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By Jennifer Rushworth  

On Thursday 22nd February Kaleidoscope Chamber perform a one-off concert inspired by Marcel Proust and Reynaldo Hahn and the music salons of La Belle Époque. In this article, Jennifer Rushworth introduces us to the shared love of words and music that these great men shared

Proust and Hahn fell in love at the salon of Madeleine Lemaire in May 1894. Lemaire was a painter, hostess, and patron of the arts; her distinguished musical evenings included one of the first performances of Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson (1892–94). Hahn, who had been something of a child prodigy, was the more famous one when he and Proust met. He had illustrious teachers — Massenet and Gounod for composition, Saint-Saëns for piano — and was already much admired for his songs. 

We think that Proust and Hahn were lovers for more or less two years, and we know that they also collaborated artistically during this time. Hahn wrote music to accompany the spoken declamation of Proust’s ‘Portraits de peintres’, four poems on different painters which Proust self-deprecatingly described as some of his worst poetry. Hahn’s music for these poems was included in Proust’s first book, Les Plaisirs et les Jours (1896; Pleasures and Days), along with watercolours by Lemaire. 

Although Proust and Hahn shared a love of music, they did not always love the same music. Hahn did not share the fervent admiration Proust expressed for the music of Beethoven, Wagner, and Debussy. However, the pair did agree in their appreciation of composers such as Schumann and Fauré, and even at one time discussed (though never, sadly, developed) the idea of writing a biography of Chopin together. 

After the initial period of romance, Proust and Hahn continued to have a very close friendship up until Proust’s death on 18 November 1922. In a letter to Proust written one month earlier, Hahn reiterates his affection for the writer, describing Proust as ‘my dearest friend, one of the people whom I have loved most in my life’. When Proust died, Hahn watched over his body until the funeral, and also wrote to break the news to Proust’s friends. Hahn himself outlived Proust by several decades, dying at the age of 72 on 28 January 1947. 

In our readings this evening, we will hear the voices of both Hahn and Proust, drawing on extracts from Hahn’s diaries and on letters between the two from the time of their early relationship up until Proust’s death. While these sources offer tantalising glimpses into the daily intimacy of the couple, other readings engage with perennially complex questions about the self and memory, song and time, death and survival. We will return to the famous ‘madeleine’ episode from the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time [1913–1927]) so as to savour once more Proust’s connection between memory and the senses. We will also hear a beautiful passage from Hahn’s 1913–14 lectures on song which offers an extended analogy between glass-making and singing and concludes with a highly Proustian insight about the relationship between the ephemeral and the eternal. Finally, we will explore how Proust’s novel describes the fictional music of the imaginary composer Vinteuil and meditates on art as a form of afterlife for its creator.  

English translations are by Ralph Manheim, Terence Kilmartin, and Joanna Kilmartin (for Proust’s letters); C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright (for the extracts from Proust’s novel); Léopold Simoneau (for Hahn’s lectures on song); Jennifer Rushworth (for Hahn’s diaries). 

In a letter from May 1895, Proust characterized Hahn as a ‘literary musician’, one whose songs prioritized words over music. Conversely, we might describe Proust as a ‘musical writer’ and celebrate the interdisciplinarity that lies at the heart of their lifelong intimacy. 

Oxford is a place of history and academic prominence. It attracts visitors from all over the world with its famous dreaming spires, and connections with iconic fiction and ground-breaking research. This footing on the international stage means that the voices of the residents often get drowned out amidst the bustling footsteps of tourists and students. Many local people feel that “Town” is not a place for them and report feeling like outsiders in their own city.  

One symptom of that you may have noticed if you’ve ever been into Oxford city centre, is the amount of walking tours on offer. There are tours of the Colleges, tours of the University guided by Alumni, Alice in Wonderland tours, Harry Potter tours, Inspector Morse tours, anything a TOURist could want… is there a tour for the people who call this historic city home? What is there in Town for the people who work to keep the city’s retail, tourist and academic economies moving?  

Armed with these questions, and motivated by his own experiences of working and hanging out in the city centre throughout his life, multimedia artist Rawz, has created Forgotten Stories Of Oxford; a new collection of Spoken Word poetry which also forms a unique tour of Oxford city centre. Drawing inspiration from 11 carefully chosen locations, this project portrays stories connected to the lives of people who have walked Oxford’s historic streets, often taking the audience off the well beaten tourist trail, and offering a perspective overlooked in conventional tours. Through this work Rawz encourages individuals to discover an alternative perspective of the city, unveiling a dimension often concealed beneath the refined image Oxford has projected to the world for centuries.  

Forgotten Stories of Oxford is not only for lifelong Oxford residents, it is for anyone intrigued by the prospect of uncovering a different dimension of this world renowned city. By extending this invitation, Rawz aims to rekindle a sense of connection and belonging among Oxford’s diverse population and promote a new view of the city, highlighting that Oxford is more than a University, it is a city with a rich tradition of rebels, change makers, and hardworking people; unsung heroes from all walks of life. 

The project was revealed in September 2023 with a month-long public exhibition at The Old Fire Station in Oxford city centre featuring a collection of objects, images, and videos linked to the narratives. While the exhibition has now drawn to a close, the “Forgotten Stories of Oxford” remain and audience members can embark on this journey at their own pace, stepping into Oxford’s rich history in variety of ways: 

Rawz offers Bespoke In-Person Tours, providing a tailored experience for participants. These tours are available in durations of 1 hour, 1.5 hours, or 2 hours and offer a personalised journey through locations chosen by the participants themselves. During these tours, Rawz performs the connected poetry, shares insights into the stories that inspired the pieces, and engages with questions from the audience. Reach out to Rawz via social media to arrange a tour guided by the poet himself. 

For a self-guided experience, there are several options; visit The Old Fire Station and pick up a free limited edition printed map (while stocks last). “The Hidden Spire” is one of the locations on the tour and provides the perfect starting point for self-guided travellers. For a more flexible exploration, a free PDF map is accessible online, allowing the audience to visit the locations in any order at their own convenience.  

Online platforms such as Google Earth and Story Maps also host the tour, enabling virtual participants to immerse themselves in the hidden narratives of Oxford from anywhere in the world.  

Participants anywhere can also access recordings of Rawz performing the poems online, these can augment physical tours or form a key part of your online experience. Some of the poems are accompanied by beautiful short films recorded in the associated locations, enhancing the power of Rawz’ words with stunning visuals. 

To experience this extraordinary exploration, interested individuals can access all necessary information, including maps and online links, at Forgotten Stories Of Oxford’s official Link Tree:  

Embrace the opportunity to uncover through these eloquent Spoken Word narratives the heart-warming, inspiring, moving and often overlooked tales that make Oxford the vibrant tapestry of stories and people it truly is.


Rawz is a Multidisciplinary Artist from Oxford. His practice centres around words and music and is rooted in social justice and the exploration and understanding of our interconnected worlds. Rawz’ story is one of extreme contrast and determination against the odds, themes that he often explores in all aspects of his work. From leaving school with no GCSEs, to becoming Resident Sound Artist at St John’s College Oxford, one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions, Rawz’ journey stands as testament to his resilient character, and strong work ethic.  

Starting out as an MC and Poet and growing up in one of the UK’s most under-served areas, Greater Leys in Oxford, he first discovered lyric writing in his early teens, finding it an essential way to channel his emotions and organise his thoughts. Since then, Rawz has performed his craft all over Europe, collaborated with musicians from all over the world, and shared stages with some of his childhood heroes.  

As his practice as a Poet and Musician developed, Rawz began to explore other means of expression; experimenting with a range of mediums including collage, sculpture, videography, photography and more, bringing these skills together with his poetry and music to create projects which combine a range of media.  

Through Art, Rawz shares his exploration of interconnection and interdependence. His responses often promote outer change and advancement through inner reflection, and positive action. 

To connect with Rawz on social media use the following links, he would love to hear about your experiences of the tour and what stories you uncovered! ≠≠

In the run up to their concert on 28th October, we caught up with Elena Urioste to learn more about the Kaleidosope Chamber Collective and the unique way in which she experiences music.

Why did you and Tom start Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective? 

Our initial impulse to create a chamber collective was derived simply from the desire to play — or continue playing, I should say — music that we love with people that we love.

Tom and I had both reached a point in our respective careers where we felt it would be rewarding to have more agency over our musical lives — to build something from the ground up with our own values at the center, rather than always being at the mercy of others in the industry inviting us along for the ride.

Speaking personally, I suppose Kaleidoscope’s conception in 2017 fell at a time when I was on the brink of leaving my home in New York City — for a number of reasons, but in part because of the sadness I felt at not having felt included in many of the preexisting chamber music societies/circles/“clubs” in the States (certainly not for lack of trying!). I had a fulfilling, busy career as a soloist and my gratitude for those concert opportunities remains endless, but feeling a bit like an outsider on the chamber music scene — which most freelance musicians will tell you is the place they feel most fulfilled — heightened my desire to create something of my own. I wanted to be someone who could potentially provide opportunities for others, and enable the musicians that I loved and believed in to shine as brightly as possible, each in their own unique ways.

One of the characteristics of our Kaleidoscope roster that we’re most proud of is that the people whose music-making and onstage charisma we’re most drawn to also happen to encompass an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and stories; and without exception whenever we all come together to make music, something incredibly special happens. 

Can you tell us more about chamber music?

Chamber music is, quite literally, music to be played in one’s chambers — music on a smaller scale, with only a few musicians in a room rather than a massive symphonic orchestra in a grand hall. It’s the music of friends: intimate, pared down, stripped of excess bulk and distilled to a pure, powerful essence. Of course there is obvious appeal in a theatrical opera production or a massive Mahler symphony, but audience members often say that chamber music makes them feel most a part of the action — you’re sitting up close, you can see facial expressions and tiny body cues and really feel as though you’re helping to bring something alive. Which is true: the intimacy and closeness of a chamber music performance affects the performers as much as the audience — everyone is breathing together, having a shared experience, and that ubiquitous fourth wall really does seem to disappear.

Why do you think people should come to The Colour of Music in the Sheldonian? 

The Sheldonian is such a beautiful venue, and we’ve devised our colour-themed programme specially for the occasion. Kaleidoscope loves sharing music which is deservedly beloved (our programme concludes with Mendelssohn’s Octet, one of the most joyful pieces ever written) alongside music which doesn’t get heard as often as it deserves to be. We collectively fell in love with Amy Beach’s gloriously romantic Piano Quintet a few years back, recorded it during the pandemic (BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library recently selected our recording as the best available), and have passionately championed it ever since. We’re also playing music by two amazing living American composers – Jennifer Higdon, whose Pale Yellow is a beautiful meditation for piano trio, and Jessie Montgomery (a dear friend of mine) whose Starburst opens the concert in a blaze of brilliance.

Why is The Colour of Music important to you?

I’m synaesthetic, so I see all music in colour. More specifically, I see all letters in color, both written and spoken — A is cranberry red, B is blue, C is mustard yellow, etc., though the hue of each letter is informed somewhat by its neighbors, either within words or within musical melodies/harmonies. I also have perfect pitch, so for example, a D Major triad (a chord made up of the notes D, F#, and A) would paint a wash of blue, earthy purple, and pinkish red in my mind. Amy Beach shared a version of this condition, and associated each musical key with a different colour.

Something else we’re passionate about is supporting brilliant musicians of the next generation, so we’re very excited to be joined by students from Oxford University and Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra in this special concert.

What can people expect at the concert? 

First and foremost, vibrant music-making, from five of Kaleidoscope’s core instrumentalists – Tom and I will be joined by three dear friends and colleagues, violinist Savitri Grier (who was an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford), viola player Edgar Francis, and cellist Tony Rymer.

We’ll also be chatting to the audience about the music we’re playing, why we chose and why we love it, and about the fascinating neurological condition of synaesthesia. We want everyone to have a wonderful, transportive time, whether it’s their first concert or their thousandth!

What do you hope people take away from The Colour of Music? 

Joy! Enthusiasm! Escape! Maybe an interest in the fascinating world of synaesthesia and how it informs music! We hope that young people, people who love clapping between movements and tapping their feet to the beat, people who have never been to a classical concert before, people who have been to countless classical concerts before but want to hear something they maybe haven’t heard before and smile because our energy is contagious — we hope they all come to share music with us!

Fifty-five steps down into the hole and here we are, standing on the concrete base that will become the new concert hall in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.

One of the joys of being part of a new team, involved in a new project, is seeing something extraordinary happen.  It is a privilege to part of this new story for the University of Oxford.

Just days ago, we celebrated an important milestone, reaching the lowest point in the site. From that point onwards we will see the building start to grow, and the only way is up.

Today we are headed down to the lower floor where the concert hall, theatre, black box, and rehearsal spaces will be located. The entire basement slab is created as 18 pieces of work and we are watching concrete pour number 5 out of 18. Steve from Laing O’Rourke shares the facts and his enthusiasm in infectious.  I can’t write it all down fast enough:

We stand in the viewing centre watching a continuous pour of hot concrete into a hopper. They started today at 7 pm and end at 5 pm.  During this time a radio-controlled boom arm discharges a progressive and continuous stream onto the base of the site. The trick is to make sure the concrete looks as if it’s all been poured at the same time.  They really are magicians.

We watch quietly, in awe, as the trucks, hoppers and team perform their task in sequence like dancers in a carefully choreographed routine.  The cranes, tall and imposing, pose in beautiful symmetry, quietly watching the performance.

As we snap back to reality, someone asks ‘where does all the earth go?”  The answer? 80000 tonnes of earth have been taken to soil recycling centre in Kidlington.  It’s all part of a considered environmental strategy that forms part of the build.

Next it was time to head inside the new centre.   After a quick demonstration, we each put on the VR headset and explored the spaces.   It was my first-time using VR and I’m glad I was warned not to move my head too quickly. Within seconds I forgot where I was and explored the concert hall. In my virtual world I was able to move around the auditorium and look up and around in all directions.  It felt like I was there except one thing was missing.  The audience.  Nothing can simulate the feeling of being of being part of an audience, just before a performance starts.

Over the coming year, while the building takes shape, the Cultural Programme will be building partnerships, meeting our community and creating extraordinary events.

OXFORD iS getting ready!

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