Preview: Keble Early Music Festival

Preview: Keble Early Music Festival

The Keble Early Music Festival runs this year in Oxford from 21st-25th February. Here's a preview of all the exciting events in store from one of the festival's organisers, Beth Potter...

The annual Keble Early Music Festival is fast becoming a staple of the early music calendar.  Founded by Oxford music student James Hardie in 2014 to promote early music to Oxford’s student population, the festival returns this February with a broader range of events than ever before.  It has expanded from a student-run sequence of recitals to a week of concerts, services, and masterclasses organised by Keble’s Director of Music Matthew Martin and a team of students from across Oxford.  Our headline artists include Mahan Esfahani (the festival’s Patron), the Gramophone-shortlisted ensemble Magnificat, The Gesualdo Six, and Edward Higginbottom with countertenor Simon Ponsford.  Proud of our student roots, this year’s festival will also feature Oxford student ensembles The Bate Players and the Bate Viol Consort, alongside a masterclass from Mahan Esfahani.  The week will culminate in a performance of Bach’s monumental B Minor Mass, given by the combined forces of Keble, Merton, and St Peter’s College Choirs, with the Instruments of Time and Truth.  With each concert set in the beautiful Butterfield Chapel at Keble College, the week promises to be a stunning celebration of music which deserves more prominence in standard concert programmes.

Tickets for all our events are available via Tickets Oxford - - 01865 305305.  Many of our events are free, and discounted student tickets are available. 



Tuesday 21st February - 6.30pm, Douglas Price Room, Keble - Launch Event

Continuing the success of last year’s Launch Night, we open the festival with a taster of the week’s performances to come from Keble College’s vocal consort, The Henry Ley Singers, The Bate Players, and the festival's patron, Mahan Esfahani. All are welcome to pop in for a glass of wine before our opening concert.

8pm, Keble College Chapel - Magnificat directed by Philip Cave - ‘A Walk in the Garden of Love: Music of the Song of Songs’

To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, Magnificat will return to Keble Chapel - the venue of its very first concert - to give the opening concert of the festival.  The vocal group were finalists in the 2016 Gramophone Music Awards for the recent release ‘Scattered Ashes’.  This special anniversary concert of music from the Song of Songs by Gombert, Lassus, Schütz, and Bach is not to be missed.

Wednesday 22nd February - 1pm, Keble Chapel - The Bate Players

Founded in 2015, The Bate Players is the University of Oxford's premier historical performance ensemble.  In this free lunchtime concert they play music by Telemann, Muffat, and Biber.  A performance of Telemann’s Overture from the ‘Les Plaisirs’ Suite will be a particular highlight, as the group celebrate 250 years since Telemann’s death.

6pm, Keble Chapel - Choral Evensong

The Keble College Choir sing their regular Wednesday evensong, but with an early-music twist.  Music by Byrd and Tallis.

7.30pm, Keble Chapel - Mahan Esfahani - ‘Time Present - Time Past’

In his fourth year of performing at the festival, Mahan will play something a little different from years gone by, with a programme of music which juxtaposes old and new.  Pieces for harpsichord by Sweelinck and Bach will be interspersed with Philip Glass’s Two Etudes, and Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Le jardin secret ii’ for harpsichord and quadraphonic tape. Sourcing a quadraphonic tape for a recital is as difficult as it sounds - come and have a listen to sounds never before heard in the Keble Chapel.

Thursday 23rd February - 11am, Keble Chapel - Masterclass with Mahan Esfahani

We welcome Mahan back to the Chapel, where he will give a masterclass with students from Oxford University and the Royal Academy in London. 

1pm, Keble Music Room - Bate Viol Consort

On period instruments from Oxford University’s Bate Viol Collection, the Consort will give a free lunchtime concert of English ‘In nomines’ and French Baroque chamber pieces, including those of Charpentier and Forqueray. 

7.45pm, Keble Chapel - The Instruments of Time and Truth - ‘Abendmusik in Lübeck’

Featuring Edward Higginbottom and countertenor Simon Ponsford, The Instruments of Time and Truth present an evening of music as it might have been heard in Lübeck’s Marienkirchein the seventeenth century.  The Oxford-based ensemble comprising of Principals from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, and English Baroque Soloists will perform cantatas by Buxtehude and Tunder. 

9pm, Keble Chapel - Compline by Candlelight

Keble College Choir sing compline to plainchant in the beautiful candlelit Butterfield Chapel.  Ther service offers a perfect way to unwind towards the end of the week; as our Chapel community puts it, compline is a ‘nightcap for the soul.’

Friday 24th February

1pm, Keble Chapel - The Gesualdo Six directed by Owain Park - ‘A Journey through the Music of the English Masters’

Formed only in 2014, this vocal sextet specialising in renaissance polyphony have already made their mark on the UK early music scene, having been St John’s Smith Square Young Artists 2015-2016.  They come to Keble to give a lunchtime concert of Byrd, Parsons, Tallis, and Sheppard, taking us through motets of the ‘English Masters’.

5.30pm, Keble Chapel - Pre-concert talk on JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge

8.30pm, Keble Chapel - Matthew Martin - JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge

As part of our broadest programme since our foundation in 2014, this year’s festival includes a lecture and demonstration of Bach’s late masterpiece ‘The Art of Fugue’, before a full performance of the work later that evening.  Jeremy Summerly, Director of Music at St Peter’s College, will explore the origins of the incomplete work of unspecified instrumentation - a piece which has proved something of a mystery for scholars over the centuries.  The evening’s performance will be given on the organ by Matthew Martin: award-winning composer, and Director of the Keble Early Music Festival.

Saturday 25th February

7.30pm, Keble Chapel - Bach’s Mass in B Minor - Choirs of Keble, Merton, and St Peter’s Colleges, and the Instruments and Voices of Time and Truth, conducted by Matthew Martin

Our festival comes to a stirring end with a performance of Bach’s immense B Minor Mass.  With the combined forces of three Oxford college choirs, the Instruments and Voices of Time and Truth led by Bojan Čičić, and soloists Alison Rose, Helen Charlston, Daniel Norman, and Colin Campbell, our final concert promises to be of a larger scale than anything before attempted in Keble Chapel. 


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