To mark their 25th anniversary in 2023, Oxford Philharmonic and Marios Papadopoulos present a Silver Jubilee concert at the Barbican on 6 February with Maxim Vengerov, and a star-studded season ahead for year-long celebrations in Oxford, alongside several more concerts in London at the Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall and St Martin-in-the-Fields. Festivities at the Barbican commence with Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, followed by Marios Papadopoulos conducting the same composer’s 2nd Symphony and Maxim Vengerov performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. In the run up to the concert, our regular contributor Yulia Chaplina met with Marios Papadopoulos to talk about the founding of the Oxford Philharmonic orchestra and how it has developed over the years.
Yulia Chaplina: Dear Marios, your wonderful Orchestra Oxford Philharmonic are approaching the Silver Jubilee! How do you feel about it?
Marios Papadopoulos: Out of breath! I still cannot believe that we have been around for a quarter of a century.
Yulia Chaplina: Could you possibly share with us when and why did you have the idea of starting the orchestra?
Marios Papadopoulos: I was involved on and off with the musical life of the city for a few years and saw an opportunity to create a world-class orchestra. I sought one platform on which to make music. Oxford had ideal venues and, most importantly, a discerning audience.
Yulia Chaplina: Do you remember your first rehearsal? How many people did you have then and how many people are in the orchestra now?
Marios Papadopoulos: We made our debut as a full symphony orchestra at the Barbican as part of the Jewish Music Festival. Whenever a new orchestral initiative is embarked on, many musicians get very excited and want to join. I remember some iconic figures from the freelance world playing for us, including the outstanding oboist, the late Niel Black. We are now a small symphony orchestra of around 70 players but we scale up and down according to the repertoire we present.
Yulia Chaplina: What were the biggest challenges on the orchestra’s way to success?
Marios Papadopoulos: As an unknown entity, we were struggling to attract audiences at the beginning. In our second year, I decided to put together a mini-Beethoven Festival with all the symphonies and concertos, introduced by John Suchet. We drew capacity audiences because of the repertoire and established a loyal following.
Yulia Chaplina: You perform and tour with the orchestra all over the world, are there some special concerts and concert halls you love the most?
Marios Papadopoulos: We loved playing at Carnegie Hall. We are making our debuts at Vienna’s Musikverein and Munich’s Isarphilharmonie soon and I am told both have wonderful acoustics. Our own Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford is a treasure. Other than a beautiful venue, it allows the audience to gather around the Orchestra and almost touch the musicians by extending their arms in the air: we call this the Sheldonian musical experience which I believe is unique.
Yulia Chaplina: What is the biggest thing that you are proud of that your orchestra has done?
Marios Papadopoulos: To have given me the chance to share my musical ideas with them and to play each concert as if their lives depended on it. As a result of engaging and soul-searching performances, we touched many lives, not least those of a younger generation who now account for over 25% of our audience.
Yulia Chaplina: I was one of the Professors at your wonderful Oxford Piano Festival, which other projects does the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra support and organise?
Marios Papadopoulos: We enjoyed welcoming you and thank you for your insightful teaching. We are deeply engaged in community and outreach work and gain considerable pleasure from helping young people with their instrumental studies and appreciate classical music.
Yulia Chaplina: What would you advise to young people that are aspiring to reach your heights?
Marios Papadopoulos: Never give up despite obstacles you are bound to meet on your journey. Perseverance and hard work pay dividends. Believe in what you have to say and deliver your message with humility and integrity.
Yulia Chaplina: Congratulations, dear Marios, again on such fantastic achievement, the Silver Jubilee!!