Classical Music in Oxford: A Freshers’ Guide

Entertainment Life

Maria Le Brun gives an insight into Oxford’s rich classical music scene…

As a historic city steeped in culture, every term Oxford is full of musical activity and I sometimes have to pinch myself when I see giants of the classical musical world like Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies appearing on term cards. Yet many students fail to make the most of what’s on offer either because they don’t know what’s going on or because classical music hasn’t been a part of their lives before Oxford and why should it be now?

With many tickets being offered at bargain rates (typically an OUMS concert is just £5 for students) university is the best time to experience something new. Such events are often stellar quality; many student performers from Oxford go on to become world class musicians. Dame Emma Kirkby once sang with Schola Cantorum as a classics student at Somerville and more recently former BBC Young Musician of the Year winners Mark Simpson and Jennifer Pike were music students here and played active roles in the musical life of the university. History has shown that the virtuosi of tomorrow hone their talents on the Oxford stage.

As well as student talent Oxford consistently attracts big international names, which is unusual for a city that doesn’t have its own opera house or large symphony hall. Next term Paul Lewis returns to the Sheldonian to continue his cycle of Schubert piano sonatas and the Elias Quartet are similarly carrying on their journey through the Beethoven quartets. Whilst these artists have earned their celebrity and anyone attending their concerts will have a wonderful experience, as student what I enjoy most about the Oxford music scene are the things that make it unique- those performances you couldn’t get in London or anywhere else.

The Christmas service at Christ Church Cathedral if one of the highlights of the musical year, but sadly most of us leave for the vacation before it happens. If you like choral music, I highly recommend taking a trip to your college chapel (New, Magdalen and Queen’s are also particularly spectacular) to hear an Evensong service. The Oxford University Orchestra’s termly concerts are also reliably good and it is all the more thrilling if you see somebody you know on stage. A hidden gem in the weekly OUMS email (well-worth subscribing to) is the Balliol Music Society Sunday evening offering: I remember seeing the Nash ensemble, a favourite at Wigmore Hall, performing a varied programme of Beethoven, Poulenc, Ibert and Mozart. Admission is free at Balliol events and they usually include a free glass of wine which can’t be bad! Whether it’s the coffee concerts at the Holywell, an orchestral evening at the Sheldonian or an intimate gathering in a tucked away chapel, now you know about them there’s no excuse not to hear something fantastic next term in Oxford.

PHOTO/Scott Everett

Liked reading this article? Sign up to our weekly mailing list to receive a summary of our best articles each week – click here to register

Want to contribute? Join our contributors group here or email us – click here for contact details