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An explosive night of historic significance
FIFTY-one years ago Michael Sommer made history in Oxford with a bang.
For the first time, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was performed in the UK as it was meant to be – with explosions from a cannon, the sound of cathedral bells and the full panoply of orchestra, military band and church organ.
Five thousand people crammed into Tom Quad at Christ Church for that event, which raised more than £700 for Oxfam, estimated to be the equivalent of £12,000 in today’s money.
No sooner had the smoke cleared than people started calling for an encore of the open-air prom spectacular.
More than half a century later, Mr Sommer, 70, will be there to hear Oxford’s grandest college quad echo once more to the sound of the 1812, to mark the 200th anniversary of the campaign that inspired it.
The re-enactment will be performed on Saturday night by Oxford Philomusica – in aid of Christ Church Cathedral Music Trust – as part of the weekend of Jubilee concerts being staged at Christ Church. The Queen is the Visitor of Christ Church.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa performs tomorrow night with the BBC Concert Orchestra and on Sunday the Oxfordshire County Music Service will hold a gala concert, featuring young people from across the county.
Mr Sommer, a retired accountant of Cumnor Hill, said he and a group of friends had hit on the idea of turning Tom Quad into an open air concert venue when they were students at Christ Church.
He said: “The Oxford Mail acclaimed it as ‘the most ambitious and majestic musical occasion seen in Oxford for many years’. The Haydn trumpet concerto was a natural, as was the Grand March from Aida.
“But the masterstroke was the 1812 Overture, which had never been performed in the UK in its full-score version.
“With a good deal of cajoling, the Governing Body consented to the scheme, though they were terrified of the consequences for the lawn. We, on the other hand, were terrified of the consequences of rain.
“The weather was glorious. From 6pm the queue for unreserved seats and standing places was stretching down to Folly Bridge. I think at the time someone said, ‘Let’s do it every three years’, but it hasn’t been done since.”
He said he hit on the idea of restaging it after travelling to Bulgaria for a music festival.
He said: “I took War and Peace with me to read, which of course is all about 1812.”