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Oxford Festival of the Arts 2019

Two weeks of music, drama, talks films, dance, art, circus and comedy.
Various venues in Oxford, Fri 21 June - Sun 7 July 2019
Visit for the full programme.

Taking over Oxford for the next two weeks the annual Oxford Festival of the Arts bring with it a heady roster of music, talk, dance, films and workshops offering something for everyone.

There are highlights in each of these areas, under the festival's theme of 'Connections'. Events kick off with Rhum and Clay's take on Dario Fo's Mistero Buffo, following up the theatre company's powerful take on War of the Worlds, and a launch in Bonn Square with live music from the pop-up orchestra, Street Orchestra Live.

Then across the next two weeks there is a sprawling schedule of events to choose from. For the comedy-minded there's Jericho Comedy's Murder on the National Express, the (self-explanatory) Improvised Pirate's Tale, and a night of comedy with Desiree Burch, Larry Dean and the Lost Voice Guy. Lumo Company and Alleyne Dance bring their latest dance pieces to the Old Fire Station, whilst there are exhibitions showing off art, photography and artefacts across the two weeks. Film is always a particular strength at the festival, with this year's selection including a pair of silent film masterpieces paired with a live organ (Metropolis and Nosferatu), as well as free open-air screenings of Pixar's brilliant Coco and the romping delight of Shakespeare in Love.

Theatre treats include a trio of classic texts in the form of George Faquhar's The Recruting Officer, Aristophanes' The Frogs and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Music sees most genres covered, from big band and jazz to classic musical and mardigals performed on punts. Expect talks from speakers as varied as Rosie Millard (Arts Editor for The New Statesman), Dame Sarah Connolly (much-celebrated mezzo-soprano), Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Prue Leith (The Great British Bake Off).

With all these events there is bound to be something to fit everyone's tastes.

Nosferatu [PG]

The original 1922 vampire horror with a live organ accompaniment.
Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College High Street Oxford

Metropolis [PG]

Iconic silent cinema sci-fi with a live organ accompaniment.
Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College High Street Oxford

Edmond [TBC]

Comedic biopic of poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand. French with subt.

Shakespeare in Love [15]

Historical romance: Shakespeare finds inspiration and romance in the company of a noble woman.
Magdalen College School
Cowley Place Oxford

Ravel Opera Double Bill [TBC]

Open air screening of opera double from Glyndebourne.
Magdalen College School
Cowley Place Oxford

Child Migrant Stories [TBC]

Three short films that explore stories of historic and contemporary child migration.
Magdalen College School
Cowley Place Oxford

Becoming a Dragon [TBC]

Short film following the players at the Mexico City Homeless World Cup in November 2018.
Magdalen College School
Cowley Place Oxford

July 2, 2019
Sensitive and accurate playing

Elizabeth Kenny, SJE Arts at the church of S. John the Evangelist, Thu June 27th 2019

When I first lived in London, I attended a Wigmore Hall concert by Anthony Rooley. In the cheap seats at the back, the lute was scarcely audible even in the reverent silence. Ever since, I’ve had concerns about how well such a delicate instrument will work in a modern concert environment.

But the theorbo is a different beast, of greater size and volume, developed partly to serve continuo needs for larger musical forces and staged performances, and I need not have worried about this concert. The sound filled the warm acoustic of SJE very well, in this episode of their outstanding Next Generation concert series.

Nor was the repertoire confined to gentler ancient music - alongside exquisitely realised baroque suites by Kapsberger and de Visee, we had 21st century pieces by James MacMillan and Benjamin Oliver - perhaps too fearsome for me! - and a hugely engaging 'Berceuse and Variations' from Nico Muhly. Throughout, Kenny played with the sensitivity and accuracy for which she has developed renown, which has won her Grammy awards and many other tributes. The greater volume and presence of the theorbo compared with a lute, does not preclude the instrument being intimate and engaging, and Kenny further connected with the audience during the necessary trials of re-tuning between pieces - the modern composers in particular make full use of the flexibility of the theorbo.

We had a brief encore of the 17th century song 'Lillibullero', reshaped for theorbo by the performer herself - as she explained, an accelerated version of 'Rock-a-bye Baby!' - and it was much appreciated that she stayed around to chat to concertgoers after the event, to explain the instrument and repertoire further. A very pleasing evening altogether.

It was tremendously helpful also to be provided with a very well-produced programme which described and explained the works for this concert, and upcoming events in the Next Generation series.

June 27, 2019
Pulling no punches

Dr David Starkey, Magdalen College School, Wed 26th June 2019

It is perhaps fitting that Dr David Starkey arrived in Oxford to deliver a talk about Sir Winston Churchill, looking at how the famous politician used his skills as a historian and author to lead the country in its hour of need. For in our current constitutional – and maybe even existential – crisis, the country is again searching for a leader (although not all of the nation will choose him) and the frontrunner is himself a historian (well, classicist) and author who idolises Churchill. But while Boris Johnson’s book on the mighty statesman is a mere piffling 432 pages in one book, Winston’s own tome on the first Duke of Marlborough John Churchill – the subject of Starkey’s talk - comes in at a whopping one million words long, across four books that took a decade to pen.

As we settle down in the marquee at Magdalen College School, the Tudor historian begins by setting the context of Churchill in the 1920s - out of office, out of favour and out of money. He then dives straight into exploring Churchills’ motivation for writing his biography - including an advance that would make David Cameron's eyes water - and how his style of research and writing was subsequently mimicked when he turned the tide of the Second World War, deep under Westminster in his War Rooms.

Starkey's analysis is razor-sharp in highlighting how Churchill’s anti-appeasement stance, very much the minority view in the 1930s, and his distrust of Hitler were borne from his study of the Duke of Marlborough’s own resistance to the hegemonic Europe sought by Louis XIV that drove him to betray his Catholic patron James II – subservient to the French monarch – to side with William of Orange.

It is not hard to understand why Dr Starkey is such a titan amongst historians when you sit rapt while he discusses and dissects his subject with the precision of a surgeon. You feel launched back in time as he describes Winston at Chartwell; surrounded by academics, smoking and drinking into the night before suddenly summoning his team of secretaries to furiously dictate his thoughts which have been fermenting amid the brandy and beef all night and have come to the fore.

The ease at which Starkey is able to pluck the perfect fact or quote at will to illustrate his points is what makes him such an esteemed lecturer, able to carry you along with his thought process and leave you engaged, enriched and educated by the end.

He is also not afraid to demonstrate wry humour or savage honesty when the need arises – his opinion of Theresa May’s Geography degree was particularly brutal. But perhaps his most withering comments came about Boris, who may think he is Churchill incarnate, but is far from considered so by Starkey, as he explains the how the only real similarities between the two include being ardent gamblers and terrible with their finances.

His assessment of Churchill’s books on the Duke of Marlborough is that despite the “schoolboy narrative”, it contains astonishing levels of insight that prepared him for a future only he was able to foresee. Meanwhile, Boris’s book on Winston is dismissed like a dog-eared school history report from the class clown...

One can only hope the man most likely to be the country’s next Prime Minister is able to realise he has far more to learn about Churchill, should he seek to emulate him. Perhaps he should start work on Volume Two, and enlist Starkey to help?

Dr David Starkey was talking as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts, which runs until Sunday 7 July

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