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REVIEW: Music and Maths – Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra

Reuben Tendler reviews OPO’s concert, Music and Maths, which took place on Thursday 17th October in the Sheldonian Theatre.

If painting by numbers makes masterpieces of those with less artistic capability, then Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra’s Music & Maths concert promised Thursday night’s audience a real insight into the minds of great composers. Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, enthused the crowds with numerous numerical anecdotes and facts, and morsels of compositional biography, accompanied by members of the ensemble and slideshow.

Starting with a tantalisingly ethereal flute solo, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune’s chromatic scales lifted both the performers and the patrons towards the painted heavens of the Sheldonian Theatre’s ceiling. Even Papadopoulos’ baton was that way motivated, as it flew up and into the violin desks. Further from stick-based danger, the woodwind and horns blended beautifully. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements followed, its’ complex maths-based rhythms pulsing between trombones and strings, before flatulently settling on bass clarinet notes, shaking the terraces. The 3rd movement seemingly melded an impressionistic harp cadenza with a warped recording of Rossini’s Semiramide Overture. After a long interval, Bartók’s seating plan for his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was finally set, and the Philharmonic gave themselves up to encoded Mother Nature – the Fibonacci sequence. As the rumblings of the timpani’s remarkable glissandi gave way to the grumblings of outside rain and buses, the assembled concertgoers rounded their deserved applause, by the numbers.

Players of the night: Anthony Robb – Solo Flute; Tristan Fry – Solo Timpan

Photo: Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (


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