It doesn’t seem long since Sholto Kynoch gathered a few friends together and put on a handful of concerts at the Holywell Music Room.
That was the beginning of the Oxford Lieder Festival, now in its 11th year and recognised as a major event on the UK’s music calendar. It now features 40 concerts, masterclasses and workshops, shoehorned into two intensive weeks.
Keeping an ongoing festival fresh and vibrant is a challenge, but one that Sholto rises to with enthusiasm. This year, as always, he has a few new tricks up his sleeve — and they are mostly aimed at giving opportunities to keen amateur singers.
“It’s an increasingly important part of the festival,” says Sholto. “We’re doing more this year than we have in the past, and the level of uptake suggests we’re going to have to increase that next year.”
Singers of all levels are being invited to join the Festival Chorus, which involves a series of workshops under the guidance of conductor Jonathan Williams and vocal teacher/soprano Fiona Dobie, culminating in a concert of Part Songs in the Holywell Music Room.
There is also the Bring and Sing, also at the Holywell, at which singers can turn up and sing something of their choice. Sholto is particularly proud of a special interactive family concert, And Yesterday We Met, led by pianist/narrator Dominic Harlen. “It’s going to be amazing. Dominic’s got a really addictive personality for children. He walks onstage and has children eating out of the palm of his hand in a matter of seconds. They just sit, absolutely captivated. I think that’s possibly the most exciting thing we’re doing this year.”
But the Lieder Festival is also about bringing world-class singers to Oxford, and again Sholto has a star-studded line-up, including mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and local professionals Christop-her Purves and Benjamin Hulett, all making their festival debuts.
Hulett, who lives in Thame, is involved in one of the festival’s major projects, the ongoing exploration of the songs of Hugo Wolf, which began two years ago and continues this year with the whole of his Spanisches Liederbuch, spread across two concerts. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “It’s a nice opportunity to do something not often done, and that’s new to me. Also, performing only 14 miles from home is very rare for me!”
There is also the return of festival favourites such as James Gilchrist, Sophie Daneman and Sarah Connolly. For Sarah — who will be performing an unusual programme of little-known Brahms and Mendelssohn songs — it is the inclusiveness that makes the festival so special. “There’s a broad spectrum of singers, not just established singers but students who are beginning to learn their craft,” she says. “And we all sing together — there’s a principle of younger singers singing with older singers. It’s a tremendous celebration of song, with well-known works alongside lesser-known works. There’s something for everybody.”
Sholto adds: “There’s lots of Debussy to look out for, because it’s his 150th anniversary. There’s also a very nice evening of English Song midway through the festival, and I’m sure that will be popular.”
Varioius vnues. Oct 12-27