I don't watch sport, but I imagine the intensity and involvement one feels as an audience member of a classical concert is the same as watching football. As a spectator, doing literally nothing to affect the players, you feel so involved you feel as though you could be right there on the pitch with them. Monday evening saw the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, orchestra in residence at the University, play three pieces; Rossini's Overture, Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. The latter two were a last minute change, along with the conductor. A family emergency left conductor Marios Papadopoulos stepping into the shoes of Valery Gergiev, certainly with ease as the musical director and driving force behind the Oxford Philharmonic.
The Sheldonian's slightly dictatorial ushers do not decrease its value as a venue. The (unintentional I'm sure) apocalyptically coloured clouds of Christopher Wren's high-Baroque ceiling visually mirror the frenzied, full orchestra moments of each piece. As an audience we are caught in this small space between art and music - an intensely cultured lock-in. Although it has three tiers of seating, the Sheldonian is incredibly intimate. The physical intimacy of the place enhances the slumberous parts to Rossini's Overture, the music so casual it puts to mind a half-asleep conversation during a weekend lie in. And thus the jolt of awakeness is even more extreme when the orchestra marches its audience straight into battle. It is such a joy to be in the midst of a huge sound. It is this intensity and change in emotion and pace that makes listening to good classical music so exciting, sometimes even unnerving. Certainly so for German composer Carl Maria von Weber, who after hearing Symphony No. 7 exclaimed that Beethoven was now 'quite ready for the madhouse.' And perhaps understandably. At points, not just in this piece but also in the earlier two, the musicians looked quite possessed by their instruments. Anna-Liisa Bezrodny, principal violinist for the passionately-played Bruch piece, reminded me of an automaton, the instrument jerking her with it as if she were a clockwork mechanism, of the music rather than human. Just one part in the creation of something much larger than us all.