A packed Sheldonian Theatre was livelier than usual, as hoards of students streamed in to support the Oxford University Orchestra (OUO), and from the delight on the faces of the musicians, many of their friends.
The ensemble encourages many of the University’s top musicians to come together to play challenging and exciting repertoire with exceptional professional conductors and soloists.
In a thrilling performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 7 (
One of Shostakovich’s most famous and widely performed works, the Leningrad Symphony was written under the duress of war, during the starvation and bombardment of St Petersburg by Nazi troops in 1941, in a siege which lasted for almost 900 days, and resulted in the deaths of a million civilians.
‘I was guided by a great love for the man in the street,’ Shostakovich wrote. ‘Love for the people who have become the bulwark of culture, civilisation and life. I love them from the bottom of my heart.’ On hearing the ‘invasion theme’ of the monumental first movement when it was first performed under Stalin’s authoritarian regime - authorised as a direct response to German aggression - many Russian listeners wept.
The composer’s vision was much larger than anti-fascism: ‘other enemies of humanity’ may well have included Stalin himself. Under the Great Purges, open displays of grief and loss were impossible. Such is the power of the music, adapted and composed afresh at breakneck speed in response to the deepening suffering around him, I – and many of the Sheldonian audience - were similarly deeply moved.
The four movements reflecting the onset of war, a lyrical intermezzo, an adagio with inset drama and victory as a finale were a technical, emotional and dramatic challenge that the young musicians carried with precision and passion.
It was only when Peter Stark mentioned the ‘B’ word that we were reminded of our current concerns – but it was to highlight the OUO Japan Project in March 2019 when 30 OUO musicians and guest conductor Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey will share and perform with students in Fukushima as part of the regeneration project on the eighth anniversary of the nuclear disaster there. Donations in ‘B’ for buckets on the night – but more always welcome...
As the orchestra rose for a final time, after waves of repeated applause, Leader Ellen Dunn plucked a flower from her bouquet and presented it to a fellow violinist. In that small gesture, wider co-operation was evidenced.