Blog: August 2015

Weekends at Oxford Summer Courses

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A Saturday at Oxford Summer Courses is usually spent on a delightful day out at Blenheim Palace  – a beautiful Baroque estate in the Oxfordshire countryside built in the early 18th century for the first Duke of Marlborough’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the birthplace of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There we enjoy Capability Brown’s famous landscapes, take the lakeside walk, admire the victory column, or take the little ‘toy’ train to the pleasure garden complete with a maze!

On those shockingly rare occasions that Britain sees some rain (read similarly unusual British sarcasm here), the day can be more than well spent taking the tour through the state rooms, which hold stunning art and decoration and furniture by various masters, and alongside all the heirlooms come a wealth of family anecdotes, spider-webbing across the British, political and royal elites of the last three centuries. Squabbles with Queen Anne, ambitious and embittered Vanderbilts, treaties with King Louis XIV, and even the annual rent payment to the crown, consisting a single banner adorned with three fleur de lis can all be found along the tour.

Upstairs an amusing and immersive tour leads you through Behind the Scenes at Blenheim with a delightfully plummy speech from the pukka Duke himself and almost as an afterthought, at least as it is presented, we stop by the Winston Churchill exhibit; a fascinating and moving in-depth study of the great war hero and leader. An un-missable day out, only made better by winding down at a concert at the Sheldonian – I remember a particularly spectacular rendition of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony this July.

A Sunday is made up of a fun variety of optional activities including soaking up the abstract and absurd at Modern Art Oxford, a visit to shopping outlet Bicester Village, the gift to the university city of designer clothing at (closer to) student prices, or touring some of the other colleges of Oxford University and museums not already visited during the week. Oxford Summer Courses students can also use the free time for their own exploration, repeat activities such as the very popular punting, or study time to prepare for the week ahead.

The picturesque scenes of Oxford’s countryside are only a few hundred yards from the city centre and our Sunday afternoon country walk is an idyllic package through Port Meadow, along the canals and up to the The Trout for lunch- a quintessential riverside pub- even with wild horses included en route! Sports are also arranged, ranging from football and cricket to Quidditch(!) to an organised sports day with group teams competing in traditional village races such as the egg and spoon, wheelbarrow and sack races, as well as water-balloon throwing, all for the ultimate prize- the incomparable creations of Oxford’s own ‘G&Ds’ ice-cream revolutionaries!

Posted: August 31, 2015

Bach, Shakespeare, and Karaoke!

Residential Dean Naomi Gardom reports on the cultural highlights of our 2015 course

Summer evenings spent in Oxford have a particularly fairy-tale atmosphere. After a day in the beautiful grounds of Blenheim Palace followed by a picnic supper on Somerville lawns, the students of Course 2 made the short trip through Oxford’s golden streets to the Sheldonian Theatre. This distinguished building, designed by Christopher Wren (the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral in London) has a central position in Oxford life.

However, on this occasion we were not there to attend a matriculation or graduation ceremony; rather, we attended one of the concerts in the Oxford Philomusica summer series. The programme featured ever-ravishing favourites such as Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, Pachelbel’s Canon, crowned with the delightfully frothy Concerto for Four Violins by Vivaldi. The exquisite baroque counterpoint of the music chimed with the beautiful architecture.

The most enjoyable part of the evening had to be the Botesini Concerto for Violin and Double Bass – an unusual combination of solo instruments, made even more special by the fact that the concert marked the 70th birthday of the double bassist. And, of course, the orchestra played him ‘Happy Birthday’.

A few evenings later, Course 2 staff and students were once again spotted inhaling some Oxford culture, on this occasion at an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a production by the Globe on Tour. This lively tale of crossed love, misunderstanding, villainy and reconciliation was brought to life by the star performances of the Shakespearean troupe, who aim to recreate as far as possible the authentic seventeenth-century experience, complete with live music, dancing, audience interaction and even fruit-throwing.

There was also time for culture of a less tradition kind, though nonetheless demanding and challenging. The karaoke night featured classics such as All the Single Ladies, Gangnam Style, and culminated in a staff performance of Angels. Group C came together for a rendition of Hot and Cold by Katy Perry (clearly not referring to their level-headed Assistant Course Director and Residential Deans), and Oxford Summer Courses’ very own Academic Director brought the house down with New York, New York.

Whether listening to Bach, roaring in laughter at the genius of William Shakespeare, or singing their hearts out to Lady Gaga, Oxford Summer Courses students have shown that they are up for anything.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Kahn

Posted: August 3, 2015

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