#OFAvirtual – a welcome from the Festival Director

We could not have our Field Of Cloth of Gold lavish celebration on our own glorious grounds this year; but, we shall still be feasting with marvellous things for 18 days, just as would have happened at Calais in 1520. Every day, Tudor scholar and FOCOG specialist Glenn Richardson will set the scene for the equivalent day in 1520 in our FOCOG trail. I will be sharing little #TudorTasters gems from all our wonderful friends every day; and, yes, there will be our very own e-trial where you get to be the jury: was Anne Boleyn really guilty or not? We’d love to know your verdict. And how can I forget our little pockets of activity for children, including a Design A Heraldic Shield? We will also be having an appropriate nod to Beethoven’s 250 anniversary, and there will be requests for creative responses activities to his poignant Heiligenstadt Testament, which will be shared and uploaded on our website and social media channels. Above everything else, I have roped in my friends – partners, artists and creatives – to create our very own 18-day feast with #OFAvirtual. To say I am thrilled is an understatement. This is where the beautiful thing called camaraderie comes into its own. The enthusiasm and willingness to work together and try out new things has just been fantastic. I believe in relationships, partnership and creating marvellous things together; and I implicitly trust what has been my loyal friend, ally, refuge, and companion, throughout my life – the Arts. I cannot thank my friends and colleagues enough. We have had endless hours of sparkling conversation to find ways to be with our brilliant audiences, in this “new reality” we are living in. There is great sadness and uncertainty in the world right now. I hope #OFAvirtual will bring everyone joy, excitement, fascination, insight, emotion, and fun. It was certainly an extraordinary ride to create this! And, I could not be prouder than to open the festival with my wonderful friend and compatriot with the molten gold voice, Joseph Calleja!

I have tried to capture all art forms usually represented within the Oxford Festival of the Arts – so we have Music, Dance, Drama, Art and diverse speaker events ranging from politics to goddesses; along with workshops – for younger participants, youths, as well as adults – and a Tudor cooking session with our very own Alexis! I have to mention our new snazzy logo audio clip which is taken from Paul Max Edlin’s Dance of the Fantastic Dragon. I think it is a great work and I wanted to capture the feeling of the fiery dragon flying across the Field of Cloth of Gold (Paul has very kindly given permission to use this). I also wanted this to ensure that classical contemporary music and the art of our time would be featured in our programming. We will have the extraordinary cellist Gabriella Swallow, who I have asked to programme a kind of Bach amuse-bouche (!) – with new music interspersed between the movements of Bach’s ever-popular first Cello Suite as a tribute to Jacqueline du Pré. There will be Alleyne Dance with excerpts from their incredibly powerful works, including what we call the ‘chair solo’ from A Night’s Game. We will also be featuring discussions and excerpts from Sir James MacMillan’s newly commissioned work for 40-voices by ORA Singers, which we were going to perform within the festival, as well as some beautiful Thomas Tallis and other choral works, led by Suzi Digby.

I could not be prouder of our speaker series, with names such as Suzannah Lipscomb and Janina Ramirez – two hugely respected scholars as well as authors, historians and presenters. Politics – possibly important now more than ever – will be represented by a discussion between Oxford East MP and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds and BBC Political Correspondent Rob Watson. Jazz will spice up our evenings, from quite minimalist, slick jazz with Zoe Gilby and Andy Champion (double bass and voice duo) to a throw-back trip to Harlem and the roaring 1920s with The Easy Rollers (our twist on Golden Age jazz!). I am overjoyed that we have started a partnership with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and there will be workshops for children as well as Young Professionals. Calligraphy and the exquisite art of illumination will take the shape of clips and top tips from professional scribe and illuminator and Chair of the Heritage Crafts Association Patricia Lovett. Many might remember her involvement in the recent phenomenal Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library, or, her reproduction of a ‘Book of Hours’ originally owned by the Cromwell family for the Hilary Mantel/BBC Wolf Hall. Of course, Henry VIII had to be featured. I am absolutely thrilled by our collaboration with TORCH, Brasenose, and Creation Theatre for our digital production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. We shall also be going to our own city’s Modern Art Oxford with Emma. We will sadly not have our ‘Take a Selfie with King Henry’ booth, but Hal and I will be there to guide everyone along the way… and we are very much looking forward to it!

I must once again thank the generosity and willingness of everyone to venture together into this new world. There has been a #ourworldwithout going round on social media. Could you ever imagine our world without the Arts? We are also eternally grateful to all our donors, sponsors and partners who have helped us financially or otherwise to support freelance artists and creatives and make #OFAvirtual happen, in particular Magdalen College School, and its Master, Helen Pike, without whose support none of this would have been possible. I always say I am proudest of our association with MCS. Its belief in the arts and the creative subjects are unsurpassed.

It has been a joy to create and curate this with you all! I should have said this will all be free to watch and listen to on various platforms. Please do follow us, share, retweet, comment, watch with us… let us try to go round the world by going digital – and do check out our Vitamin A(rts) page on this website!

Dr Michelle Castelletti
Director, Oxford Festival of the Arts