Even in a city where famous musicians are frequent visitors, the Oxford Lieder Festival has managed to mark itself as an unmissable cultural event. For two weeks every October, singers from Dame Felicity Lott to Ian Partridge have been descending upon the dreaming spires, attracting enthusiastic audiences to intimate recitals.
Since its creation in 2002, the Festival has gone from strength to strength. “The festival didn’t have its roots in any master plan,” remembers Sholto Kynoch. “We put on some Schubert song recitals and someone had the idea of calling it the Lieder Festival, then it just spiralled from that.”
Since its inception, Sholto has played the role of the Festival’s artistic director. Not only does he liaise with artists, but can frequently be seen on the stage of the Holywell Music Room. He traces his love for art song back to the age of 16: “I heard a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert when I was about 16 and fell in love with it straight away.” It was a chance encounter with Opera North which sparked his passion for accompaniment, developed by his time as a student at Oxford (Sholto read Music at Worcester College).
Alongside the hallowed names of Sarah Connolly and Alice Coote to be seen at this year’s Festival, listeners can also tune into up-and-coming artists. The Young Artist Platform has turned out much talent, and last year’s winners will be featured in an evening recital this year. Sholto sees the awards given to these singers as a stepping stone to bigger things. “Since winning our award, they’ve all gone on to win prizes in other competitions and have been offered big roles in opera companies. They’re all doing extremely well. Many singers get swept up rather quickly in the musical world, but we’re making sure that they keep the art song angle in their career at the moment.”
The Festival has gradually expanded out of the concert hall and now encompasses all sorts of projects, but cites the workshops with primary school children as the most remarkable. “There are so many studies into the effect of music upon everybody, especially young people: the combination of words and music, the performance element and the knowledge that they’re being involved in such a big project has a big effect on them.” The Festival recently set up its own CD label, and has been recording the complete art songs of Hugo Wolf. “The last disc had 12 world premieres on it! We’ve got two concerts in this festival and four concerts next year still to record.”
Sholto attributes the success of the Festival to the size of Oxford. “Inevitably, not every resident of the city is interested or even knows about it, but you feel that there are people who are really excited while the festival is on.” Looking ahead, where does he see the festival progressing? “The Schubert festival [in 2014] is going to be a huge event! It’s certainly going to put us on the map in a level up from the one which we’re on at the minute. We’ll get attention from all over the world, not just from the UK. We have to consider the transition from a relatively informal gathering of committed people to a fully-fledged organisation. It’s exciting, but also very daunting! “
The Oxford Lieder Festival runs from 12th-27th October 2012.
Student Tickets at just £5 are available for every concert (on the door only, subject to availability). Students can also pick up a loyalty card and get every fourth concert free.