Wolfson Foundation Grant Ushers in New Phase for Oxford's Unique Collection of Musical Instruments

Oxford University has received a £250,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation to support the redisplay of the Bate Collection, a precious collection of more than 2,000 musical instruments dating from medieval times to the modern day.

The collection, which is one of the most magnificent of its kind held anywhere in the world, will gain a prominent new home within Oxford’s new Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. The centre is currently under construction in the heart of the city and will officially open in 2025, bringing together world-leading teaching and research in the humanities with cutting-edge art, performance and public engagement.

The Wolfson Foundation’s generous grant will support the costs of constructing a purpose-built, climate-controlled exhibition hall for the Bate Collection on the ground floor of the Schwarzman Centre. The space, which will be open to the public and free to visit, will feature permanent as well as rotating temporary displays. The collection will continue to offer valuable opportunities for students and researchers to handle and play some of the musical instruments.

Professor William Whyte, Senior Responsible Owner for the Schwarzman Centre project at Oxford University, said: ‘I am very grateful to the Wolfson Foundation for this generous grant which will support us to create an outstanding space for the Bate Collection within the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. Our aspiration for the building is to bring the public in to visit and engage with research, teaching and performance in the humanities. I hope the widest possible audience will visit the Bate Collection and our other spaces once the centre opens in 2025.’

The Bate Collection is part of Oxford University’s Music Faculty, which will also be moving into the Schwarzman Centre. The collection is an important resource for Oxford students and academics as well as researchers across the UK and globally. It takes its name from Philip Bate, who gave his extensive collection of European woodwind instruments to the University in 1968. It was Bate’s wish that students should have access to and be able to play these instruments – as such, it provides rich opportunities for learning and training unavailable elsewhere in the UK.

The redisplay of the collection will further enhance these opportunities by providing students and researchers with greater access to the instruments for assessment, study, analysis and use. The collection’s location within the Schwarzman Centre – which will be home to an experimental performance lab and 500-seat concert hall – will also provide exciting new opportunities for research-led performance and events.

It is anticipated that the creation of a new, permanent home for the Bate Collection will also lead to wider and deeper engagement with new audiences. By making previously inaccessible parts of the collection available to all, the new space will transform the way that music is shared with the public, enabling a greater number of people to take part in music-making and hopefully inspire them to pursue it within education, socially, and more broadly throughout their lives.

Head of the Humanities Division, Professor Daniel Grimley, warmly welcomes the support for the University’s music outreach activities that the enhanced provision for the collection in its new home will provide.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: ‘The Bate Collection is an outstanding example of musical heritage. We are delighted to support the University to care for and redisplay the collection so that it can be used for research, public engagement and performance.’

Photo credit: The Bate Collection's holdings of world music include a Javanese Gamelan (© Shutterstock / USKARP)