Blackwell’s interviews Harry Christophers


Wednesday April 8th sees Harry Christophers’ ‘The Sixteen’ performing The Choral Pilgrimage 2015 at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Prior to the performance our Music Shop is hosting a reception from 18:00 to 19:00


Our Music Shop manager, Luke, was fortunate enough to find time to talk with Harry between tour dates in Australia and Korea:
Would The Sixteen consider bringing a particular composer’s work to light who isn’t already that widely known in the mainstream classical world? If so who would you particularly like to pick?
Part of The Sixteen’s brief has always been to bring relatively unknown composers’ work to prominence. We did this many years ago with our Eton Choirbook series (5 volumes) and, of course, in our early recordings for Hyperion we concentrated on the works of Taverner (5 volumes) and Sheppard (4 volumes). If you look through our catalogue you will find rarities – Portuguese music by Rebelo, Melgás and Teixeira and Tudor music by the likes of Tye, Parsons and White. This year’s Choral Pilgrimage is devoted to the music of Guerrero and Lobo and will introduce thousands of people to this wonderful music.

How much do you concern yourself with ‘authenticity’ within early choral music and how does this influence your interpretation of a musical score or manuscript?

First and foremost the editions we use must be the best about, taking into account any new findings etc. Martyn Imrie is always scrupulous in his attention to detail when preparing editions. He produced the editions for this year’s Choral Pilgrimage as well as our Palestrina CD series as he has done with all the Spanish and Italian Renaissance music we have performed over the years. Likewise, Sally Dunkley is meticulous and ever conscious of presenting excellent performing editions of music from Tudor England. Of course we sing in a stylish manner befitting this music but there “authenticity” ceases. We must always remember that all of this music was for the adornment of the liturgy. What we are doing is taking it out of that context and bringing it into a concert programme and in doing so we must bring the music to life for a 21st-century audience. I make a point of interpreting the music, bringing out its emotional traits, and enriching the text.

Do you find you have to adopt a different approach for producing a recording than in a live environment?

Yes – “live” has to be just that. The choir know full well that I may do something different in each performance. We never go onto auto-pilot. Different acoustics will account for variations in speed, dynamics and, indeed, my interpretation. Recording is completely different although I do like a more performance feel with longer takes and not being bogged down in total perfection. Of course there are many things I may do in performance which would not transfer well onto CD.

How much influence do you have in regard to where you record your performances, do you have a particular favourite venue or studio?
I always choose the venue for our recordings. These days financial constraints mean we cannot afford to go outside London to venues where we know we will have peace and quiet with no extraneous noises. However, London does contain some glorious places for recording. My present favourite is St Augustine’s Church in Kilburn – there is a richness and a wonderful tail to the sound there which is perfect for both singers and instrumentalists. It is so diverse – last year we recorded Handel’s Jephtha, Monteverdi’s Vespers, Purcell’s Indian Queen and the Choral Pilgrimage CD of Guerrero and Lobo, so from a large ensemble for Jephtha to the more chamber feel of Indian Queen and finally the glorious a cappella music of Guerrero and Lobo. I also adore the fullness of sound that St Alban’s Church in Holborn produces and this is where we record our Palestrina series. In both of these places we use as little of the church acoustics or as much as we want – we never do anything that is artificial with the sound.

You’ve mentioned in the past that, apart from Classical repertoire, you like to listen to Led Zeppelin, do you have a favourite Zeppelin album? And would you ever consider arranging some classic Zeppelin tracks for a cappella voices? Are there any other rock bands you like to listen to?
It’s a toss-up between Led Zepp 4 or 1… then again there’s 3!!! I’m a big Rolling Stones fan but I also like Ben Folds and Jack Johnson. I also love Jethro Tull and they us! We’ve just been touring Australia and John Evan came to our concert and loved it!! But no – I would never consider arranging tracks for a capella voices.

Thank you Harry for the time taken to answer my questions. Good luck for your performance in Oxford!

Also released next week is:

GG_GorczyckiThe third disc in The Sixteen’s acclaimed series of Polish music, conducted by Associate Conductor, Eamonn Dougan, explores the work of Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (1665–1734). Regarded as the outstanding Polish composer of the high baroque, Gorczycki studied in Prague and Vienna in his early years and returned to Kraków in 1690 where he took holy orders. He was appointed Magister capellae at Wawel Cathedral in 1698, a position he held until his death.

If you would like to attend the drinks reception prior to the concert please contact Luke:


Saturday 21st March 2015

Days such as last Saturday do not come along too often. Not only was it the start of the annual Oxford Literary Festival but it was also the unveiling of the once-in-a-lifetime exhibition Marks of Genius at the newly refurbished Weston Library (formerly known as the New Bodleian).

DSCF4107The whole of Broad Street was buzzing with excitement and no little awe as thousands descended on our little corner of Oxford.

Some were here just for the Festival, some for the Exhibition, many for both. Not only was Broad Street heaving but Twitter got in on the act too:



So, to the Marks of Genius exhibition – 130 of the most special treasures of the Bodleian Library presented to the public. It is impossible to convey the importance that this astonishing collection has had on civilisation – from science to art, religion to literature. It truly is breathtaking:


The Gutenberg Bible – one of only forty eight surviving copies

By all means take a look at the exhibition website, but seeing these items for yourself cannot be recommended highly enough. AND. IT. IS. FREE.

We have put together a Marks of Genius Collection in our Norrington Room with books chosen to complement the exhibition. Even if I say so myself it looks very handsome


To see this tweet from Ricahard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian did, quite frankly, make my day.


The Oxford Literary Festival may be considerably younger than the Bodleian but it has become one of the essential parts of the cultural calendar of Oxford. For the second year we were asked to provide the marquee and, with us being us, we decided to substantially increase the space that we gave to books this time. So not only is there a full A-Z run of books by Festival authors but there is table upon table of some of our favourite books.

DSCF4189smallFrom early on the marquee was packed. Nestled between the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodleian library is really is a book lovers paradise.


We were at each of the venues selling books for such luminaries as Simon Schama, Cressida Cowell and Eric Kandel to name but three.

And so we move on from this exhilarating day. The Festival is in town until Sunday 29th, Marks of Genius runs until September the 20th and the Weston Library will stand gorgeous and proud for generations to come. We are honoured to stand next to it in a supportive, neighbourly fashion.

The eastern end of Broad Street has never looked better.




A Crash Course in Being an Oxford Fresher

Freshers’ Week is nearly upon us, and floods of students will soon be making their ways up to Oxford for the new academic year. This year I won’t be one of them, but with four years of Oxford studenting under my belt, I’ve got some pretty good tips for how to make the most of Freshers’ Week, and your time here in general.

And you know what? These five handy hints make pretty good sense for most other people too.

5) Get enough sleep

Both before you get to Oxford, and once you’re here, make sure you’re getting at least some sleep each night. As someone with a deep love of a warm duvet, I can’t overstate how important those few hours are to keep you smiling through Freshers’ Week. More importantly, good sleep is your first defence against the dreaded Freshers’ Flu. Trust me.

4) Don’t get too much sleep.

Come on, I’m not saying be tucked up in bed before 9 like a granny! So much great stuff happens in Freshers’ Week after dark – some organised stuff, like bops, and fancy dinners, and so on, and also those wonderful nights where parties in someone’s room trail off into painting each others’ faces while discussing the historical accuracy of Disney films. Oxford is at its most whimsical after dark – just see where the night takes you.

3) Say hi – to everyone.

When I was at school, my mum always told me it was important to have three people on side – the school nurse, the secretary, and the dinner lady. These three people look after you more than anyone else. As a fresher, I’d argue that there are four important people to win over – the college nurse, the hall staff, the librarian, and the porters. But there’re more – the chaplain, your tutors, the maintenance staff… What I’m saying is, say hi to everyone. Be nice to everyone. It’s not just your fellow freshers you need to charm – colleges are a big old support network, so make friends with everyone you can! It might make things a lot easier for you.

2) Say yes – to everything.

Freshers’ Week can be overwhelming, especially once you hit the Freshers’ Fair and experience about 40,000 societies vying for your attention. Say yes to everything (within reason). So you didn’t plan on joining the kickboxing society, learning to dance the tango, performing pantomimes or enjoying Greek cooking? So what? Try everything once, and you’ll be surprised what you end up loving. You can decide later what you want to keep in your life.

1) Don’t stress.

Okay, this one’s cheesy, I know. But Freshers’ Week is supposed to be fun. As long as you’re going to the compulsory stuff, and learning your way around Oxford and its weirdnesses, you’re doing okay. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, you’re doing okay. It’s one of the best and most exciting bits of Oxford life – I wish I could do it all over again. So go have fun, and don’t stress.

And of course, a bonus tip – make sure you have a look at our amazing upcoming events. Blackwell’s is a treasure of Oxford, and where else will you get the opportunity to meet your favourite author, listen to bands, learn new things and grab some guilty pleasure novels to go along with your tutor’s recommended reading list?

Blenheim Palace Literary Festival September 25-28

blenheim_palace_north_face__970The literary festival at Blenheim Palace is, once again, upon us. From Thursday 25th September through to Sunday 28th a host of interesting writers and public figures will illuminate, entertain and provoke your thoughts.

Visit the Festival website for full information and to buy tickets and visit our Festival page to buy the books before you go

Books Are My Bag II – a date for your diary


Last year was the inaugural ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign – a day organised by The Booksellers Association for everyone to have the chance to celebrate bookshops. It was wildly successful with thousands upon thousands of book lovers making a trip to their local bookshop up and down the country. The Saatchi-designed orange bag flooded the streets and sales across the country rose by 18% on the Saturday launch day

It certainly made an impression on Richard Ovenden, Bodley Librarian, with one of my favourite ever tweets about the shop

Richard Ovenden BAMB tweet

So, book lovers, let’s do it all again!

On Saturday October 11th BAMB II is happening.

Fiendish plans are underway to make sure that we play our fullest part here in the shop. The plan is to put on an amazing carnival of bookish loveliness that puts a smile on your face and a book in your bag.

Follow Books Are My Bag on Twitter or their website to keep abreast of news and developments


Philip Pullman on the power of the book

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In addition to all the fantastic free short talks right here in Blackwell’s during the World Humanist Congress, I was also lucky enough to attend Philip Pullman’s talk at the Sheldonian, mysteriously entitled ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’. Pullman is one of Oxford’s most well-known authors, and it was a real pleasure to hear him speak about the life and responsibilities of writers – the metaphor of the cuckoo’s nest was perfect for discussing the way one’s writing can take over one’s life.

One particular point that Pullman explored was the difference between the relationship of book and author, and that of book and reader.

“Writing is not democracy; writing is tyranny. But reading is democracy.”

What he means by this is that the author may have total control over a book while it is being written, but that the moment it begins to be read, he ceases to have control over how it is read. The reader is free to derive whatever they wish from any book – “when you open a book, it is secret, private” and the relationship is “precious, individual”. This freedom of interpretation fitted in perfectly with the theme of the World Humanist Congress, “Freedom of Thought and Expression”, and was extremely thought-provoking. Certainly I know that the books I’ve fallen most in love with have been the ones I’ve discovered by myself, and not the ones that school teachers demanded I interpret.

Pullman was insistent about the power of literature and the arts to influence children and young people, and lamented that there is little chance for children to discover literature at their own pace. Literature, he argues, shows us what it is to be human, and can be used to equip a reader with an understanding, a model, of how to live – however, this is most powerful if the discovery is organic, and something read as a child suddenly bursts into flower years later, meaning one more facet of humanity makes sense. But, he says, if there is someone watching over the reader’s shoulder, telling them what to think of it, then this magic bond is lost. Pullman is fond of using the words ‘magic’, ‘enchantment’, ‘spell’ – and I think anyone who loves to read will understand why!

As a reader (and I’m sure most of you are), I know that much of my childhood reading, and even the reading I do today, worked to subtly influence how I see the world, and who I am. Watching Anne Shirley grow up through the Anne of Green Gables books gave me a model I still subconsciously aim for; Hermione Granger was the perfect comfort to a frizzy-haired, bookish schoolgirl. So to hear Pullman acknowledge the special bond between reader and book, reader and character, to be as strong if not stronger than the relationship between writers and their own works, was extremely powerful.

Would you agree? Is there something secret between the reader and what they read? Which books and characters have influenced how you see the world?

If this has inspired you to read something by Philip Pullman, then why not pop into the shop, or check out our online store here?

World Humanist Congress 2014 – Today’s Speakers

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to kick off our programme of free 20 minute talks from some fantastic speakers from the World Humanist Congress!

First up, at 12 noon Richard Dawkins will give a talk entitled ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. 


Then at 2pm,A.C. Grayling will be discussing ‘How Does Humanism Relate to Ethics?’ Grayling2

At 3pm, we’ll have Jim Al-Khalili, the president of the British Humanist Association, speaking on ‘A Rationalist’s View of the Greatest Paradoxes in Science’.jim-al-khalili-large

And finally for today, at 4pm Peter Atkins will speak on ‘The Limits of Science’. Prof Peter Atkins

All four of these speakers are widely renowned, and we have a great selection of their titles available to buy from our dedicated World Humanist Congress Section in the Norrington Room. Even better, after each talk, there’ll be a chance to have your books signed.

So come and join us in the Norrington Room this afternoon – it’s sure to be an amazing time! And in the meantime, check out our fab World Humanist Congress page here, where you can see books by all our Congress speakers, and other relevant titles.

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter, using the #WHC2014 hashtag – we’re at @blackwelloxford.