The Oxford Lent concerts have taken place in the Chapel of The Queen’s College during Lent since 2006. We asked Professor Owen Rees, Fellow in Music and College Organist, to tell us about this fascinating series that combines art and music to mark the period of Lent.

What are the Oxford Lent concerts?

These early-evening concerts of choral and instrumental music feature repertoire on Lenten themes, alongside art on those themes created by local artists, with different ‘icons’ displayed in the chapel during each concert. The concerts are free, with a retiring collection: all the proceeds go to charity, and the performers and the artists give of their time for free to support the concerts and their charitable aims. The concerts have a really special and distinctive atmosphere, with music – including the sung texts – art, and silence combining to provide a space for contemplation and inspiration during this season. Their timing (6.15 pm start, and finishing at 7 pm) encourages attendance by a broad public, and the chapel is always filled for each concert.

When and why did they come about?

The Oxford Lent Concerts were the brainchild of Jan Spurlock, collaborating with Heather Birt and I (for the musical elements), a committed group of artists, many local musicians (both singers and instrumentalists), and a dedicated team of volunteer helpers. The concerts were conceived as a distinctive kind of opportunity for Lenten reflection through music and art, in the peace and beauty of Queen’s chapel, and the programme notes – incorporating a selection of relevant texts – draw these elements together within that year’s chosen themes.

The concerts began in 2006, with performances of all of Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas for violin and continuo. They have included a huge range of repertory, old and new, including the first performances of several new works by local composers.

What is the purpose of collaborating with local artists for the art works or ‘icons’?

These concerts approach and invite reflection from many angles, including through the inspiring works of art created by local artists and displayed in the chancel of the chapel during the concert. 

To what extent are the pieces of art created/chosen with the specific music in mind?

The art reflects the themes of Lent and Passiontide generally, and of that year’s focus in particular.

What’s the particular focus for 2024?

This year’s theme is ‘Redeeming Love’.

Who are the performers – are they from a particular group or do they come together annually for the series?

The instrumental performers are the OXUS String Quartet, who specialise in contemporary music, and other local players. The singers come together annually for the concerts, and include students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and academic staff of the University and other local singers. Several of them have been involved in the Oxford Lent Concerts for many years, while others are newly invited participants for this year’s concerts.

The repertory this year includes the first modern performance of a choral arrangement – from 18th-century England – of Pergolesi’s famous Stabat mater, seventeenth-century works by Gergorio Allegri (his renowned Miserere), Matthew Locke, John Blow, Dieterich Buxtehude, and O Albion by contemporary composer Thomas Ades.

Image above: Space to Reflect by Alison Berrett.