NEW YORK – A rare musical experience reserved for the distinguished guests as the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) made its debut on American soil on Oct. 31 at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan.
During the long history of the institution, great composers of the Western tradition including Handel and Haydn have performed at Oxford. The OPO is the first Orchestra in Residence at the University of Oxford.
The orchestra was founded in 1998 by the distinguished Cypriot pianist and conductor Marios Papadopoulos, who was fortunate to see his vision realized and is the permanent musical director. The orchestra has won many international awards.
The orchestra collaborates with the world’s leading soloists and conductors and this year’s schedule of appearances at Oxford contains a galaxy stars, among them: Sir Andras Schiff, Anna-Sophie Mutter, Renee Fleming, Martha Argerich, Valery Gergiev, and Anne Sofie von Otter.
The special concert was merely a taste of the upcoming visits of the orchestra to New York, which will begin in 2018.
The event was in honor of those who helped in this effort, the Friends of the Oxford Philharmonic. The reception and dinner also included a speech by Marios Papadopoulos on the history, quality, and ambitions of the orchestra.
Among those in attendance were the Princess and Prince Michael of Kent and the UK ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft, who along with April Gow Senior Advisor to the OPO gave the opening remarks at the event.
Also in attendance were Ambassador Loucas Tsilas and Ambassador and Mrs. Andreas Jacovides.
The purely musical part of the evening included two works of the romantic period. The Sonata for Violin in D minor by Johannes Brahms, was performed with Papadopoulos as pianist and with this year’s OPO Artist in Residence, one of the leading soloists on the violin, the Russian-born Israeli Maxim Vengerov.
With excellent technique and lovely touch Papadopoulos accompanied Vengerov with sensitivity and passion as well as a slow tempo conducive to the evocative atmosphere of the Adagio, liveliness and grace in the Scherzo, and amazing synchronization, quick tempo in the finale. The two musicians worked and recorded together before, most recently at the Vienna Musikverein.
Vengerov, although he took some time to warm up, proved that his arm is completely healed from an injury that had briefly paused the career of the great 42-year-old soloist.
The unparalleled technique and the highly refined sound with beautiful distinctive vibrato emerged even more in the second work of the evening, the “miracle” in Marios Papadopoulos words, of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartoldy: the Octet for strings. The OPO soloists literally shone with flawless coordination in the sometimes demonic tempo, led by Vengerov.
The slow movement was mysterious and the scherzo was a rare beauty. The impressive performance was a gift to the audience in attendance.
It was almost too difficult to take your eyes off of Vengerov, not only because of the unique musicality, but also because of the chance to witness his playing one of the most important (and expensive, if priceless instruments can be valued in terms of money) instruments of all time, the Kreutzer-Stradivarius from 1727.
The audience, who in the intimate setting at the Metropolitan Club savored the experience of the “magical” violin and the excellent music performance, praised the musicians highly at the end of concert.