Oxford Times: “Raising the baton on 50th anniversary of the Orchestra of St John’s”

See Nicola Lisle’s article in the Oxford Times of 6 September 2018:

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” John Lubbock says as he looks back on a remarkable 50 years as conductor of the Orchestra of St John’s.

John founded the OSJ while still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, and is both amazed and delighted that it has survived for so long. What’s the reason, I wondered, for the orchestra’s longevity?

“Because I love it,” John says, simply. “And the players love it. We just love playing together.

“And it’s different to other orchestras. I’m not the best conductor in the world, but I’m unlike a lot of conductors. I’m not there for my career. I love the players, and they know that. We have the most incredible joy working together.”

That joy will be evident during the orchestra’s autumn season, which opens at Dorchester Abbey on September 15 with former BBC Young Musician of the Year Sheku Kanneh-Mason
– a name that seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment, especially since his dazzling performance at the Royal Wedding in May. Sheku will play Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, while the orchestra will also play Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and Italian Symphony.

Another famous name – flautist James Galway – joins the orchestra in November for the official 50th Anniversary Concert, an all-Mozart programme that includes the Flute Concerto, Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Ian Scott) and Symphony No. 40 in G Minor.

James, of course, is no stranger to the OSJ, having performed with the orchestra on many occasions.

“He’s got the magic touch,” John says. “He’s absolutely extraordinary, a wonderful musician. We’ve had a lot of fun with him over many, many years.”

Other treats this season include pianist Viv McLean and the OSJ Strings at St John the Evangelist for the finale of the SJE’s International Piano Series, an evening of Bach and Handel at Dorchester Abbey with soprano Hannah Davey and trumpeter Paul Archibald, and a continuation of the orchestra’s successful Ashmolean Proms series.

“I love that series,” John says. “I’ve found some really wacky pieces, so next year I’m going to do a surprise item in every concert and not announce what it is, then offer a bottle of champagne for anyone who can guess.

“Seeing they’re composers I’ve never heard of, the chances of losing the champagne are remote!”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the OSJ is developing new community outreach programmes in addition to John’s long-running Music for Autism charity.

The architect of these initiatives is new associate conductor Cayenna Ponchione. Her first project, Displaced Voices, brings together refugees and OSJ players in a number of initiatives, and the 50th anniversary concert features poems written by young refugees and set to music by professional composers. Cayenna has also been working with young women from the Afghanistan National Institute for Music, and hopes to bring this group to Oxford for a concert next March as well as developing a distance learning and mentoring scheme with them.

She says: “John has built an orchestra which has a tremendous amount of integrity and has an excellent reputation in the community and the industry, so we have a platform from which to do these activities. “It was fabulous to be invited to develop these initiatives, and it’s already been very rewarding.”

OSJ 50th Anniversary Season From 15 September Various venues osj.org.uk