Orff and Bernstein

Saturday 2 December 2023, 7:30 pm

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

Please note: this concert has taken place.

The opening concert of our 2023/24 Season features two famous choral masterpieces of the mid twentieth century, in which very different composers were inspired by ancient texts to produce powerful, evocative, and gloriously memorable music.


Carl Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana, composed in 1935-6, is an earthy celebration of life and love, as expressed in the words of some thoroughly worldly medieval clerics, writing in a mixture of Latin, Old French, and Middle High German. Bookended by the famous chorus ‘O Fortuna’—a meditation on the fickleness of fate—the cantata acclaims the coming of spring, the pleasures of dancing, feasting, drinking, and the trials and delights of love. The music is unmistakably modern yet responsive to the medieval text, with invigorating rhythms, soaring melodies for the soloists, and rollicking choruses. Originally written for large orchestra Carmina Burana is equally effective in the version for two pianos and percussion which we shall be performing.


Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, written thirty years later, was commissioned by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, hence its name. It is a deeply felt religious work, setting words from the Book of Psalms, sung in the original Hebrew. A wide range of texts inspires Bernstein to music which is, by turns, dramatic, joyous and serene. Although the musical style is more obviously ‘modern’ than Carmina Burana, the wonderful melodies and rhythms leave no doubt that this is music from the composer of West Side Story.


Conductor: Benjamin Nicholas

Soloist: Ailish Tynan (sop); Simon Ponsford (counter tenor); Jack Lee (bass); Libby Burgess (piano); Robert Quinney (piano/organ); Catrin Meek (harp); Julian Poole and friends (percussion)

Tickets: £15-£45

Book by phone: 01865 305305

U18 half-price, £5 reduction for f/t students