Guess who's coming to dinner on Sunday? (And drinks afterwards)

Guess who’s coming to dinner on Sunday? (And drinks afterwards)

This was the saga of a window of opportunity, the rush to gain access, and the utility of social media in linking those in need with those who can help. In the end everything came together satisfactorily – this time round at least.

One of the best things about Oxford is the abundance of wonderful cultural events which happen in the city, and one of the most galling (or intriguing), is that many people never get to hear about them. Part of our raison d’etre is to flag up the goods others might not yet have discovered. In this case, it was a concert by an internationally renowned string quartet, at an Oxford College, with an opportunity to meet the musicians afterwards, wine and nibbles thrown in, all for free!

When this kind of nugget turns up, you’d normally be expecting a gold rush, but somehow, this time, it didn’t happen. Whether it was the long delay between news being announced and tickets becoming available, or that people didn’t really believe access would be given to anyone outside the university, or that the whole damned thing seemed too good to be true, I don’t know, but when the go ahead was given a few days before the event, let’s just say there wasn’t any danger of being stampeded in the rush. I donned my best negotiating hat, and despite being told there was a limit of two tickets per person, managed to wangle over a dozen admission programmes from the Porter’s Lodge. These were earmarked for the group members who’d been first to sign up on the site. Or who I thought had been first. The Meetup organisation works in mysterious and sometimes peremptory ways, and had in fact been rotating RSVPs randomly, meaning the names at the top of the list when places were allocated was simply a matter of chance.

Where we hang

The kind of joint we like to hang in

Pazienza! There was still time for people to visit St John’s and collect tickets for themselves and their guests, and maybe for fellow arts group members as well. But, with the weekend looming, and missed or mis-communications, and one thing or another, some left it a little late, leading to the lucky ones being rewarded and several others missing out.


anything with spinach

Still, it’s not over til the slim lady solos, and with friends and +1s dropping out with lurgies in the days leading up to the event, suddenly the Meetup conversational facility, which had finally been instituted after years of prompting, was alive with offers of tickets and last minute deals. Some members had planned to have lunch at Al Andalusia in Little Clarendon Street beforehand, which threw a little more uncertainty into proceedings as there were now two official meeting points. Then, when somebody discovered another entrance to St John’s, there were three.

In the final reckoning however, everybody who’d requested a ticket, no matter how late in the day, and turned up, was rewarded, and for those who did, well… what a reward. If you like classical music, string quartets in particular, and sitting in generously proportioned, comfortable seats in well-designed auditoriums with excellent acoustics, then, as a certain duo on Classic FM were almost wont to say, “…’d have loved this”

This sort of thing

This sort of jive

The Carducci Quartet themselves, comprising Matthew Denton, Violin, Michelle Fleming, Violin, Eoin Schmidt-Martin Viola and Emma Denton Cello, were superb. They played Haydn’s Ryder quartet, which was okay, but a bit dated. (I made this remark several times during the afternoon, and people were so happy, they didn’t even stare at me). They played Debussy’s string quartet in G minor, which was challenging, and in places, sublime. Then, after a 15 minute break, where latecomers were let in, and the auditorium still didn’t feel crowded, they performed Dvorjak’s American quartet, which was ultimately, immense. After that, and because the crowd implored them, they returned and encored with Britten. It was hard work, for them obviously, and in a lazy, spoiled, ‘never had it so good’ way, for us as well – the less musically educated members of the audience I mean. An hour or more’s strings when you’re unfamiliar with the pieces is something of a challenge, even if we weren’t exactly talking Wagner’s Ring Cycle. But equally, I knew it was remarkable stuff. The intensity of the cellist’s facial expressions, let alone her playing, was astonishing; the lead violinist’s fingers were a blur, and the quartet played, for want of a more technical phrase, in almost perfect harmony. You want information about tempo, variation and tone? I’m afraid you’ll have to ask an expert. I just shout out the good news, and try to get everyone to the ball on time. And enjoy it all of course. How could I not? There were around 40 Arts Group people at the event, of varying ages and nationalities, and we met in the reception room afterwards and made friends and greeted acquaintances, and drank red and white wine, and the second cellist was surrounded by Oxford Arts Groupies and had his moment of glory, and deservedly so.

'We had some of that Sevilianas at the arts group party once..." It was all quiet on the dining table front last Sunday.

‘We had some of that Sevilianas at the arts group once…” It was all quiet on the Al Andalus dining table front last Sunday.

Oh, and Al Andalusia wasn’t at all bad either, easily matching the standards I remembered from several years ago when I first came to Oxford, and never dreamed I’d end up doing this sort of thing, with the fabulous people who make up this group, and writing about it afterwards. Criticisms? Well, I suppose the prices at Al Andalusia have gone up a bit…. but on a Sunday afternoon, with the sun shining, and the promise of what’s been described still to come, you felt you could push the boat out a bit. And there won’t be another event like this for quite a while. But then again, will there?