‘This Music Crept By Me’: Sibelius’s Incidental Music

My latest publication is now available in the July edition of Sibelius One, entitled '"This Music Crept By Me": Sibelius's Incidental Music'. The article argues that Sibelius's incidental music forms an integral part of his compositional output, and is crucial to understanding his artistic allegiances and aesthetic sympathies. I look briefly at his music for the... Continue Reading →


Review: The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Review of a talk by Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi, promoting their new book ‘The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre’.

The Oxford Culture Review

When writing about theatre, one of the most difficult problems is bridging the gap between the vivacity of a live performance, and the more detailed concerns of textual analysis. In academic writing and histories of theatre, this issue is particularly acute. If you focus primarily on a text, how do you situate the interactions between the text and its concomitant community? How do you account for those people who make up the life of the theatre — namely, audiences?

Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi’s new book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre, attempts to inhabit the space between textual- and performance-based histories of theatre. Beginning with the coronation of Elizabeth I and concluding with the coronation of Elizabeth II, the book spans over four hundred years of British theatre, looking at the relationships between plays and their audiences. As a theatre critic and cultural geographer respectively, Sierz and Ghilardi’s…

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Review: Is Art Civilised?

Review of art talk ‘Is Art Civilised’, by Guardian critic Jonathan Jones.

The Oxford Culture Review

The role that art and culture play in society seems a particularly pertinent question at present. Last fortnight, Minister for Schools Nick Gibb announced that the EBacc is set to become compulsory in secondary schools, a qualification that includes English, Maths, Sciences, History or Geography, and a Language. The performing arts are conspicuously absent, not being ‘sufficiently important to justify reducing the time available for the existing subjects in the curriculum’, according to Gibb.

This is quite a different perspective to the one offered yesterday evening by Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones. Speaking at the MCS Arts Festival, he argued that the creation of art — and the study of it — is a prerequisite for a civilised society. In a talk that spanned artworks from the Renaissance to the 2008 Fucking Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman, he concluded that you ‘can’t have art that…

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The Unaccompanied: An Interview with Simon Armitage

Interview with poet Simon Armitage, the newly appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

The Oxford Culture Review

Simon Armitage is a multi-award winning poet, playwright, and novelist. In light of his recent nomination for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, I spoke to him about what he would hope to bring to the role, writing collaboratively, and creating poetic voices.

How did you get into writing poetry?

Reading, really. When I was at school, about age 16, I started reading Ted Hughes. It was really from that point on that I wanted to be involved with poetry. I saw it as a way forward. I don’t think I knew then that I wanted to write, but I knew that I wanted to read and acquire books. The BBC are making a radio documentary about a book of Ted’s called Poetry in the Making, which is a published version of some talks he gave on radio on how to write poems. I remember…

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Review: Ian Pace Piano Recital

Review of a piano recital by Ian Pace, performing contemporary English music.

The Oxford Culture Review

Ian Pace’s recital of English piano music at the Holywell Music Room was a virtuosic showcase of overwhelming proportions. Renowned for his ambitious programming and championing of contemporary composition, this recital was no exception, featuring works by Newton Armstrong, Nigel McBride, Rebecca Saunders, Brian Ferneyhough (whose complete works Pace is currently recording), and Michael Finnissy (whose complete works he has previously performed). While Finnissy’s monumental English Country Tunes was the technical apex of the programme, perhaps the most thought-provoking offerings came from Armstrong and McBride, composers working at City University London and Oxford University respectively.

A thread running consistently throughout the programme, from Ferneyhough’s Quirl through Saunders’ Crimson to Finnissy’s Country Tunes, is that of an underlying violence, both above and beneath the surface of the scores. In an interview with Pace in 2009, the composer spoke of witnessing the 1977 Lewisham riots as he worked on

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Review: ‘A Doll’s House’

Review of Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’.

The Oxford Culture Review

For audiences today, A Doll’s House is discomforting for quite different reasons to those that proved so controversial at its first performance in 1879. A play that became instrumental in the movement for women’s rights, A Doll’s House follows the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer over a period of three days, during which their marriage is stretched to breaking point by personal secrets coming out into the open. Its original critics were shocked by Ibsen’s conclusion, where Nora leaves her husband and children in order to escape the strictures of a male-dominated society, abandoning her family home to embark upon a process of self-discovery. But watching the play in twenty-first century Britain, it is not Nora’s decision to leave that is unsettling. Instead, it is her treatment at the hands of her husband, in a relationship which to contemporary eyes borders upon abusive.

Clare Saxby & Femi Nylander as Nora & Torvald © Romain Reglade Clare Saxby & Femi Nylander as…

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Review: ‘Creditors’

Review of August Strindberg’s ‘Creditors’.

The Oxford Culture Review

Is it possible to kill someone through psychological manipulation? This is a question that haunted the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, and forms the focus of his chamber play Creditors, currently running at the Burton Taylor Studio. In his 1887 essay “Soul Murder”, he wrote that ‘there is nothing so destructive to the thinking process as shattered hopes, and a highly developed form of this torture can induce insanity.’ He deemed this the most ‘modern psychology’, and it is precisely this process that we see played out on the stage in Creditors, written only a year later. The hapless artist Adolph is torn apart by his insecurities, allowing himself to be convinced that his wife is an adulteress. His friend, Gustav, assures him of Tekla’s infidelity, all the while playing on Adolph’s lack of self-belief in his art. This is not only Strindberg’s answer to his contemporary Henrik…

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Review: Song of Riots

Review of ‘Song of Riots’ from Awake Projects.

The Oxford Culture Review

This is a story for you, my son
A song for you to learn and sing
The story of kingdoms lost then won
And here is where we must begin

So starts the Song of Riots, the latest collaboration from Awake Projects, currently running at the North Wall Arts Centre. Bringing together dance, music, acting, and video projection, the multimedia collaboration tells the story of two young men growing up in parallel worlds: inner city London, and the forests of the fairytale Iron Hans. This is a poignant coming of age story, a far remove from the happy ending of the rendition recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Director Christopher Sivertsen notes that the impetus behind Song of Riots came from ‘wanting to understand the conflicts that lie within young men’ as they undergo the rites of passage towards maturity. Although a lack of subtlety undermined the success…

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Review: The Ruined House of Skin

Review of storyteller Nick Hennessey performing Irish tales.

The Oxford Culture Review

Imagine an island that lies outside of time and reality – a place where women run faster than horses, animals speak, and tales can heal the dying. This is Nick Hennessey’s Ireland, a mythical world spun from the threads of stories and songs. His set The Ruined House of Skin, performed at the Story Museum last month, travels through this imagined Ireland, breathing life into its inhabitants through music and narrative. He appeared at the Story Museum after being voted the audience’s favourite act from last year, and it is not difficult to see why. Hennessey’s performances are uniquely compelling, exuding an intimate authority as he leads you from one storyscape to the next.

The stories that comprise The Ruined House of Skin are obviously of personal significance to Hennessey. He describes himself as “Irish without any sense of what that really means”, born to an Irish father who…

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