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The Divine Office: Choral Music in Oxford - A unique event of exceptional musical intensity and spiritual potency

Fourteen choirs and instrumental groups, seven chapels and churches, 17 concerts (including the complete Divine Office), three lectures.

The Divine Office (the eight services of the monastic day, performed at their intended times between 1.00am and 10.00pm) is the most spiritually charged and aesthetically intense experience to have emerged from western civilisation.

The oldest and finest of college choirs participate – Christ Church, Magdalen, Merton, New College and The Queen’s College.

Internationally acclaimed professional choirs – Stile Antico, Tenebrae, Recordare, Siglo de Oro, Choir of the London Oratory, I Fagiolini, Collegium Gregorianum and Contrapunctus – and top-class period instrument ensemble The Instruments of Time & Truth.

Based in Oxford throughout, one of the world’s great historic cities, whose magnificent college chapels are uniquely apposite for this celebration of church music.

Music from the Renaissance to the present day, and from many European countries as well as Britain, including many Oxford alumni.

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30 Sep - 04 Oct 2024 £2,210 Book this tour

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Overview

 

Seventeen concerts, including the complete Divine Office: this festival is a truly extraordinary musical, architectural and spiritual experience. Caution need not inhibit the use of the word unique.

 

The oldest and finest college choirs

Provision for music to accompany the liturgy was stipulated by the founders of the major early colleges at Oxford, and choral church music there is still very much a living tradition. Magdalen, Merton, New College, Christ Church Cathedral and Queen’s College choirs remain the finest in Oxford and enjoy international reputations for excellence.


Acclaimed professional ensembles

Eight professional choirs also participate: Stile Antico, whose wonderfully engaging ethereal style has won them an international following; Tenebrae, the passion and precision for which they are renowned making them likewise one of the most sought-after choral ensembles in the world; the Choir of the London Oratory, the UK’s senior Catholic church choir and among the finest liturgical groups in Europe; Contrapunctus, an Oxford-based consort that couples powerful interpretations with path-breaking scholarship; founded in 2014, Siglo de Oro is one of the leading vocal ensembles of its generation, praised for its golden tone, fresh interpretations, and innovative programming; I Fagiolini, whose inimitable performances are characterised by superb ensemble playing, sensitivity, wit, pathos and sheer beauty; Collegium Gregorianum, who are dedicated to thoughtful and musically engaging performances of liturgical music; and Recordare, perhaps the most brilliant of Britain’s new crop of exciting young choirs.

Instruments of Time & Truth, a top-class period instrument ensemble, performs in two concerts. Based in Oxford, its members are among the leading specialist players in England.


500 years of music, Europe-wide

You will hear music from across a span of five hundred years, a heterogeneous selection with some skewing in favour of those with Oxford associations. Polyphony from the Golden Age provides recurring content, with English composers – Taverner, Tallis, Byrd, Sheppard, Weelkes – very well represented alongside continental peers such as Palestrina, Victoria, Lassus and Caterina Assandra. There is a programme of English Restoration composers (Blow, Purcell, Humfrey), and Handel and Haydn make brief appearances.

The second Golden Age of choral music is inaugurated by such figures as Rheinberger and Stainer, continued into the next century by Parry, Stanford and Bairstow, and thence carried forward by some of the great names in 20th-century music – Holst, Stravinksy, Duruflé, Walton, Britten.

We are particularly proud to be able to present the works of several living composers, including Kerensa Briggs, Grayston Ives, Derri Lewis, Cecilia McDowall, Philip Moore, Arvo Pärt, Owain Park, Judith Weir and Eric Whitacre.


The Divine Office Day

The central component of this festival is the performance of the complete Divine Office, within the span of a single day and at the appropriate times. No other musical experience could be as sublime and spiritually charged.

The principal features of the Offices are the chanting of psalms with their antiphons, the singing of hymns and canticles, and the chanting of readings from the Bible with sung responsories. The tradition has changed little in nearly 1,500 years, and aspects may go back further: the roots of plainchant (‘Gregorian’ chant) may lie in Jewish or Pharaonic practice.

Though this ‘performance’ of the Divine Office (they are concerts, not services) is basically as authentic a rendering as might have been performed in late-medieval or Renaissance Britain or Europe, there are some departures from liturgical correctness. It does not follow the texts prescribed for a particular day, and we err on the side of musical elaboration beyond what is canonically necessary. The polyphonic passages have been selected from among the finest ever composed, within an overarching Marian theme, though this is hardly limiting.

Were you to attend all eight Hours, you would become one of an elite few among living souls to have done so, so rare is the opportunity now. Even were you to skip the less agreeably timed ones, you would be exposed to what is one of the most potent spiritual and aesthetic experiences available in the world today. Moreover, it could be said, at the risk of divine wrath for extreme hubris, that, musically, this manifestation of the Divine Office will rank as the finest ever performed (along with the four previous editions of this festival), being performed by such first-rate choirs.

As the capacity of the chapels is limited, all of the Offices are performed in two chapels simultaneously. Audience members are assigned to a particular stream of the eight Hours to ensure maximum variety of chapels and an equal number of performances by each of the choirs.

Tenebrae, Stile Antico and Collegium Gregorianum participate in all eight Offices. Apart from sleep deprivation there are two challenges facing contemporary choirs wishing to perform the complete Divine Office: vocal stamina and the quantity of plainchant whose singing is a specialist skill. Tenebrae are taking on both the polyphony and chant for all of their Hours, and Stile Antico and Collegium Gregorianum are performing the polyphony and chant respectively for theirs.

We shall ask that there be no applause at any time during this extraordinary day, and that silence prevails while in the chapels.


Oxford: A beautiful and suitable city

Oxford is one of the world’s great historic cities: a dense accumulation of buildings in every style from the 12th to the 21st centuries. Architectural greatness is embedded in a web of improbably picturesque streets and alleys and dappled with lawns, veteran trees and riverside meadows.

The city is also a uniquely apposite location for a celebration of church music – especially for a recreation of the monastic hours. Reflecting their quasi-monastic origins, many colleges are equipped with cloistral layouts and magnificent chapels. All the selected chapels are architecturally remarkable, and all have a strong musical tradition. The audience sit alongside or opposite the choir, giving rise to rare proximity and sense of collegiality.

At Christ Church, liturgical singing has an almost unbroken tradition for well over 800 years. Thomas Wolsey intended the college to outshine all its predecessors when he founded it in 1525, and it has the largest quad and the most capacious chapel – which doubles as a cathedral. Wolsey established 16 choristers and chose John Taverner, greatest of early Tudor composers, as Informator Choristarum (director of music).

There are earlier foundations, but by the generosity of its endowment and by the prescriptions of its 1264 statutes, Merton qualifies as the first fully-fledged college in either Oxford or Cambridge. The chapel is also Oxford’s earliest, and many hold it to be the most beautiful. From the outset, there was provision for vocal music to accompany the liturgy. 

The ambitions and endowment of Magdalen exceeded those of all previous foundations when established by Bishop Waynflete in 1458. Reformation iconoclasm was made good by 19th-century restorations and the glorious chapel is little changed since it was built in 1474–80. Waynflete made provision for eight clerks, four chaplains, 16 choristers and an Informator Choristarum. John Sheppard was among the many distinguished holders of this post (1543–48).

New College enjoyed unprecedented munificence when founded by William of Wykeham in 1379, and its chapel is the biggest of the medieval new-builds in Oxford. The college was the first to be planned around a large quadrangle, and the first in which there were lodgings for undergraduates as well as for fellows. From the outset there was provision for ten chaplains, three clerks and 16 choristers.

Though founded in 1340, no trace of the medieval buildings of The Queen’s College survive as it was entirely rebuilt in the decades around 1700. The result is a pleasing version of English Baroque with a screen to the High Street which constitutes the finest stretch of Classicism in Oxford. The chapel is marked by its restrained beauty and excellent acoustics.

University College Chapel was begun in 1639 but was not completed until 1666, building having been interrupted by the civil wars and interregnum. Fittings from that time include the painted windows and the antechapel screen. Its founder, William of Durham, died in 1249, so the college is entitled to claim to be the oldest in any English university.

The parish church of Oxford, University Church of St Mary, was also the place where all university ceremonies took place before the Sheldonian Theatre was opened in 1669, where the governing body gathered and where the embryonic library was first kept (in the oldest library building in the world). Even after the 17th century it continued to be used for university and public functions and concerts. It is exceptionally capacious for an English parish church but architecturally is no barn, ranking with the finest churches in the country. Building began at the end of the 13th century and enlargements and embellishments continued until the end of the 15th century. 


Meet the musicians

The Choir of the London Oratory

The Choir of the London Oratory is England’s senior professional Catholic choir, noted for its communicative power within the Latin liturgy for which the Oratory is internationally famed, and for its stylish deployment of a wide range of vocal colour across a repertoire including more than 100 settings of the Mass and 500 motets. Director Patrick Russill is one of the leading figures in English church music as performer and pedagogue. A Professor of the University of London, he has been the Oratory’s Director of Music since 1999 and was Head of Choral Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music 1997–2023.


College Gregorianum

Collegium Gregorianum is made up of some of the UK’s finest professional singers. Dedicated to thoughtful and musically engaging performances of liturgical music, it explores the fascinating possibilities to be found at the intersection of religious ritual and concert experience. The group is led from within by Greg Skidmore, a veteran of the UK Early Music choral and vocal consort scene. Greg appears around the world with The Tallis Scholars, I Fagiolini, Contrapunctus, and many other groups and directs his own choirs in the UK. In his native Canada, Greg is Founder and Artistic Director of The Canadian Renaissance Music Summer Schools.


Christ Church Cathedral Choir

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, founded 500 years ago, holds a distinctive place within the great English choral tradition. Unlike all other collegiate and cathedral choirs, it serves both an Oxford college and a diocese. The choir is revered for the vibrancy of its sound and its artistic flexibility, performing early and contemporary music with equal skill. Christ Church Cathedral Choir boasts a legacy of ground-breaking recordings which have excited critics and the listening public for over thirty years. The astonishing versatility of this choir gives them a strong media profile, featuring in more than fifteen documentaries in the last ten years. The choir is directed by Steven Grahl.


Contrapunctus

Contrapunctus is an early-music vocal ensemble dedicated to passionate interpretations informed by authoritative insight and understanding. Directed by Owen Rees, a specialist in music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the group presents imaginative programmes revealing previously undiscovered musical treasures and throwing new light on familiar works. Since its foundation in 2010, the group has appeared in many of the world’s leading music festivals. Two of the group’s discs – Libera nos: The Cry of the Oppressed and In the Midst of Life – have been shortlisted for the Gramophone Early Music Award.


I Fagiolini

Fagiolini is a British solo-voice ensemble founded and directed by Robert Hollingworth. It is internationally renowned for its genuinely innovative productions, which are as much online as live, including world premiere recordings, collaborative cross-art projects, education and multi award-winning music videos with Polyphonic Films. ‘The group are musical shapeshifters, following Hollingworth’s giddy, eclectic imagination wherever it leads’ (The Spectator). I Fagiolini looks towards its 40th year in 2026 with inspirational and engaging programmes, ranging from large-scale, world premiere, multi-choir masses by 17th-century composer Orazio Benevoli, to Britten and Monteverdi. The first album in their Benevoli series is released in October 2023; the second is due in autumn 2024.


Instruments of Time & Truth

Instruments of Time & Truth is a period-instrument ensemble whose aim is to present world-class performances of Baroque and Classical music in Oxford and the surrounding region. The ensemble is a showcase for the exceptional talents of international period musicians resident in and around Oxford. Many hold Principal positions with established groups such as The Academy of Ancient Music, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The English Baroque Soloists.


Magdalen College Choir

Magdalen’s famous choir has changed little since its foundation in 1480, still being composed of 16 boys from Magdalen College School and 12 undergraduates (including, since 2019, female students), studying a range of subjects, known as ‘Academical Clerks’. As well as singing daily services in the College’s beautiful chapel, the Choir performs around the world, records and broadcasts regularly, and sings to thousands of revellers from the top of Magdalen’s iconic tower each year at 6.00am on 1st May, in a tradition dating back more than five hundred years.  The current Informator Choristarum – Director of Music – is Mark Williams, formerly of Jesus College, Cambridge, who is also a Fellow of the College and Lecturer in the Faculty of Music.


Merton College Choir

Described by Gramophone as ‘one of the UK’s finest choral ensembles’, Merton College Choir is a mixed-voice choir which came to the fore when it won the BBC Music Magazine Choral Award. It has performed recently in the USA, France, Sweden and in April 2023 made its debut at London’s Barbican in Bach’s St John Passion. During term-time the choir sings the services in Merton College Chapel, and it has made a highly acclaimed series of recordings on the Delphian label. The current Director of Music is Benjamin Nicholas, an Oxford organ scholar who has worked at, inter alia, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. He is Music Director of the Oxford Bach Choir.


New College Choir

Established in the late 14th century in accordance with William of Wykeham’s statutes for the college, it remains a group of 16 choristers and 14 adult clerks; the latter a mixture of professional singers and undergraduate members of the college. It is now one of the most lauded choral groups in Britain and is well respected internationally. They perform in concerts in the UK and regularly tour abroad, and have made over 100 recordings. The choir is directed by Robert Quinney who was previously sub-organist at Westminster Abbey and Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral.


The Queen's College Choir

The Choir of The Queen’s College, directed by Owen Rees, is among the finest university choirs in the UK. Its repertory includes a rich array of music from the Renaissance to contemporary. During term the choir sings for services in the college’s splendid Baroque chapel. It performs in many parts of the UK and abroad and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. It records for the Signum label and appears on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.


Recordare

Recordare is a professional vocal ensemble, passionate about curating highly expressive performances and recordings. Founded in 2018 by award-winning conductor Harry Bradford and professional sopranos Danni and Kirsty O’Neill, the group consists of some of the best young professional singers in the UK. Previous performances have included concerts for Weston Music Society, Martin Randall Travel, ‘Music Divine’ for the Islington Proms and the ‘Spotlight Concert’ as part of The Sixteen’s ‘Sounds Sublime’ festival. Recordare have also appeared on Classic FM’s social media channels with a performance of Reginald Jacques’ arrangement of Away in a manger which reached over 90,000 views.


Siglo de Oro

Siglo de Oro is one of the leading vocal ensembles of its generation, praised for its golden tone, fresh interpretations, and innovative programming. Since starting life in 2014, the group has performed in Britain, including Wigmore Hall, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Malta and the USA, and has made four critically acclaimed recordings, ranging from music written for Milan Cathedral in around 1500, to new commissions written for the group. Siglo de Oro’s most recent recording, The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539, was one of Music Web International’s Recordings of the Year for 2022. Plans for the 2023–24 season include the group’s first concerts in Scotland, a Christmas performance at Wigmore Hall, a new recording of contemporary sacred music, and a series of Compline services for BBC Radio 3.

 

Stile Antico

Stile Antico is an ensemble of young British singers who are now established as one of the most original and exciting voices in the field. The group performs regularly throughout Europe and North America and its recordings have received major awards including the Diapason d’Or de l’Année. Working without a conductor, they rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the musical result. Their performances have repeatedly been praised for their vitality, expressiveness and imaginative response to the text.


Tenebrae

Described as “phenomenal” (The Times) and “devastatingly beautiful” (Gramophone Magazine), award-winning choir Tenebrae is one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles, renowned for its passion and precision. Under the direction of Nigel Short, Tenebrae performs at major festivals and venues across the globe, and has earned international acclaim for its interpretations of choral works from the Renaissance through to contemporary masterpieces. It has enjoyed collaborations with some of the UK’s leading orchestras, and has won two BBC Music Magazine Awards for ‘Best Choral Performance’, and a Grammy nomination for its album ‘Music of the Spheres’. Alongside its performance and recording schedule, Tenebrae regularly commissions new music, and runs a thriving Learning & Connection programme, through which it works with hundreds of children, young people and amateur singers each year.

 

 

Divided audience

Participants will be separated into two audiences groups, for those concerts in venues that are too small to accommodate everyone. This is why two start times (and sometimes two different days) are given here for certain performances.


Day 1

Monday 30 September

Getting to Oxford

There are regular direct trains from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bournemouth and various other places, and there are frequent coach services from London.

Arriving by car: all Oxford authorities discourage the use of cars. Parking is available at some hotels, but not at the colleges.

The festival begins at 2.45pm with a lecture by Professor Stephen Darlington.


Concert, 4.00pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:

Magdalen College Chapel

Magdalen College Choir

Mark Williams director


The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford presents ‘The Oxford Tradition’, a celebration of choral music by composers from the University of Oxford, marking 550 years since the foundation stone of Magdalen College Chapel was laid. To include works by John Sheppard, Thomas Tomkins, Hubert Parry, Bernard Rose and Electra Perivolaris.


Concert, 4.00pm or 9.15pm:

Christ Church Cathedral

Recordare

Harry Bradford conductor


‘Now that the Sun hath veiled his light’ – words from Henry Purcell’s Evening Hymn reflecting the beautiful sight of the sun’s warm glow disappearing beyond the Western hills as the hustle and bustle of the day morphs seamlessly into the undisturbed serenity of the night. Settings of Compline hymns, psalms and canticles by composers such as Tallis, Assandra and Stravinsky are contrasted with secular music by Britten and Whitacre to create a holistic appreciation of eventide. Gustav Holst’s spellbinding The Evening Watch takes centre stage, with a fascinating rendering of Henry Vaughan’s metaphysical Dialogue between body and soul.


Concert, 7.30pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:

Merton College Chapel

Merton College Choir

Benjamin Nicholas director


Maurice Duruflé’s love of Gregorian chant shines through in this programme which features the composer’s masterpiece – the Requiem of 1947. Merton’s Dobson Organ, celebrating its tenth anniversary, is the ideal instrument to support the choir in this magical music, and the same composer’s Quatre Motets complete the programme.

Dinner is provided, either before or after the evening performance (depending on the time you attend), in one of the colleges  or in hotel restaurants.


Day 2

Tuesday 1 October

The day begins with a lecture by Professor Stephen Darlington.

Free time and optional walks.


Concert, 7.30pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:

Merton College Chapel

Merton College Choir

Benjamin Nicholas director

See Day 1.


Concert, 4.00pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:

Magdalen College Chapel

Magdalen College Choir

Mark Williams director

See Day 1.


Concert, 6.00pm:

New College Chapel

New College Choir

Robert Quinney director


The programme Heaven and earth are full of thy glory spans from the Renaissance – Tui sunt caeli (Lassus), Sanctus & Benedictus (Tye) – to the 20th century (Bairstow, Stanford), via Haydn’s The heavens are telling (The Creation) and Greene’s Thou visitest the earth.


Day 3

Wednesday 2 October

Morning lecture with Professor Stephen Darlington.


Concert, 11.15am or 4.00pm:

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral Choir

Steven Grahl director


The choir of Christ Church Cathedral is well known for its vibrancy of sound and artistic flexibility. Their programme will encompass a five hundred year span of music, with a particular focus on works written for the Christ Church Choir. Music by John Taverner, William Walton, and Judith Weir.

Free time and optional walks.


Concert, 11.15am or 4.00pm:

The Queen’s College Chapel

Contrapunctus

The Choir of The Queen’s College

Owen Rees director

Instruments of Time & Truth


The musical glories of the two Chapels Royal – that of King Charles I and that of his Queen, Catherine of Braganza – following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 included works with English texts for the King’s Chapel and Latin-texted motets suitable for performance in the Queen’s Chapel. The programme includes works by Purcell, Blow, and Humfrey.


Concert, 6.30pm:

University Church of St Mary

I Fagiolini

Robert Hollingworth director


Feast days in mid-17th century Rome were celebrated by new multi-choir masses, their opulent sound reverberating around the city’s churches. I Fagiolini’s glorious new project of the four-choir masses of Orazio Benevoli is currently changing how we think about the period, which also saw early oratorios such as Carissimi’s short and intimate Jephte with its famous last chorus.

Dinner this evening is independent.


Day 4

Thursday 3 October

Divine Office Day


Matins, 1.00am

Christ Church Cathedral

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

Merton College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant


The liturgical day starts with the Night Office, potentially the longest of the Canonical Hours, though we are limiting it to around one hour. Musically it is also one of the most important of the Offices.


Lauds, 4.00am

Merton College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

Christ Church Cathedral

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant


Also called Morning Prayer, Lauds, which in high summer might be at daybreak, is musically also one of the three most important Offices.


Prime, 6.30am

University College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

The Queen’s College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant


A short service is the first of the ‘Little Hours’, timed so that the congregations enter the chapels before dawn and leave in daylight.


Terce & Mass, 9.15am

New College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

University College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant


The second of the ‘Little Hours’ is followed immediately by Morning Mass, the principal service of the Catholic Church.
 


Sext, 12.00 noon

Magdalen College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

Merton College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant


The third of the ‘Little Hours’ is at the hour which is the sixth, according to the system by which twelve hours are counted from dawn to sundown.

Optional walks and library visit.


None, 3.30pm

University College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

Christ Church Cathedral

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant

The last of the ‘Little Hours’, with a duration of about half an hour.


Optional walks and library visit.


Vespers, 6.45pm

The Queen’s College Chapel

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

Magdalen College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant

Vespers is musically the most significant of the Offices, being the first to admit polyphony and progressing to become

the arena for some of the greatest music ever written.


Supper follows in one of the colleges.


Compline, 9.15pm

Christ Church Cathedral

Tenebrae polyphony & chant

or

University College Chapel

Stile Antico polyphony

Collegium Gregorianum chant

The last Office of the day features the singing of the votive antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Day 5

Friday 4 October


Concert, 10.45am:

University Church of St Mary

Siglo de Oro

Patrick Allies director

Instruments of Time & Truth


The voices of Siglo de Oro combine with historical specialists The Instruments of Time and Truth in a programme that charts a course from darkness to light. The concert begins with solemn hymns and anthems, but the light breaks through in a series of Renaissance and contemporary motets by Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell and Arvo Pärt, before building to a triumphant climax in the music of George Frideric Handel.

Immediately after the concert, coaches will be available to take you to the railway and coach stations.

 

Dr Stephen Darlington MBE

Dr Stephen Darlington is one of the country’s leading choral conductors. From 1985 to 2018 he was Director of Music at Christ Church, Oxford, establishing it as an acknowledged centre of academic musical excellence, and maintained the highest choral traditions of the Church of England in the Cathedral. An extensive discography, comprising over fifty CDs, includes several award-winning recordings. He was awarded an MBE in 2019.

The festival package

The price includes:

— All 17 performances including the eight monastic hours of the Divine Office.

— Three talks by Professor Stephen Darlington.

— Accommodation for four nights, in hotels or in college rooms.

— Breakfasts and three dinners (wine is included).

— Coach transfers for some of the events, and for those staying at the Old Parsonage Hotel.

— All tips and taxes.

— The assistance of an experienced team of festival staff.

— Detailed programme booklet.

Optional extras:

— Arriving a day early in your festival hotel.

— Chapel and library walks, led by architectural historians. Details to be sent at a later date.


Accommodation & prices

Accommodation for four nights is included. We have selected four hotels and two colleges for you to choose from.

The choice of hotel or college is the main determinant of variations in the price. All prices are per person.

Rooms vary. As is inevitable in historic buildings, which these mostly are, rooms vary in size and outlook.

Quiet? Those staying in hotels may be affected by some traffic noise. Accommodation in the colleges is quieter.

Suites. Some hotels have suites and deluxe rooms. All are subject to availability at the time of booking.

There may be rooms available for the night of Sunday 29 September in hotels. Please contact us if you would like to book a room for this night. However, it is often the case that you will find a better rate for extra nights by booking directly with the hotel rather than through us. Please note that there are not likely to be any rooms available at Christ Church College or New College on Sunday 29 September.


New College

These are student rooms, and most are small double rooms for single occupancy. All are fairly basic and institutional. On the other hand, they have to be smart and comfortable enough to be let during vacations for conferences and events, and all have en-suite bathrooms (with showers, not baths).

But what you sacrifice in comfort you gain in historic and scenic setting within the cloistered confines of an ancient college. (Note there is no access to indoor common areas.)

There are some twin rooms with two single beds. Otherwise adjacent rooms can be reserved for couples.

There are no lifts going to bedrooms and all floors require you to navigate at least one set of stairs. Porterage is provided on the first and last day of the festival.


Prices, per person

£2,210 sharing a Twin room

£2,370 single use


Christ Church College

The rooms at Christ Church are not on the main college campus, but across St Aldate’s in a modern block a few minutes away on foot. While this means that rooms are new, comfortable and all serviced by a lift, the historic atmosphere of the college is absent. However, breakfast is served in the Great Hall every morning which requires you to cross Tom Quad and walk through one of the most prestigious colleges in Oxford.

St Aldate’s is a busy road with bus stops on both sides. Request a room at the back of the building if you think that the road noise may bother you. Note that the quieter rooms at the back of the building do not have a view.

Bedrooms are all student rooms with small double beds and en-suite bathrooms with showers (no baths). Adjacent rooms can be reserved for couples. Note that porterage is not provided at this college.


Prices, per person

£2,370 Single room


Eastgate Hotel (4*)

Built on the site of a former coaching inn, the Eastgate – a Mercure hotel – is excellently located for many of the concerts. Bedrooms have little character but are comfortable with all mod cons. Public rooms are agreeable.

Its location in narrow Merton Street makes it one of the quietest of our selection of hotels though some rooms overlook the High Street.

Limited parking is available for a cost of c. £20 per night; it is not possible to pre-book.


Prices, per person

£2,590, sharing a twin or double Privilege room

£2,820 Classic double for single use


Old Parsonage (5*)

This is a very attractive hotel. Its core is a lovely 17th-century rectory and the public areas in this part are delightful – colourful, comfortable and idiosyncratic. A remarkable collection of 20th-century paintings covers the walls. The restaurant is good. After all this charm and warmth, the bedrooms in the new block to the rear are disappointingly ordinary, though they are equipped with all the usual mod cons.

Due to its situation on the edge of central Oxford, transport by private coach will be arranged for some of the concerts, but many journeys will be on foot and could be up to 30 minutes. Taxis are easily obtained.

Parking is free but is very limited – spaces cannot be guaranteed.


Prices, per person

£3,020 sharing a twin or double Deluxe room

£3,140 sharing a twin or double Superior Deluxe room

£3,560 sharing a Junior Suite

£3,670 double for single use


Randolph (5*)

The most famous hotel in Oxford, the venerable Randolph is housed in an austere Gothic Revival building in Beaumont Street. The bedrooms, of which there are several categories, are well decorated in a fairly traditional way and are very comfortable. Public rooms include a ‘Morse’ bar, a bright and airy lounge and a fine restaurant. Service is more comparable to that of a 4-star hotel. Rooms with a street view may hear some traffic noise.

Most venues are 15–20 minutes away on foot.

Parking costs c. £35 per night and must be pre-booked with the concierge.


Prices, per person

£3,170 sharing a twin or double Classic room

£3,340 sharing a twin or double King room

£3,640 sharing a Suite

£3,690 double for single use


Old Bank

Housed in a former bank built in the 19th century, this boutique hotel is comfortable and stylish; service is excellent. Public spaces include a library and an Italianate courtyard garden. Rooms have modern décor and many have views of spires and rooftops. Rooms at the front of the hotel look out over the busy High Street though noise-proof glazing is effective. Venues are within 10 or 12 minutes on foot.

Free parking is available and there is no need to pre-book.


Prices, per person

£3,440 sharing a twin or double Deluxe room

£3,690 sharing a twin or double Superior Deluxe room

£4,040 sharing a suite

£3,930 double for single use


The concerts

Private. All the performances are planned and administered by us, and the audience consists exclusively of those who have taken the festival package. Tickets for some concerts may be put on sale from August 2024, if any spare places remain.

Secular. All performances are concerts rather than religious services.

Duration. Most are around one hour, some a little more, some a little less. Matins may be 80 minutes, while four of the Offices are about half an hour. None of the concerts has an interval.

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want. Most seating is in stalls or pews.

You don’t have to attend them all! 17 concerts is a lot to absorb in five days. To conserve energy it might be wise to omit one or two.

Audience size. There will be up to 220 participants on the festival.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues may close for repairs: there are many circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.


Fitness for the festival

There is a lot of walking involved in this festival, and some halls are reached via flights of stairs. You will need to be able to walk unaided for up to 30 minutes, the time it will take slow walkers to get to the furthest event (though most walks are shorter). Festival staff will not have the resources to assist individuals. Traffic restrictions and congestion render coach transport impractical. 

We ask that you take the fitness tests on the following page before booking: Are you fit enough to join the tour? 

If you have a medical condition or a disability which may affect your holiday or necessitate special arrangements being made for you, please discuss these with us before booking – or, if the condition develops or changes subsequently, as soon as possible before departure.

 

Combine this tour with

Georgia Uncovered15–25 September 2024

Footpaths of Umbria16–23 September 2024

English Georgian Towns, 18–25 September 2024

Pompeii and Herculaneum, 23–28 September 2024

Raphael, in celebration23–29 September 2024

Arts & Crafts in the Cotswolds, 24–28 September 2024

Malta: prehistoric to present7–13 October 2024

The Douro8–15 October 2024

Gardens & Villas of the Italian Lakes10–16 October 2024

Gastronomic Puglia10–16 October 2024

Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden10–18 October 2024

Connoisseur’s Pompeii11– 14 October 2024

 

Map for the Divine Office.

'I considered the Divine Office an incomparable musical experience that exceeded all expectations. Bravo everyone!'

'I doubt I will ever again have such an educational and aesthetic experience. To say 'I was there'; at the Divine Office is something I shall treasure.'

'It was an honour to be part of an audience in such auspicious surroundings. We were essentially provided with a divine and memorable week and a sense of individual achievement. Thank you so much.'

'What a wondrous week of outstanding groups and singing. Never to be forgotten.'

'Just to say how much I enjoyed my time in Oxford and being a part of the Divine Office. It really was a remarkable night and day - the music just sublime, it was educational, atmospheric in the extreme, very moving, and a beautiful thing all round.'

'A truly wonderful and unforgettable experience. A great privilege to have been a part of it.'

'A week of memorable music in timeless venues.'

'Compliments on the quality of your festival. It was wonderful - program, planning, information and, particularly staff were all outstanding. It would be impossible to experience such a wonderful programme except with Martin Randall Travel.'

'MRT created a profound spiritual and aesthetic experience, and your attention to our every requirement ensured that we were able to enjoy the experience to the full without worries over practicalities.'

'The combination of an interesting and inspired musicians all brought together in such beautiful settings makes for a very special experience The festival really provided so many special moments that I will carry with me for years to come.'