Ensemble Isis, Oxford


This attractive wooden headed gent (a recording device that closely mimics human hearing) was present, together with other human hearers, in Oxford’s nifty Jacqueline du Pre Music Building to hear a concert of works by me, and Oxford students Giulia Monducci and William Marshall. Onstage were Ensemble ISIS directed by John Traill. This university ensemble gathers Oxford’s best student performers together to play new music, which they do to a very high level.

The two student works showed what a broad church the Oxford composition department is, genially led by Robert Saxton and Martyn Harry. Giulia’s work ‘Atlas’ was entirely created from extended techniques, darkly beautiful and not outstaying its welcome. William’s ‘Auguries’ was intriguing; even after two or three hearings, in the best sense, I couldn’t say what was happening, despite the music's proceeding in a clear harmonic direction. An achievement, when so much new music can be guessed after its opening minute.

Oxford’s Music Faculty now have Natalie Clein, no less, as their Director of Performance; it must be great for the enormously talented body of student musicians to get this kind of guidance. But meanwhile there’s probably still plenty of the wildly ambitious undergrad-led concerts that I remember from my own playing days; Mahler 5 on two rehearsals, that kind of thing. Simply walking through the streets of the city and seeing the numerous posters for upcoming student concerts gave the impression of an energetic appetite for performing classical music, with musicians’ diaries no doubt being vigorously jostled at all times.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer