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Michael White’s classical news: Oxford Piano Festival; Musique Cordiale; Hampstead Garden Opera; Tête-à-tête

22 July, 2021 — By Michael White

Stephen Hough

CONCERT pianists tend to be the most intelligent, intense and complicated of musicians – used to working on their own most of the time and not so “clubbable” as cellists (who are famous for their friendliness) but with a special something that the rest of us can only watch and envy. And not having anything like herd instinct, it’s a rare experience when they crowd together (in a Covid-conscious way, of course) at something like the Oxford International Piano Festival which runs in actuality and online from July 25-August 1.

Using the city as a glorious backdrop – with events at the Sheldonian Theatre, Christ Church and St Hilda’s College – it’s a festival that works its artists hard, expecting them to play in concert one day and give masterclasses the next. But that’s the joy of it. And though the 2021 programme has been hit by international travel problems, it still leaves keyboard masters like Steven Kovacevich, Stephen Hough, Barry Douglas and Peter Donohoe playing solo or in concerto dates with the Oxford Philharmonic. So plenty going on.

I’ve had such good times at this event in the past, I can only heave a sigh of relief that it’s back in business with a vengeance. There’s no substitute for being present; but if you can’t, check out the livestreams. oxfordphil.com

• Another great meet coming up, and not so far away as usual, is Musique Cordiale: an Anglo-French venture that proves our two nations can still fraternise despite the best efforts of Boris Johnson. Normally it takes place in the sultry hill-top towns northwest of Nice. This year it’s relocated to the possibly not so hot but still delightful, quarantine-free countryside of Faversham in Kent – with a successful formula the same as always: sprawling choral and orchestral concerts mixing amateur and pro performers to high standards, and decidedly convivial.

With open-air picnic performances of Mozart, Vivaldi, Rutter and others, it runs July 29 -August 4. And so long as the sun shines, I can’t think of a nicer day out. musique-cordiale.com

• Back in London, Hampstead Garden Opera have their summer concert at St Michael’s Highgate, 6pm this Saturday, July 24, with singers from past productions in favourite arias: hgo.org.uk. And there’s an attractive programme on the horizon at the Fidelio Café, Clerkenwell Road, with two YCAT prizewinners, Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt, playing violin sonatas by Copland, Poulenc and Franck: July 30 and 31, 7pm. fideliorchestracafe.com

• Also arriving soon, though, is the no-holds-barred freneticism that’s the Tête-à-tête Opera Festival, with a characteristically crazy schedule of small-scale shows running from July 27 in venues like the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone. Tête-à-tête contrives to stretch the boundaries of opera into ever more outlandish territories. And this time round the programme embraces everything from cyberpunk to Wordsworth in the Lake District, including an “operatic LGBT techno-rave”, and a fun-for-all-the-family romp about the Marquis de Sade losing his libido but recovering it with the help of crocodiles.

There’s also a piece called Until the Trans Lady Sings which involves someone wrestling with gender identity and vocal technique: a common enough coupling in opera, though more resonant than usual these days.

Most of the shows have actual audiences, but some can be accessed online (for next to nothing: be bold). Details: tete-a-tete.org.uk

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