The Oxford Lieder Festival – now in its 17th year – doesn’t normally do politics, but with this year’s strong European theme it does seem as though a certain current hot topic might have had some influence.

So, I ask founder and artistic director Sholto Kynoch, is The Grand Tour: A European Journey In Song a reaction to Brexit?

“Well, it is and it isn’t,” he laughs. “But with all this stuff going on at the moment, I thought it was a good opportunity to celebrate European song.

“It’s not a political statement – I don’t want it to be that – but I thought it was an apt moment in our history to say we want to celebrate European music more widely.”

The festival’s theme may have been inspired by political events, but that’s as far as the politics goes. Otherwise, this is the usual championing of the art of song, which has inspired so many composers through the ages, and the feeling of embarking on an exciting journey of discovery.

“I wanted it to have a real spirit of adventure,” says Sholto. “We always try to theme the festival so that people can discover new things about music, maybe new aspects of music they’re already familiar with, and also expose them to music they’re less familiar with.”

The repertoire has been drawn from right across the continent, from Scandinavia to Eastern Europe, and includes plenty of familiar names interwoven with unexpected gems.

The opening night, A Serenade to Music, is a gala concert in the suitably magnificent setting of Oxford Town Hall, featuring music by Schubert, Schumann, Debussy and Saint-Saëns, as well as Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

Taking part are Sophie Bevan (soprano), Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Marcus Farnsworth (baritone), Jonathan Stone (violin) and Sholto Kynoch (piano), with Schola Cantorum of Oxford and conductor Stephen Grahl.

During the first week the spotlight is thrown on Debussy and Parry, both of whom died 100 years ago.

The Parry day concludes with a pair of concerts taking place in the Holywell Music Room and New College Chapel, with audiences swapping venues during the interval.

This unusual arrangement offers audiences the opportunity to hear Parry’s choral music and song side by side, with the Choir of New College performing Songs of Farewell and James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook performing songs by Parry and Jonathan Dove.

Elsewhere, there are whole days devoted to Polish, Czech, Estonian and Hungarian music, each beginning with a 15-minute Language Lab to enhance understanding and enjoyment of the recitals.

There’s a day devoted to Nordic music, an evening of Spanish song and dance – which includes Spanish wine tasting and a display of flamenco dancing – and the usual treasure trove of talks, masterclasses and family events.

The festival ends with A European Song Cycle, featuring Tara Erraught (mezzo-soprano), Ashley Riches (baritone) and Sholto Kynoch (piano) performing Schumann’s Myrthen, the song cycle he gave as a wedding gift to his wife Clara in 1840, plus songs by Ravel and Shostakovich, all connected by the poetry of Robert Burns.

“It’s wonderful to showcase all these different composers and their songs,” says Sholto. “You realize that song was such a personal thing for so many composers. It’s a great opportunity to have a bit of an adventure and explore really unusual stuff.

  • Oxford Lieder Festival
  • Various venues
  • Until October 27
  • Details & tickets: 01865 591276 or see