All about Oxford Lieder Festival 2022 - an interview

The Oxford Lieder Festival returns this October and Daily Info sat down with the festival's Press Officer, Claire Lishman, about what this year has in store.

Daily Info: What is the Oxford Lieder Festival?

Claire Lishman: The word ‘Lieder’ is simply the German noun for ‘Songs’- any kind of songs. But for classical music enthusiasts, it is a term for setting poetry to classical music. The poems that have been made into lieder often centre on pastoral themes or themes of romantic love.

The Oxford Lieder Festival exists to promote and celebrate song. It is an extravaganza of song now well established as one of the leading festivals of its kind in the world and the biggest in the UK. Over two weeks each October, we welcome many of the world's great singers and pianists to Oxford. This year, the Festival features more than 50 concerts, as well as dozens of other events that allow people to learn, take part and be inspired while celebrating the unique art form of song. The Oxford Lieder Festival also features an extensive creative project in local schools, opportunities for adult amateur musicians to take part, masterclasses, workshops, talks and more.

Oxford Lieder operates year-round, promoting other performances and education events in addition to the Festival. Oxford Lieder has a mission to re-establish an appreciation of song; the meeting of words, music, languages and artistry that can be so powerful, yet which has been neglected in recent decades.

DI: What does the programme have in store this year? What are some of the highlights?

CL: The team at the Oxford Lieder Festival spend our year looking forward to these two buzzing and vibrant weeks, not only for the glorious, up-close music and amazing artists, but also for the festive atmosphere and the sense of friendship and shared experience that is incomparable. Oxford Lieder Festival is 21 this year and we wanted to put the all-important elements of friendship, intimacy and conviviality at the centre of our programme.

We are thrilled that such an amazing array of artists will be coming to Oxford for this unique celebration of Friendship in Song. The programme has a deliberately wide focus, embracing both the great works of the repertoire as well as new works and exciting discoveries. There is something for everyone. Just one of the highlights is a celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams who was born on 2 October 1872. Just a week after his 150th birthday, we celebrate this towering figure of English music in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and BBC New Generation Artists past and present. Four lunchtime concerts will be broadcast live from the Holywell Music Room, complemented by numerous other performances and events. Audiences can attend these concerts from Tue 18 to Fri 21 October.

DI: This year is titled 'Friendship in Song'. What does this mean?

CL: ‘Friendship in Song’ makes reference to song as an art form that grew up around the piano, at social gatherings and salons, among friends. Composers wrote many of their finest songs for these settings, and they were often inspired by their friendships with other composers, poets, artists and performers. This vast range of repertoire will gently steer the Festival programme both inside the traditional concert halls and into some of Oxford’s smaller venues for a more informal and intimate concert experience.

DI: Lieder is a staple of the Oxford cultural calendar but how does the festival attract new audiences?

CL: We try incredibly hard every year to reach out to new audiences through a variety of means- diverse and imaginative programming, affordable ticket prices, and a friendly, informal, and welcoming environment to name but a few. We certainly don’t believe that classical music is just for the rich and elite. This year, a number of events are free or priced at £3-£5, and there are thousands of tickets available for £15 or less. There is a generous range of discounts offered to anyone booking multiple events, and tickets are available at £5 for under-35s to all events- yes, all events!

As well as the October Festival, which is our annual centrepiece event, we put on many other concerts throughout the year in Oxfordshire and venues further afield including London, Birmingham, Hastings and Wells. We also complement concerts with educational opportunities to enhance the experience of song, including talks, language labs, artist Q&As and more. We support singing in schools through our annual Schools Programme, where singing and composition workshops are delivered to Oxfordshire primary schools. We’re doing our bit to build an audience for the future!

DI: What is the Emerging Artists Showcase?

CL: At our 2020 Festival, which was delivered entirely online in the midst of the pandemic, we introduced an Emerging Artist slot before every evening recital: a high-profile, paid engagement for exceptional artists at the outset of their careers, who began each concert with a 15-minute performance of repertoire of their choice. This proved immensely popular, both offering much-needed work to the artists themselves and bringing great pleasure to our audience, who enjoyed regular star-spotting! With such a positive response, and in keeping with Oxford Lieder's long-standing commitment to supporting the next generation of musicians, the Emerging Artist slot is now an ongoing feature of the Festival with performances before almost every evening concert this year. These short performances are a great platform for the artists and a superb chance for our audience to hear the next generation of star musicians. The first week performances are all given by the winners of our Young Artist Programme.

DI: If you could describe Lieder in three words, what would they be?

CL: Poetic. Expressive. Beauty.

Oxford Lieder Festival runs from 14th to 29th October. Full details can be found here.

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