Nicola Lisle talks to Judith Evans about Oxford’s newest orchestra

Frustration at the lack of opportunities for local professional musicians led Judith Evans – “a jobbing bass player for 30 years”, as she describes herself – to help launch a new orchestra in Oxford last year.

Period instrument ensemble Instruments of Time and Truth takes its name from Handel’s 1757 oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Truth, and is intended as a showcase for professional musicians living in and around Oxford - many of whom play with world-class ensembles such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Baroque Soloists.

“There’s a lot of music going on in Oxford, but the Oxford orchestras are fixed from London and they use London players,” Judith says. “They don’t book us because we’re local.”

After studying at the Royal College of Music as a junior from the age of 14, Judith lived and played in orchestras in London before coming to Oxford 20 years ago to study as a mature student.

It was the constant travelling from Oxford to London to perform, that spurred Judith and cellist Gabriel Amherst to start their own Oxford-based ensemble.

“I just thought, this is absolutely ridiculous,” Judith says forcefully. “I do about one thing in Oxford every year, which is the New Chamber Opera in the summer. It‘s about five minutes from my house, which is fantastic, and I just thought, why can’t life always be like this? Why do I spend five hours in the car driving to London and back?

“It was actually Gay [Gabriel Amherst] who said to me, ‘I’ve got an idea – do you want to help me run an orchestra?’ So that was what got us off the starting block, because you’ve got to have a moment when you think, right, I’m going to be proactive now.”

The other trigger was Edward Higginbottom’s retirement as director of New College Choir. “I’d worked with him with New College Choir for a long time, and then I became a New College chorister parent and started fixing the orchestra for Edward,” Judith explains. “And I thought, this shouldn’t just stop. So we asked him to be our principal conductor.”

Since its launch last year, Instruments of Time and Truth has notched up an impressive tally of concerts, most recently marking its first birthday at the Sheldonian with A Confection of Mozart, which included appearances by baritone Christopher Purves, soprano Katherine Watson and Croatian violinist Bojan Cicic.

Next week they will be performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor with the Oxford Pro Musica Singers, and this kind of collaboration with other local ensembles is something Judith is keen to develop.

“The Oxford Pro Musica Singers are the first people who asked us to do a concert for them, and that’s exactly what we want to do,” she says. “We want to establish these relationships, do stuff for amateur choral societies and college choirs, do our own self-promotions and then anything Edward is asked to do he’s got a resource he can call on.”

Another collaboration is lined up for the autumn, when the orchestra joins the Choir of TheQueen’s College for Handel’s Coronation Anthems, as part of The Divine Office Festival.

Bach: Mass in B Minor
Instruments of Time and Truth/Oxford Pro Musica Singers, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, July 9 7.30pm.