As 2014 draws to a close, I thought I’d put together a collection of my highlights from 2014, and what to look out for in the coming year. Our exciting news for 2015 is that The Oxford Culture Review will be hosting its own events this year – but more of that later.
For me, the discovery of the year was storytelling. Having been previously oblivious to the thriving storytelling scene in the UK, this year I had the opportunity to see Nick Hennessey performing scenes from the Kalevala, the great Finnish epic (reviewed here). Drawing together multiple art forms – music (including a Tibetan singing bowl, no less), narrative, gesture, prose, and verse – this performance remains one of the most memorable of all the events I have attended this year, and has given me something of a passion for the genre. Needless to say, I was delighted to find that this year also saw the opening of Oxford’s own Story Museum – what better place to have a home for myths and legends than the city of Tolkien, Lewis, and Carroll? The museum will be hosting regular events throughout 2015, including Nick Hennessey performing Irish mythology on Thursday 5th March, and a twist on regular Valentine’s celebrations with Tim Ralphs’ and Clare Muireann Murphy’s The Four Chambers of the Heart on Thursday 12th February.
If losing yourself in a more immersive narrative sounds more appealing, the museum’s ’26 Characters’ exhibition runs until the end of February. Cambridge Jones has photographed some of the country’s most famous storytellers – Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Malorie Blackman, and Michael Morpurgo included – as their favourite characters from fairytales and children’s stories, set in rooms designed to evoke the worlds of these novels. If that wasn’t enough, the exhibition also includes new stories created for the exhibition by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Jamila Gavin and others, as well as recordings of authors and actors reading from the selected novels.
For more conventional narrative formats, March sees the publication of Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade, The Buried Giant. Details about the book are hard to come by, except that it is about “lost memories, love, revenge, and war”, according to publisher Faber and Faber. For fans of fiction in translation, 2015 also brings with it Peirene Press’s ‘Chance Encounter’ series. The first in the series, White Hunger (pub. February 2015, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah) evokes a similar world to that of their previous publication The Brothers (reviewed here), set in 19th-century Finland, posing the question “What does it take to survive?” The novel has won numerous awards including the Best Finnish Debut Novel 2012 and Finnish Book Bloggers’ Best Book 2012, so as a lover of Nordic fiction I will be eagerly anticipating this particular release, alongside The Looking-Glass Sisters, translated from the Norwegian by John Irons and published in September 2015.
As Oxford is a city full of concerts of consistently high quality, it can be difficult to single out favourites, or indeed to stand out amongst the regular choral and symphony concerts. Susanna Starling, however, managed exactly this with an intimate gig in Warneford Chapel hosted by Oxford Contemporary Music, performing a combination of her own songs and more well-known folk tunes. Susanna performs regularly in Oxford (her website has further details), and for more folk music the Oxford Folk Weekend runs from the 17th-19th April, as well as the regular folk evenings held on Sunday evenings at the Half Moon pub in St Clements.
2015 looks to be a promising one for contemporary music; having hosted the UK’s first ever national electronic music prize last year (the Oxford/Sennheiser Electronic Music Prize), MASH returns with the annual MASH marathon on the 23rd January, and an evening of music and animation on the 27th February with the ANIMA Ensemble. As part of the MASH events, the Brodsky Quartet will also be premiering Trees Walls Cities, a newly composed song cycle commissioned for the quartet, and mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg (30th January). For those more interested in older repertoire, the Quartet will be playing for the Music in Oxford series on the 23rd May, with an opportunity to hear the rarely performed Zemlinsky String Quartet No. 4, programmed alongside Schubert and Webern.
My favourite art exhibition from 2014 was by far and away Time, Conflict, Photography at the Tate Modern (reviewed here). Through barren landscapes and images captured years after the conflicts in question, the exhibition throws an entirely new light on the concept of war photography. Matsumoto Eiichi’s and Shomei Tomatsu’s photographs of shadows burned on to buildings and melted belongings left behind at Nagasaki are some of the most harrowing and poignant images of war that I have experienced – thankfully the exhibition runs until March, so there is still time to catch this fantastic installation. In Oxford, the Ashmolean’s William Blake exhibition also finishes in March, whilst their new exhibitions Ed Paschke: Visionary from Chicago, and Bengal and Modernity look especially interesting. The former (17th January – 5th July) documents the surreal and vibrant work of Ed Paschke, one of the Chicago Imagists whose paintings represent a sinister and provocative aspect of Pop Art. Bengal and Modernity (3rd March – 1st June), meanwhile, looks at twentieth-century Indian nationalism and post-colonial resistance in art, influenced by artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.
The Oxford Humanitas programme continues to bring speakers from various disciplines to Oxford, including the playwright David Edgar, the new Visiting Professor in Drama Studies. With over sixty of his plays published and performed globally, Edgar will present a week of events (2nd February – 7th February) focused on the playwright’s role in a post-modern theatrical context. This has also been a running theme in many of the drama productions in Oxford throughout 2014; Ridley’s Choice spotlighted the artistic tribulations of fictional playwright George Ridley, whilst other companies looked to more immersive experiences to tackle similar questions. Luke Rollason’s Henry V (reviewed here) set the play in Worcester College and gardens, transforming the grounds and buildings provided everything from the English court to the French battlefields. The audience accompanied Henry on his journey through the mud and rain, a far remove from the more sedate garden Shakespeare that takes place every summer on Worcester Lake. This year promises more in a similar vein, with Creation Theatre bringing As You Like It to an open-air production in Lady Margaret Hall, and Hacked Off Films continuing to provide immersive cinema experiences throughout the year.
Of the numerous upcoming talks and lectures, one that particularly caught my eye is the first in TORCH’s (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities) Humanities and Science series on Tuesday 20th January. Bringing together Marcus du Sautoy, Ben Okri, Laura Marcus, Elleke Boehmer, and Roger Penrose, the discussion will address how scientific and mathematical writing is presented, looking at the interaction between proofs and narrative formats. As with all of TORCH’s events the series is strictly interdisciplinary, moving towards a blurring of boundaries between seemingly disparate fields. Particularly as the importance of accessible scientific writing becomes more extensively debated, this is surely not an event to miss. Oxford University Poetry Society are also hosting a plethora of speakers next year, alongside their regular writing circles, reading groups, and open mics. Last year’s event ‘Poetry Now: Where is it and where can it go?’ was particularly illuminating, with Sam Riviere, Sarah Howe and Hannah Silva placing their own work in the context of an ever-changing contemporary poetry scene.
Which brings me, finally, to the Oxford Culture Review’s own events for the New Year. On Thursday 19th February we, in collaboration with the Medieval and Modern Languages Graduate Network, will be hosting an evening of poetry, film, and music. We will have performers from across Oxford, from singer-songwriter Jake Downs (interview with the Review here) to screenings of shorts by Oxford Broadcasting Association, (our spotlight here) and we would love to see as many of our readers there as possible! It’ll be in the Pembroke Auditorium at 8.30pm, and the best part is that entrance will be entirely free. As well as being an evening to enjoy other people’s work, it’s also an opportunity to showcase your own material, so if you are working in Oxford and would like to speak or perform at the event then do please email us with an example of your work. There will be a stress on working in translation, so if you’re a poet or spoken word artist working in languages other than English we’d especially like to hear from you. We’ll be posting more information about the event later in the month, along with more details of our May event which will be a lecture on Shakespeare by James Sheldrake, ex-writer for the Culture Review and creator of the podcast Sheldrake on Shakespeare. So from all at the Oxford Culture Review, a very happy New Year and hope to see you in the coming months!
For more information about any of the events featured, please follow the links embedded in the article. More details about our forthcoming events will be published later in the year.