programme with a new series of Friday Premieres and screenings on Sky Arts

The Royal Opera House is proud to continue its curated #OurHouseToYourHouse programme into the autumn, bringing audiences the best of the ROH through a new series of Friday Premieres and cultural highlights.

Take a Bow: Royal Opera House opens its doors for the first time in six months as part of Open House London

After six months of closure, the Royal Opera House is thrilled to be opening its doors to the public as part of Open House London weekend, giving visitors a taste of one of the world’s most famous theatres for free.

Academy of St Martin in the Fields presents re:connect - a series of autumn concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is thrilled to announce re:connect - an eight concert series with live socially distanced audiences at its namesake church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The autumn concerts will take place at 5pm & 7:30pm on two Saturdays per month with guest artists including baritone Roderick Williams, soprano Carolyn Sampson and composer-conductor-pianist Ryan Wigglesworth performing a wide range of repertoire.

Connections Across Time: The Oxford Lieder Festival, 10-17 October 2020

Music and poetry unite and collide across centuries, from the Medieval to the Enlightenment to the present day. This year, the Oxford Lieder Festival will present a thrilling and innovative programme comprising more than forty events streamed over eight days.

The English Concert Autumn 2020 series: Handel and Purcell, Britain’s Orpheus

The English Concert with artistic director Harry Bicket is delighted to announce a series of concerts from 1-15 October 2020. The concerts take place in historic London venues with star soloists and will be performed and streamed live to a paying audience at 7pm GMT on each performance date. The programmes include first-class vocal and instrumental works from the two pillars of the English Baroque, covering different aspects of the repertoire.

Glyndebourne announces first indoor performances since lockdown, and unveils 2021 Festival repertoire

Glyndebourne has announced plans for a ‘staycation’ series of socially-distanced indoor performances, starting on 10 October 2020.

Royal Opera House announces autumn opera and ballet concerts

The Royal Opera House is delighted to announce two packed evenings of opera and ballet, live from our stage in Covent Garden and available to view wherever you are in the world online.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

11 Oct 2015

Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 - Sholto Kynoch interview

Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.

The festival opens with a recital from Sarah Connolly and Graham Johnson performing Schubert, Brahms and Wolf, and closes with Christoph Pregardien and Roger Vignoles performing Heinrich Heine settings by Schumann and Schubert, whilst in between there are a great many other delights. I recently met the festival's founder and artistic director

Sholto Kynoch, for coffee and to chat about what makes the festival tick.
Sholto, who is himself a pianist, founded the festival when he arranged a series of Schubert recitals in Oxford. He had recently graduated and was staying on in Oxford for a year before going to the Royal Academy of Music. This first group of concerts was performed mainly by students, but it was germ from which the whole festival grew. There never was a master-plan, it just grew even though for the first five years of the festival's existence Sholto was still studying. The festival has grown somewhat, particularly in the last few years and now they plan to build on the success of last year's Schubert project.

In person he is a big bloke, very personable and clearly highly knowledgeable and happy to talk about his work. Song is rarely absent from our conversation, and is clearly one of his passions and we come back more than once to the comparative neglect of the song recital nowadays.

I ask Sholto what he sees as the Oxford Lieder Festival's particular qualities. First, of course, comes the location as Oxford is such a special place and the presence of so many tourists is a plus point in terms of festival audience. Secondly, the festival concentrates solely on song, and no other festival comes close in scope. Sholto feels the festival has a mission to promote the neglected genre of lieder and art song, as he sees the song as having faded from the concert platform (with the notable exception of places like the Wigmore Hall).

But the festival also has a very particular atmosphere. Many of the venues are quite small and intimate (the Holywell Music Rooms, which they use regularly, holds just 200) and the whole event has a welcoming informality. They also do lots of related events and there are some wonderfully imaginative combinations of programming. There are lots of talks and study events which complement the performances, and all texts and translations are provided (they will be free this year). There is also an extensive education programme involving primary schools, a residential course and promoting new music, as well as supporting young singers, as well as encouraging the ordinary concert goer (and the concert has a number of 'take-part' events).

A sampling of what's on offer at this year's festival demonstrates the sort of imaginative, joined-up programming available. There's a day with a theme of Michelangelo running through it. Things start with Michelangelo poems (and coffee) at the Ashmolean Museum, then a free concert of Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo with Daniel Norman and Sholto Kynoch, lunch with Stephanie Marshall, Johnny Herford and Gary Matthewman performing Faure and Schubert, a talk on the Michelangelo drawings in the Ashmolean collection followed by Javier Borda and Lada Valesova performing the original version of Shostakovich's Michelangelo settings (at the Ashmolean Museum), then Faure and Janacek chamber music, Eucharist in New College Oxford, and Joan Rogers and Sholto Kynoch exploring settings of Pushkin and Tolstoy. Finally there is a reading of a short story by Aleksandr Kuprin at the King's Arms pub.

All this costs money,especially with predominantly small venues and Sholto admits that money is an endless problem. Last year they sold 12,500 tickets, but ticket income covers just one third of their costs. This means that there is a constant round of fund-raising and applications to trusts and foundations. They have also been experimenting in using some bigger venues. Last year, for the first time, they used the Sheldonian Theatre. Contrary to its reputation, Sholto found that it had quite a good acoustic though it is notoriously uncomfortable. It does however, provide them with more seats as there is the same number of good seats as the Holywell Music Room but also lots of cheaper seats as well. They are also using St John the Evangelist, a church which is now a concert venue. This seats 500 and is the biggest that Sholto feels he wants them to go.

As well as the informal intimacy, Sholto wants to keep the festival's friendly, family atmosphere with many of their audience coming every night. He makes the events as welcoming as possible, keeping them friendly and casual (with no dress code). He is present every night, either front of house or performing and sometimes both. People travel to the festival, a lot of the audience comes from outside Oxford, last year they had visitors from the USA, France, Germany and a group from Holland.

Of course, the event which made people really notice the festival was last year's Schubert Project where all of Schubert's songs (and some of his other music too) were programmed in a specially extended three week festival. The idea of doing all of Schubert's songs had been a long term vision of Sholto's but it was something only discussed seriously in the last three to four years and was a two year undertaking to plan.

The duration of the festival was extended from two weeks to three, the budget nearly tripled and they went from giving 30 concerts to 70 concerts. The festival included events in the Ashmolean, a study day at the Botanic Garden as well as lots of other new experiences. It was such as success that they want to build on it without having people feel that they are simply repeating themselves. This year's festival is smaller in scale, but Sholto thinks that it is impressive and builds on last year in the way the festival is programmed with such things as masterpiece events (of short duration, often free) popping up in unusual places (Britten's Winter Words in Exeter College Chapel), poetry readings and collaborations with organisations like the Ashmolean. For Sholto, last year's festival was the first time they had been properly able to combine this sort of tight programming and unusual events, though they had been working towards it.

Last year's Schubert Project was themed by poet (this has led on to this year's theme of poets and their songs). In fact, his first view of programming all of Schubert's songs was to mix and match the known and the unknown, but instead they grouped them by theme or poet. This meant that there was a long evening of short strophic songs setting Klopstock, Holderin and associated poets. This sort of programming was quite risky, but people entered into it and people saw a side of Schubert that is not so well known. Also, these were the type of songs which, placed alongside some of the well-known greats, would easily disappear yet Sholto thinks they are equally important in Schubert's repertoire. Sholto was really proud of this concert, and feels that they did not try to brush the smaller songs under the carpet.

It took two years to find enough singers, and to organise the programming. And it worked, for Sholto there wasn't a single duff concert, and he tried to avoid a sense of just ticking off the songs. A handful of people heard every Schubert song and one person went to every event. The intention had always been that the programming would be done in such a way that a listener could hear every Schubert song - a once in a lifetime event.

This year they didn't want to simply revert back to their old format, nor to find the festival compared to the Schubert Project, and of course the poet focus of the Schubert songs led straight to this year's theme. The theme will be encompassed by most, but not all of this year's concert. People love poetry, and it does enable Sholto and his performers to explore the essence of song. He comments that he always programmes by starting with the music first, so it was to some extent salutary to start from the text. And he asks rhetorically why, though they have collaborated with the Ashmolean and with the music faculty, the festival has never done a collaborations with faculties like Modern Languages?

Of course, programming can be a problem especially as so many of Schubert's songs are not known. Younger artists can sometimes be reluctant to learn new repertoire, and older singers have no time. But overall, Sholto has found the singers very responsive to learning songs so that last year's Schubert Project could be really complete. Sholto sees it as his job to present something that the artist wants to be part of (and Sholto admits that this has been learned on the job). He also admits that there are a handful of singers whom he will welcome whatever repertoire they bring. Christian Gerhaher will be opening the 2016 concert in a programme of the singer's own choosing.

Next year's festival will take the songs of Schumann as its theme, performing all of them. This is nothing like the undertaking of Schubert and the festival will last its usual two weeks (Sholto points out that the complete Schumann edition lasts 11 CD's rather than Schubert's 37!). This conciseness means that they can look at Schumann's contemporaries more, bringing out the links to Leipzig, to Mendelssohn and the Bach revival, to Brahms. Sholto still has not quite decided how to programme the songs. It would be easy to do it by poet as with Schubert, but Schumann's songs are more easily grouped as they were published and the final programming my do one or the other or a mixture. Of course, to programme all of a composer's songs, Sholto has to take the time to get to know the body of work even if he has not performed all of them.

As a pianist he combines his work as an accompanist with chamber music and the occasional solo recital. For solo recitals, he does around one programme a year, and enjoys it, but feels that he is principally a collaborative musician rather than a soloist and enjoys working both with singers and with instrumentalists and sees the collaborations as no different. He has a piano trio, the Phoenix Piano Trio, and he loves playing with them, and they have done a complete Beethoven cycle. Effectively Sholto is balancing two full time jobs, as pianist and as festival director, and clearly loves it.

Over the next few years they plan to build on the success of 2014 and fine tune the model. 2017 will see the complete Mahler songs as a thread running through the festival (as Fauré's songs run through this year's). Sholto sees a lot to be said for doing the complete songs of a composer, if you do it well. It helps to give a complete picture of the composer, both illuminating and balancing their repertoire as well as encouraging people to look at composers in a new light. They are also continuing their partnerships with organisations like the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum, which Sholto sees as an important strand in the festival's programming. There are also discussions with taking the festival brand outside of Oxford.

In some ways this builds on what they do already with their young artists platform. Each year they audition song duos and on a Spring weekend six duos get to perform for 45 minutes and participate in a master-class. Two duos are chosen to be festival ambassadors. This involves not only gigs at the main festival but outside performances too, as the festival subsidises them at music clubs (very much like the Countess of Munster Trust does), paying part of the duos fee so as to make the song recital more financially attractive, as well as sending texts and translations and offering pre-concert talks. the result not only markets the festival but gives the young artists valuable experience. They currently are able to offer 12 to 14 concerts per year like this but they would like to build on the model and offer more.

The festival brand is also available on disc as Sholto and a group of singers have recorded all of Wolf's songs live. The 9th volume will be available soon and the final two next year. Though they are planning a Schumann disc in advance of the 2016 festival, Sholto found the complete Wolf recordings a big undertaking and wants to put some distance from the project before contemplating another live recording. He finds that there are some great things about live recordings but some frustrating ones too. Away from the festival, Sholto has been recording complete songs of John Ireland, and of Havergal Brian with Mark Stone and Stone Records.

This year's Oxford Lieder Festival runs from 16 October to 31 October, there is something happening every day with events throughout the day on most days, mixing free and paid, with the core of the festival being the sequence of evening recitals. The festival venues include the Sheldonian and Holywell Music Rooms, but also many more. The festival programme lists a total of 18 venues in and around Oxford including the Ashmolean Museum, and a number of the collecges and of course the King's Arms Pub. There are Take Park! events, including a festival chorus, bring and sing and masterclasses, and the colleges have sacred music which fits the festival themes. Themes running through this year's festival include the music of Fauré and of Berlioz, and poets such as Verlaine, Pushkin, Tolstoy, AE Housman, and Heine, as well as song in translation.

Robert Hugill

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):