Following the success of their first concert last term, St Peter’s College Chamber Orchestra returned to give a concert of Debussy, Mahler and Vaughan Williams. The program posed a series of challenges for a chamber orchestra consisting of only seventeen players, as this repertoire is usually played by a symphony orchestra consisting of around ninety musicians.
When speaking to the ensemble’s ambitious conductor, John Warner, prior to the performance, he stressed the importance of choosing a program that is “both challenging and rewarding for the players yet appealing to the audience.” In this respect, Warner curated the perfect program; the works were all inspired by poetry yet show complementing nationalistic interpretations of late Romantic ideals. The ensemble’s sensitive performance demonstrated their obvious identification with the repertoire, while the large audience that filled St Peter’s College Chapel proves that the right programme draws a sizable crowd.
The ensemble clearly values the enjoyment of playing music together. As explained by violin soloist Anny Chen, ‘everyone is here because they want to be here, because they love the music,’ which in her opinion differs to the atmosphere of orchestras at London music colleges where some people attend purely out of obligation. Although the ensemble’s spiritual home is St Peter’s College, the members come from all over the university. A total of fifteen colleges are represented with a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students from a variety of different subject areas.
The concert opened with Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and the audience were instantly transported to the hazy heat of the French riverbank depicted in Mallarmé’s poem as a result of Daniel Shao’s sensuous flute solo. The subsequent wind and horn solos perfectly matched the quality of tone and sentiment set by Shao.
However, the dynamic range of the piece could have been explored deeper. Players tended to be concerned with projecting their individual lines rather than creating moments of real pianissimo, which would have transformed this otherwise beautiful performance into the realm of the sublime.
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony formed the centre of the program, and its shorter length and lighter scoring compared with some of his other symphonies lends it well to chamber performances. Highlights of the first movement included lyrical string themes from the cellos and Ben Horton’s fantastic horn solos, whose rich tone perfectly suited the Mahlerian sound world.
The second movement featured a large variety of textures and all members of the ensemble fully exploited the chance to play with characterful articulation. An admirable sense of poise was maintained throughout the third movement. Yet the strings could have afforded more sentimentality in their sweeping melodies to please those of us who enjoy listening to Mahler played by musicians who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Helena Moore’s soprano solo in the fourth movement provided a glorious culmination to the work, and the generous acoustic of the chapel enabled her silvery tone to soar above the orchestra. Warner gracefully handled the movement’s potentially awkward transitions sections, and expertly led the ensemble to the work’s understated close.
In an interesting subversion of programming conventions, the concert ended with Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending. The creative decision paid off as Chen’s sensational violin playing was the undoubted highlight of the evening. Her exceptional interpretation of one of the nation’s best-loved classical works defied comparison with even the generation’s finest violinists. The audience was captivated by her sophisticated explorations of the violin’s different registers, which created a magical aura in the chapel. There was no need for Chen to forcefully project her volume during the performance, as her ethereal tone inspired sophisticated and supportive playing from the accompanying ensemble.
After such a successful concert, it will be interesting to see how the ensemble develops in the future. No doubt Warner will mastermind suitably ambitious projects in the coming terms. It would be a joy for audiences if Moore and Chen, both students at London music colleges, were to return to Oxford for subsequent appearances.
Police were called to St Peter’s College last night after an argument between two bop attendees turned violent. Two men were ejected from the first bop of Michaelmas term and were eventually subdued by at least a dozen police officers.
It is thought that neither of the men arrested were St Peter’s students, but were friends of an undergraduate visiting the college for the evening. After they were ejected from the room the bop was being held in, the porter was forced to call the police to remove them from the college premises.
Navjeev Singh, St Peter’s JCR President, made the following statement:
“I am very grateful to the older years for not allowing the freshers to get anywhere close to the scuffle. The police and the porter were very professional in removing the rowdy guests from the college. The bop carried on and it was still a fantastic one, with every Peter’s JCR member having a good time.”
Singh further stated that elder students played a key part in keeping freshers away from the fight, ensuring that no harm came to Peter’s students.
Students were quick to praise the actions of all involved in dealing with the incident. Hashim Anjum, a second year Peter’s geographer said:
“I’m very impressed with the quality of the Oxfordshire police service – loads of them came and very quickly. By the end, there were upwards of twelve police officers for one guy.”
The incident may vindicate a rise in security at college bops, with Keble and Somerville recently choosing to hire bouncers at the events.
However, it was not a worrying experience for all those who witnessed it. Harry Noad, a second year Philosophy and Theology student, quipped:
“Watching the police officers storm through the festivities in the bar and JCR was a sight to behold. It might have been the most exciting thing to happen at a bop in my Peter’s career.”
With the arrival of the summer weather and the onset of garden play season, it feels distinctly appropriate for a theatrical rendition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows – a love letter to pastoral England – to be tuning up in the lush seclusion of St Peter’s Master’s Garden. Helmed by Stephen Hyde and Joshua Wilce, this new stage adaptation fleshes out the story with originally conceived scenes and characters and, judging from the talent on display, looks to be on course for a genuinely enjoyable run.
Showcasing four different scenes, the press preview provided a good glimpse at the performances, staging, and general tone of the proceedings, all of which generally work to good effect. Booming, flamboyant, and nauseatingly aristocratic, Chris Connell does an impressive job of conveying the excitable pompousness of Mr Toad, the wealthy scion whose impulsive behaviour drives the narrative. He is provided an apt foil by Rosalind Isaacs, who skillfully brings a quiet levelheadedness and sense of exasperation to the role of Rat, the decidedly more sensible friend who is reluctantly swept up in Toad’s harebrained escapades. Caught squarely between these clashing personalities, James Marriott’s Mole is also a delight; appropriately demure and earnest, Marriott thoroughly captures his character’s awed naivety with both his delivery and physical bearing. Dom Wood too deserves recognition, acquitting himself marvellously in his turn as the jowl-shaking, pipe-puffing Mr Badger. Lending the character a gruff but personable manner, punctuated by explosive outbursts of excitement, Wood gives a standout comedic performance and is certainly one to be watched.
The production’s inventive use of its garden setting is also notable. with the stately Master’s lodgings employed as a stand-in for Toad Hall and a slightly more tree-lined side of the lawn used to suggest the Wild Wood. Similarly, a resourceful minimalism is evident in Hyde and Wilce’s representations of the many vehicles populating the story; trains are implied by backlit umbrellas (doubling as headlights), caravans by colourful tarps, and motorcars by wheelbarrows. Simple yet effective costume choices also strengthen the show by reinforcing key character traits: Toad’s aristocratic buffoonery, for instance, is highlighted by his tweed trappings and gaudy red trousers.
Perhaps the only real weak spot here is a wholly original scene that sees the villainous Chief Weasel (an intense, if perhaps overly gravelly, Alastair Wilder) and his band of dim-witted thugs converse with the manipulative Mr Fox (played by a suitably silver-tongued Amy Owens). Despite a healthy amount of comedy, the scene felt unfocused and slightly flat, lacking the spark and energised interplay between characters so readily apparent in the other previewed sections. Rather than boding poorly for the original content as a whole, however, I imagine that this brief stuttering is isolated and indeed rectifiable with further rehearsal.
All in all then, Hyde and Wilce’s The Wind in the Willows comes across as a lighthearted romp boasting some solid character work, inventive staging, and well-executed comedy. A true garden play for the upcoming summer, it promises to be a jovial and thoroughly enjoyable new take on a timeless classic.
The Wind in the Willows will run from 22-25 May (Wed-Sat of 5th Week) in the St Peter’s College Master’s Garden, starting at 7.30 pm each evening. Tickets are available from £4.40
PHOTO / Nicole Williams
[caption id="attachment_24286" align="alignright" width="300"] Lawrence Okoye, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, and shot putter Carl Myerscough[/caption]
Team GB discus thrower Lawrence Okoye, put his place at Oxford on hold so that he could pursue his dream of competing in the London Olympic Games.
Discus finalist Okoye, won a place at St Peter’s College Oxford to read law, but decided instead to focus on training for the Games this year.
Yesterday, Okoye qualified for the final of the men’s discus competition automatically with a final throw of 65.28m, the fourth best distance of the field- proving his medal credentials, and putting him in with a definite chance to win a medal in tonight’s final.
Okoye said: “It was unbelievable, really tough. The standard this year is much higher than it’s ever been. It took a lot to get through, and I’m glad to get the job done.
“Tomorrow I have a bigger job to do with the big guys coming through. It’s going to be tough to get amongst them but I am ready to do it.
“The two years I’ve spent doing this would have gone down the pan if I didn’t get through.”
He added: “I will be ready come tomorrow.”
Alex Probodziak, President of Oxford University Athletics Club, said: “Lawrence must be very happy with his progress as an athlete. Let’s hope that there are many more successes to come for him.”
Okoye will be competing in the men’s discus final at 7:45 tonight in the Olympic stadium.
UPDATE 13:07 13th Jan – The man arrested has been released on police bail until 18th April 2012. For the update see story here.
Professor Steve Rawlings, a physics tutor at St Peter’s, was found dead at a house near Abingdon on Wednesday night.
A 49-year old man, reported to be an academic at St John’s College, has been arrested in connection with the death and remains in police custody after officers were called to Laurel Drive, Southmoor at 11.22pm.
Initially the death was reported as murder but the cause of death is unclear.
After paramedics arrived Professor Rawlings, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Thames Valley Police released a statement: “A 49-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of murder last night (11/1), remains in custody for questioning.”
“A post-mortem examination was carried out by a Home Office pathologist earlier today was unable to establish a cause of death at this time. Further examinations will be undertaken.”
Students and colleagues have paid tribute to Rawlings and expressed their shock at the incident.
Mark Damazer, Master of St Peter’s College said: “He was a much liked and admired tutor and colleague within the College and will be greatly missed. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Linda.”
Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Andrew Hamilton said: “The entire University community has been profoundly saddened and shocked by the tragic and untimely death of Professor Steve Rawlings. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
A third-year St Peter’s physics student told the Oxford Student: “He was a very good tutor. He never accepted that I was too stupid to do something. It’s completely out of the blue.”
“He was really, really lovely, really nice and sweet,” added a former St Peter’s physicist. “He used to lecture and was really popular on the lecture course, showing his good sense of humour with lots of jokes. He had a wife but apart from that I know nothing much about him outside the course.”
Det Supt Rob Mason, from the Major Crime Unit, said: “The investigation is still in the early stages and we are endeavouring to establish what has happened in the house and we are keeping an open mind until all our enquires are concluded.
“On attendance at the address CPR was administered by a member of the public, police officers and paramedics, but unfortunately the man had passed away.
“A post-mortem examination to establish the cause of death is due to take place this evening. Until the result of this examination is known and further enquiries have been completed, I am unable to provide more information or speculate as to the circumstances surrounding his death.
“It does appear that no one else was present at the address and we are not currently looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
“We are liaising closely with Oxford University and it is apparent that he was well respected and liked within the college and colleagues and students have been devastated by the news,” Mason added.
Police have not named the man arrested on suspicion of murder.
According to the Press Association, Telegraph and Daily Mail, a University source confirmed that the man arrested on suspicion of murder was Dr Sivia, a Stipendiary Lecturer in Mathematics for the Sciences and member of St John’s College. Rawlings and Sivia are reported to have been friends and have co-written books in the past. The house where Rawlings’ body was found is reported to be Sivia’s.
St John’s President Michael Scholar wrote an email sent to all members of St John’s yesterday afternoon: “Following an incident which took place near Oxford yesterday evening there may be media interest today and in the coming days in a member of College.
“I ask you all, in order to prevent any possible prejudice to a police investigation which is taking place, to refer to me any questions which may be put to you by the media, and to avoid making comments on social media or elsewhere.”
Watch out Foxe, Oldham and Tilly: a new tortoise heartthrob is set to steal the affections of Oxford students.
St Peter’s follows Corpus and Jesus as the latest college to get its own JCR tortoise.
However, the tortoise wasn’t the first choice of college pet. JCR President, Sophia Nayak-Oliver said: “I amended the motion from a cat, as myself and several other college members are allergic to cats.”
Peter O’Connor, the proposer of the motion, said: “I wasn’t too bothered- it looked like no-one would have a problem with that so we went for it! I think get- ting a pet was cool, and whilst itmaynotseemascuteasa cat, it’ll definitely be cool.”
With the JCR voting overwhelmingly in support of the motion, Nayak-Oliver explained their plans for the future: “We were hoping eventually to enter the tortoise into the Corpus race and maybe appoint a JCR member as the tortoise trainer. But we haven’t fully decided on this yet. We are probably going to set up a tortoise committee, although the members of that committee are yet to be decided.”
Jessica Campbell, a second-year English student added: “We haven’t decided the breed but it’ll probably be a mongrel tortoise- maybe a rescue tortoise if we can find one.”
O’Connor agreed: “We want to get a breed which isn’t endangered and which is particularly easy to keep.”
Campbell – who has a pet tortoise, Horace, at home – outlined the regimen that the JCR will follow to ensure that the tortoise remains in the pink of health: “We will keep the tortoise on a diet of good tortoise foods: peaches, rocket, pears, green beans, tomatoes. No cucumber because, although they love cucumber it takes so much energy to digest that it tires them out. We hope the tortoise will put himself into hibernation- I don’t like all that ‘put your tortoise in a box filled with straw and keep him in the fridge over winter’ stuff.”
However, the name of the future pet is yet to be decided. Campbell suggested Dis, the name of the Roman god of the Underworld. But O’Connor said “I think “Cat” would be quite amusing myself.”
While Peter’s is still finalising the details for their college tortoise, students are already looking forward to the pet’s arrival. Campbell said: “They’re a lovely presence, it’s nice to have non-human companionship, it’s a nice quirk for the college, and it’s very good to have a mascot.