Past Projects



The Cave  - Image design by Abigail Hodges

The Cave - Image design by Abigail Hodges

The Multilingualism of the Cave

In Trinity term 2019, OAO staged an ambitious and riveting performance of The Cave, an audio-visual music theatre work created by Steve Reich (music) and Beryl Korot (video and libretto). It was premiered in Vienna in 1993 by The Steve Reich Ensemble, conducted by Paul Hillier.

The Cave is a demanding work, mentally and musically, and we were beyond proud of all those involved who put their hearts and souls into their preparation. Here you can read what Margaret Frainier – a DPhil candidate in Languages and Literatures, and our mezzo-soprano for the project – thought about the intellectual and inter-textual dimensions of Reich and Korot’s creation:

The Cave

The Cave is an audio-visual music theatre work created by Steve Reich (music) and Beryl Korot (video and libretto), first performed in Vienna in 1993 by The Steve Reich Ensemble and conducted by Paul Hillier. The title refers to the Cave of the Patriarchs, a sacred site located in Hebron, which is significant as a place of pilgrimage and prayer in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious traditions. The work comprises a number of different elements: live musicians; video interviews with various scholars, artists, and believers; sections from holy texts; and the ambient sound of the Cave itself. These components overlap and interact to produce a complex exploration of the story of Abraham and the various meanings this story takes on for the Israeli, Palestinian, and American interviewees.  The result is a powerful work which engages its audience in a multi-sensory reflection on the importance of place and people.

Rehearsing for Steve Reich and Beryl Korot’s  The Cave  in the Auditorium at St John’s College, Oxford

Rehearsing for Steve Reich and Beryl Korot’s The Cave in the Auditorium at St John’s College, Oxford

'What is the Cave?'

Who, for you, is Abraham? Who is Hagar? Who is Sarah? Who, for you, are Ishmael and Isaac? It is these questions that are asked in each act of The Cave, an audio-visual music theatre work created by Beryl Korot and Steve Reich. The work’s title refers to The Cave of Hebron, said to be the burial site of both Abraham and Sarah, a site central and of great importance to all three Abrahamic religions. The Cave combines Reich’s music with video footage of interviews and other visual elements created by Korot. Since its world premiere in Vienna of 1993 by the Steve Reich Ensemble and its first performance in the UK in 1996, the work has never yet been performed by a student orchestra.

Throughout the three acts of this compelling and emotive work, Reich and Korot present recorded interviews with Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, with various religious and scholarly affiliations. These diverse communities are asked what the story of Abraham means to them today, and through this multimedia collage of rich historical and religious exploration, the audience is invited to explore the story of Abraham through differing perspectives.

The work consists of vocal quartet, string quartet, assorted woodwind, keyboards, and percussionists, as well as verbatim theatre performed alongside moving video images projected onto multiple screens above the performers. Reich is known for a minimalist musical style which plays with repetition and moments of extreme clarity; the interplay between his pulsating composition, Korot’s video artistry, and spoken testaments creates a fascinating portrayal of varying musical, religious, and human experience.

{Text by Miranda Bardsley}

OAO perform Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in Freud - image courtesy of Jenny Wang

OAO perform Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in Freud - image courtesy of Jenny Wang

Dvorak Pop-Up @ Freud

In May, OAO staged it’s first ‘Pop-Up’ concert: a one-day Dvorak extravaganza which took the New World Symphony to Freud bar in Jericho, Oxford. This was a chance to play a much-loved symphony with good friends, with rehearsals punctuated with cake and chatting. Freud bar is housed in a former tabernacle on Walton St, which made for a fantastic acoustic, and punters crowded in standing room only. The unconventional mix of classical music in the informal atmosphere made for a particularly enthusiastic audience, who might otherwise never have thought to attend an orchestral concert. We had a fantastic time and felt a little bit like rock stars with all the cheering! Can’t wait for our return – OAO will be playing Freud again on Sunday 3 November, this time the programme will be Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.


OAO, charity, and serving the wider community

In recognition of the especially harsh conditions Oxford’s rough sleepers face in the winter months, Oxford Alternative Orchestra is proud to announce that the proceeds from our recent production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin will go towards supporting charities working to help those who find themselves homeless: Oxford Gatehouse and Oxford Winter Night Shelter - OWNS. A huge thank you to our audiences for their enthusiasm and generosity – three sold-out nights means that OAO will be able to donate a total of £1000 to these charities, who will receive £500 each in support of their vital work. You can read more about the activities of each charity below.

The Gatehouse has operated as a drop-in café for Oxford City homeless and those in vulnerable housing for thirty years. It runs out of the St Giles Parish Rooms on Woodstock Road on weekday and Sunday evenings, and provides essential services to those in need in an atmosphere of compassion, dignity, and safety. They meet the basic needs of their guests by providing food and drink, warmth and shelter, washing facilities, toiletries and sanitary products, clothes, sleeping bags and blankets, phone and internet access, newspapers and books, and social contact. Beyond these tangible needs, they also offer one-to-one support and information, providing contact details and referrals to other support organisations, and run workshops to help guests increase their skill base and confidence, with a view to helping them to find housing.

Oxford Winter Night Shelter is a new initiative, now in its second year, which offers a bed in a church to rough sleepers through the months of January, February, and March. There are currently 12 host churches and around 340 volunteers involved in the scheme, and up to 20 men and women can be accommodated each night across two venues. Guests are welcomed in the evening, offered something to eat, a warm drink, a bed for the night, and breakfast the next morning. By relieving the immediate concerns of warmth and shelter, and providing a place of safety, respect, and compassion, OWNS hopes that this respite will allow guests time to consider their future in a calmer state of mind. Of the 33 people who accessed the shelter during the winter months last year, 14 have not returned to rough sleeping.

Thank you to John Catterall from The Gatehouse and Mary Gurr from Oxford Winter Night Shelter for sharing the work of their organisations with us. More info can be found at their websites: and

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Eugene Onegin – an interview with Hannah Schneider

Published in the Oxford Times, Thursday 24 January 2019, p. 35.

‘An alternative opera from Russia with love’

Nicola Lisle meets Oxford Alternative Orchestra’s Hannah Schneider

One of Oxford’s newest student ensembles is putting on a production of Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera – and are doing it in Russian.
Based on Pushkin’s verse novel of 1833, Eugene Onegin dramatizes the ill-fated romance between the shy, dreamy Tatyana and the eponymous hero and is being staged by the Oxford Alternative Orchestra.

“It’s very dear to my heart, coming from Russia,” says conductor Hannah Schneider, who trained at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and later worked at the Mariinsky Theatre before coming to Oxford to study for a master’s degree in music. She founded the Oxford Alternative Orchestra in 2016. Eugene Onegin is the orchestra’s ninth project and its second opera.

“We’re doing a reduced version for 18 orchestra players and 14 singers, so it’s a really intimate version very close to the Tchaikovsky premiere,” she says. “We’re doing the opera in Russian, and as far as I can tell this is the first Russian version of Eugene Onegin ever done by students in Oxford.” The three performances take place at St John’s College, the orchestra’s official residency, ad feature young professional singers performing alongside student singers and instrumentalists. “The singers are almost all students, but there are some young professionals from London and from around the country who auditioned and wanted to join,” says Hannah. “We’re very happy to have them, especially for the leads, because even though Tchaikovsky wrote the opera for young singers it’s a bit much for 19 and 20 year-old singers. So we have undergraduates covering the leads and singing in the chorus, and then we have professionals in the lead roles.”

Hannah was inspired to start the Oxford Alternative Orchestra out of a desire to challenge traditional ideas about repertoire and concert venues. “When I came to Oxford I was amazed at the level of music here,” she says. “It’s so high, and there’s so much going on. But I realised there are a few gaps. “One of them is repertoire. There’s not a lot of contemporary or alternative repertoire. A lot of it’s very traditional – in a great way, at a very high level – but there was room for expansion. “There’s also not a lot that gets students thinking about how they’re going to use their music beyond the concert hall. So I wanted to get this orchestra together to address mostly these two issues.”

To live up to its name, Oxford Alternative Orchestra concerts have at least one ‘alternative’ aspect. This could be playing contemporary repertoire – such as Steve Reich’s [and Beryl Korot’s] three-act opera The Cave, which the OAO will be performing in May in what Hannah believes is the first UK production since 1996. A second ‘alternative’ aspect is venue and audience. “We bring music to people who might not get to hear it otherwise,” Hannah says. “So we’ve done concerts in Oxford Homeless Pathways, Campsfield House, Sobell House Hospice and in hospitals. “The idea is not to force anyone to listen, but to bring music to people who might feel uncomfortable going to concert halls. We also do thoroughly traditional concerts and donate profits to charity. That’s our mix of things.”

OAO @ John Radcliffe Hospital

Yesterday we were thrilled to hold an open rehearsal in Tingewick Hall at the John Radcliffe Hospital as part of our preparation for Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, which culminated in an informal performance for staff, patients, and their families. From our perspective, it was a great opportunity to bring our process into the open and allow others to be part of our preparations, and we hope that those who attended enjoyed getting up close and personal with our musicians, even if some could only snatch a listen between performing surgeries! A huge thank you to the JR for hosting us, and to those who found time for music in their busy schedules.

Student musicians on closing night of  Eugene Onegin

Student musicians on closing night of Eugene Onegin

Jack Holton and Dominic Bevan sing a duet from  Eugene Onegin  for patients and staff   in Tingewick Hall, John Radcliffe Hospital

Jack Holton and Dominic Bevan sing a duet from Eugene Onegin for patients and staff in Tingewick Hall, John Radcliffe Hospital

Season Opening 2018/19

Combining two of the most towering figures in Russian music – Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich – our Michaelmas 2018 concert heralded in winter with a programme of emotional depth and profound expression, with pain and triumph in equal measures filling the beautiful Oxford Town Hall. Featuring a full orchestra of student musicians of the highest calibre, and the talented Andrew Snell as soloist, OAO kicked of the year with epic Russian splendour.

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 premiered in Leningrad in 1959, featuring the composer’s auditory D-S-C-H signature, moments of rhythmic intensity, and a second movement in which you can almost hear the snow falling. Mstislav Rostropovich, who first performed the work, spoke later of his first read-through with the composer at the piano: "We were so happy, we drank a little vodka together. We then played it again, not so perfectly, and drank more vodka. The third time, I think I played the Saint-Saens Concerto while he accompanied his own concerto. We were very happy."  Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 – less frequently heard the Nos. 5 and 6, but no less a masterpiece – is sweeping and lush, in true Tchaikovsky fashion passing through a kaleidoscope of moods: the tense and fraught first movement, the pensive and graceful second, a playful pizzicato third, to arrive at the jubilant finale.

In keeping with both the programme and the season, the proceeds of this concert were donated to Oxford Winter Night Shelter, a charity which provides beds and support for rough sleepers in churches around Oxford throughout the coldest period of the year. Thanks to the generosity of our audience, we were about to donate over £500 towards OWNS and their crucial work.

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Performing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in the Oxford Town Hall. Image credit - Cosima Gillhammer

Performing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in the Oxford Town Hall. Image credit - Cosima Gillhammer