top of page


Christopher Churcher reviews OUO’s Michaelmas Term 2022 concert, conducted by Peter Stark, featuring Prokofiev’s Symphony No.7 and Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.

With the gorgeous, plaintive violin melody which opens Prokofiev’s Symphony No.7, OUO set the tone for a concert of both exuberance and solemnity. The theme of the night seemed to be beginnings and endings, presenting landmark works by two Russian greats: Prokofiev’s bitter-sweet final symphony and Rachmaninov’s first published orchestral work, the symphonic poem The Rock.

It was with the great ending of the programme that the concert began. Although, as the composer’s last completed work, Prokofiev’s melancholy seventh symphony might have seemed an unorthodox choice to open the concert, this decision was quickly justified by the orchestra’s energetic interpretation of the piece. Led enthusiastically by Peter Stark’s playful account of the more balletic passages, the orchestra provided a well-balanced reading, capturing the playfulness of the child-like opening of the fourth movement and the palpable melancholy of the third with equal sensitivity. Although the ensemble was lacking at some unfortunate moments (the lack of coordination between the glockenspiel, xylophone and piano put a slight dampener on the finale), the performance was generally extremely compelling. The appreciative applause at the end of the stirring second movement said it all.

Despite most likely a new work for many in the audience, Rachmaninov’s The Rock really earned its place in the programme. With a brooding, tenebrous opening calling to mind the introduction to his Symphony No.2, and oodles of those decadent, sequential climaxes which became the composer’s lasting calling-card, it’s easy to understand why Tchaikovsky spotted such potential in the twenty-year-old composer’s work. Moreover, The Rock yielded some of the most memorable individual performances of the concert. An uplifting presence throughout, the ornate, interlocking solo figures from Elizabeth Thomas (principal flute) and Alex Buckley (principal clarinet) conjured the ‘lovely young woman’ of Chekov’s short story with poetic simplicity.

The real triumph of the evening, however, came with Lutosławski’s formidable Concerto for Orchestra. Composed in Warsaw at the same time that Prokofiev was finishing his seventh symphony, it was the work that catapulted Lutosławski’s music to the foreground of twentieth-century art music. Thundering unapologetically through the Sheldonian, the orchestra kept the audience on the edge of its seat from the work’s rigid Intrada to the preposterous, thundering coda. Beyond this bombast, the mid-twentieth century growth of interest in the genre of concerto for orchestra also gave composers reason to pen nuanced and soloistic percussion passages (as seen also in the concerti of Thea Musgrave and Béla Bartók), and the Lutosławski is no exception. Despite the somewhat unyielding acoustic of the theatre, the percussion section realised the ominous closing of the second movement with great subtlety, creating one of the most mesmerising moments of the entire programme. All things considered, the stellar performance of this thorny work was a credit to the dedication and musicianship of the orchestra.

Looking forward, OUO is embarking on a tour of the East Coast of the USA in 2024, highlighting historically underrepresented composers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Ethel Smyth, culminating in a Persian New Year celebration concert in Boston. Following on from Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey’s workshop of new compositions by Afghan musicians in Trinity Term 2022, the orchestra will also collaborate with Afghan composers such as Meena Karimi throughout the tour. If you would like to make a donation to support OUO’s tour, please do not hesitate to get in touch with


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page