THE country’s biggest celebration of song, Oxford Lieder Festival, marks its 20th year with its most ambitious programme to date, featuring more than 100 events at venues around the city.

The festival, which started last night and runs through to October 23, is billed by organisers as a thrilling fortnight of exploration, discovery and inspiration.

A tribute to the magical art of song, it features an astonishing array of more than 200 singers, instrumentalists and speakers, encompassing the great song cycles of Schubert and Schumann, freshly minted new works, the riches of fin-de-siècle Paris, the epic landscapes of Scandinavia and the vibrant sphere of American song. The word ‘lieder’ refers to a German song that sets poetry to music.

This year’s event builds on previous successes with Nature’s Songbook, a fortnight of world-class music and poetry with the theme of nature as the starting point. At a time when nature has played an increasingly important part in many people’s lives, we are reminded of how many poets and composers have been steeped in and inspired by nature and used it as a metaphor for every aspect of life. This vast range of music and poetry will gently steer the Festival programme, including an exciting collaboration with Oxford Botanic Garden to mark their 400th anniversary.

Oxford Mail: Dream Risk Sing. Picture by Frances Marshall

Dream Risk Sing. Picture by Frances Marshall

Artists coming to Oxford to perform this year include Benjamin Appl, Ian Bostridge, Katherine Broderick, Dietrich Henschel, Christopher Maltman, Thomas Oliemans, Christoph Prégardien, Dorothea Röschmann, Carolyn Sampson, Anna Stéphany, Camilla Tilling and Roderick Williams, Robin Tritschler and Elizabeth Watts among others.

The cream of the new generation include award-winner Catriona Morison, Simon Bode, Marie-Laure Garnier and Stuart Jackson, as well as newly appointed BBC New Generation Artists Konstantin Krimmel and Helen Charlston. As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations and Song Futures programme, Oxford Lieder has committed to commissioning, co-commissioning or premiering 20 new works over the coming year, including major new song cycles by Tom Coult, Laurence Crane, Brett Dean, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, and Kate Whitley.

Oxford Mail: Sholto Kynoch. Picture by Roni Sidhu

Sholto Kynoch. Picture by Roni Sidhu

Song remains the focus throughout the Festival but is complemented by carefully chosen chamber and choral works. Artists include Fenella Humphreys and Martin Roscoe, Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy, Charles Owen, Ben Goldscheider, Adam Swayne, the Armida Quartet, the Albion Quartet and others. Jonathan Dove performs with Nicky Spence and the choir of The Queen’s College for a programme of his own music, including The Passing of the Year.

The festival also continues to open its doors for people to enjoy new experiences in a friendly and welcoming environment. A host of popular Song Connections events reveals links between the world of song and a wide array of other fields including: a discussion of birdsong in nature and music led by eminent ornithologist John Krebs; representations of the ocean in song, led by Katy Hamilton with marine biologist and author Helen Scales; SongPath walking tours of the Oxford Botanic Garden; and an exploration of physician poets in song and the use of poetry by Edward Jenner to persuade people of the safety of vaccines in the early 19th century, led by Natasha Loges with Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.

Throughout Nature’s Songbook, the Oxford Lieder Festival presents the highest quality of performances at affordable ticket prices. Following the huge success of its fully ticketed online Festival in 2020, all events will also be live-streamed.

Oxford Mail: Jonathan Dove.

Jonathan Dove

Prices have been held and a flexible range of prices enable the festival to offer live-streamed events from as little as £3 and thousands of in-person tickets for £13 or less. There is also a generous range of concessionary rates offered to anyone booking multiple events, and online tickets for streamed events are available at £5 for under-35s.

Music takes place at St John the Evangelist Church on Iffley Road, the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building at St Hilda’s College, Merton College Chapel, the Holywell Music Room (Europe’s oldest concert hall), and the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Sholto Kynoch, the festival’s artistic director, said: “It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since a group of student friends put on a series of song concerts and called it a Lieder Festival.

“The festival may have changed beyond recognition in some ways, but that friendly, welcoming spirit remains at its heart, as does the spirit of adventure and excitement. I’m thrilled to mark this anniversary with our most ambitious programme to date, which I was determined should not be thwarted by recent travails. Buoyed by our extraordinary followers and supporters, and our amazing artists, we press ahead with optimism: determined to celebrate, to give opportunities to our younger colleagues, to create new music, to forge new connections, and to bring great music to people whether they are with us in person or tuning in from around the world.”

He added: “It’s always an exciting moment to unveil a Lieder Festival, but to do it in our 20th year and after all the challenges of the past eighteen months really is something special. I’ve endeavoured to create a programme that is celebratory and bold, offering something for everyone, with more than 200 musicians and speakers taking part in more than 100 events.”

 Book at or phone the Box Office on 01865 591276