Oxford International Song Festival: Art:Song – Images, Words, Music

Oxford International Song Festival (formerly Oxford Lieder Festival):
13 to 28 October 2023 Art:Song – Images, Words, Music

  • The UK’s largest festival of song celebrates its first festival under a new name with a fortnight featuring over 75 events.
  • World premieres include song cycles by FEDORA Opera Prize-winning British-Chinese composer Alex Ho (Oxford International Song Festival’s Associate Composer), Geoffrey Gordon, Mahdis Golzar Kashani, and Héloïse Werner, and a new work by Roxanna Panufnik co-commissioned with Presteigne Festival.
  • World-class singers and pianists, alongside emerging stars, take to the stage for evening song recitals, complemented by a wide-ranging series of events including lunchtime concerts, talks, tours, workshops, dance, masterclasses, and more.
  • With tickets starting at £5, several free events, £8 tickets for under-35s at every event, and a choice of discounts and concessionary rates, the Festival is accessible to all.

The Oxford International Song Festival (13 to 28 October 2023) presents a thrilling fortnight of intrigue, colour, and inspiration this autumn. Art:Song – Images, Words, Music focuses on exploring the rich connections between song, poetry and visual arts, aligning the three artforms in a wide variety of ways. Over 200 singers, instrumentalists and speakers will appear at 76 events, encompassing the great works of the repertoire alongside new works and exciting discoveries.

Artists include Dame Sarah Connolly and Dame Imogen Cooper who give the opening recital on 13 October; baritone Benjamin Appl joined by the Festival’s Artistic Director Sholto Kynoch (14 Oct); tenor Nicholas Mulroy with lutenist Toby Carr and The Choir of the Queen’s College directed by Owen Rees (15 Oct); Christopher Maltman (16 Oct); Christine Rice, Timothy Ridout and Julius Drake (17 Oct); Miah Persson and Malcolm Martineau (18 Oct); Gweneth Ann Rand and Simon Lepper (20 Oct); Juliane Banse and Alexander Krichel (21 Oct); and Roderick Williams with Iain Burnside (23 Oct),  Robin Tritschler (24 Oct), Thomas Oliemans (24 Oct) and Toby Spence (28 Oct).

International artists appearing for the first time include Samuel Hasselhorn (19 Oct); Laurence Kilsby (18 Oct); Francesca Chiejina (19 Oct); Karola Pavone (21 Oct); Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (25 Oct); Andrei Kymach,appearing with Llyr Williams in a programme of Ukrainian songs (25 Oct))..

The world premiere of The Glass Eye, a new song cycle by Associate Composer Alex Ho and acclaimed writer Elayce Ismail, will be given by Kathleen Ferrier Award-winning countertenor Hugh Cutting with pianist Dylan Perez (26 Oct). A new song cycle by Iranian composer Mahdis Golzar Kashaniwill be premiered by, amongst others, Soraya Mafi and James Atkinson (13 Oct); Héloïse Werner’s Knight’s Dreamwill be sung by Helen Charlston with Sholto Kynoch(16 Oct); Jacques Imbrailo and Alisdair Hogarth will premiere Geoffrey Gordon’s At the round earth’s imagin’d corners (27 Oct); and Roxanna Panufnik’s Gallery of Memories, with text by Jessica Duchen, will be performed by Mary Bevan with Anna Tilbrook (27 Oct).

The cream of the new generation includes baritone Theodore Platt, pianist Keval Shah, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean (Britten Pears Young Artist 2021/22), and soprano Harriet Burns, amongst many.  Six of the evening recitals begin with a short Emerging Artist slot, giving a vital showcase to outstanding young professionals.

Wolfgang Holzmair makes a welcome return to the Festival to lead the annual Mastercourse (23-28 Oct). The course provides a superb opportunity for a new generation of musicians to learn from top international artists and to immerse themselves in song. It also gives an insight into the creative process for members of the public. Holzmair will be joined by four guest tutors including the pianist, author and scholar Graham Johnson to share his wisdom.

The middle weekend of the Festival (21-22 Oct) is dedicated to Franz Schubert. The Schubert weekend is an annual feature, tracing the composer’s life year by year until the Schubert bicentenary in 2028. The weekend’s centrepiece will be a lecture-recital led by Graham Johnson, giving his seminal survey of Schubert’s life, 200 years on. He will be joined by singers including the German baritone Stephan Loges and American soprano Martha Guth.

A host of ‘Song Connections’ events include: a celebration of the life and work of artist, musician and writer Tom Phillips RA; a focus on the Pre-Raphaelite artists, poets and composers in conjunction with the Ashmolean Museum’s Colour Revolution exhibition; a day of fashion and song including a homage to Yves Saint Laurent and a recital created around the scents of Master Perfumer Christian Provenzano; SongPath at Harcourt Arboretum; an introduction to Max Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie by Natasha Loges; a tour of the Queen’s College and a visit to the extraordinary medieval crypt at St Edmund Hall; talks on Picasso and Käthe Kollwitz; and an illustrated talk led by speaker Professor Philip Ross Bullock marking Rachmaninoff’s 150th anniversary by tracing his relationship with the Russian countryside as expressed through poetry and music. Late night events include Voice Electric with Lotte Betts-Dean and video artistPurple Taiko at The Levine Building at Trinity College (18 Oct), and Voice Trio’s Hildegard Transfigured at The University Church (19 Oct). 

Some events are free or priced at just £5-£10, and there are thousands of tickets for £15 or less. A generous range of discounts are offered to anyone booking multiple events, and tickets are available for £8 at all events for under-35s. Venues include the Weston Library Lecture Theatre, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, the Holywell Music Room (Europe’s oldest concert hall), the Queen’s College Upper Library and Chapel, Harcourt Arboretum, St Catherine’s College, the Lecture Theatre at the Ashmolean Museum, St Edmund Hall, the University Church, and several college chapels.

Sholto Kynoch, Artistic Director of Oxford International Song Festival, said: “This is our 22nd festival, but the first under our new name, as we make the change from Oxford Lieder Festival. Audience members who have been coming for years will see that in many ways little has changed: as well as the great works of Schubert and Schumann, we have a huge breadth of music spanning centuries and in multiple languages, and it is this breadth that is better reflected in our new identity. For those who are new to the Festival, I hope they will find much to intrigue and inspire. Our celebratory and welcoming spirit is brighter than ever!

This year’s thrilling theme aligns the visual arts with poetry and music in a wide variety of ways. I feel that there is truly something here for everyone, whichever aspect of the arts most draws people in. Alongside a roster of world-renowned singers and pianists, audiences will find colour, fashion, musical manuscripts that are themselves artworks, artist-poets, artist-composers, programmes inspired by artworks, and opportunities to create musically inspired art. We also make our first foray into dance; feature five world premieres including a new song cycle fusing Iranian and European classical styles; welcome an astonishing jazz pianist and a Schubert-inspired band; and much more besides.

I am already counting down the days to the Festival and look forward to welcoming audiences and celebrating the vital and varied world of song in all its glorious guises.”

Public booking for the Oxford International Song Festival is now open. Book tickets online at www.oxfordsong.org or phone the Box Office on 01865 591276 (Monday – Friday, 11am – 4pm)