May 25

Image gallery: Minerva Voices at Canterbury Castle

Minerva Voices and percussionist Cory Adams giving an open-air performance at Canterbury Castle yesterday evening, conducted by Dan Harding and Joe Prescott.

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May 23

All fright on the night: Horrortorio in rehearsal

In the week of the composer’s ninetieth birthday, fittingly rehearsals are in progress for our production of Horrortorio, Joseph Horowitz’s mock-Baroque comic oratorio, celebrating the marriage of Dracula’s daughter to the son of Frankenstein.


Ruth Webster; Charlotte Webb; Doug Haycock; Robert Loveless; Joe Prescott

A small group of fiends, sorry, soloists will be joined by members of the Cecilian Choir for an in-the-round performance during Summer Music Week, on Monday 6 June at 5pm, complete with smoke and mirrors, as we transform the concert-hall into a ghoul-frequented wedding party.

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Pictures above from the recent soloist’s dress rehearsal; join us in two weeks to be transported to Dracula’s grim castle…


May 20

Some folk are excited about Summer Music Week…

Excitement among staff and students as Summer Music Week fever hits Colyer-Fergusson…WP_20160519_003Full details online here.

May 20

Jumping pilgrims: flautist Anne Engels plays in an annual procession with a difference

Third-year flautist and Music Scholar Anne Engels recently took part in an annual procession back home in Luxembourg with a difference; I asked her to explain what it was all about…

Anne_Engles_processionAnne: “This photo was taken at the Sprangpressessioun (dancing procession) in Echternach, in Luxembourg. There’s an entire history behind the procession. Basically, around ten thousand pilgrims come to Echternach every year on the Tuesday after Whitmonday to visit the grave of St Willibrord, a monk who originally came from Ireland and set up a monastery in Echternach. The monastery now functions as a secondary school and college.

“The procession starts in the schoolyard and goes around the entire city of Echternach. The pilgrims jump or dance to the tune of the dancing procession (a polka), which is being played by a number of different music societies from Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. The procession ends in the crypt of the Basilika, where St Willibrord is buried.

“As far as I know the jumping is originally believed to be healing or protecting the pilgrims from a specific disease (but I’m not quite sure about that!). The dancing procession itself was also recognized as Intangible Heritage by UNESCO in 2010.”

You can hear Anne performing (without the dancing, unless you feel so moved) in the Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital on Tuesday 7 June, when she will be playing Poulenc and Messiaen; details here.


May 19

Summer Music Week: full details of events now available

The annual musical celebration of the end of the academic year at the University of Kent, Summer Music Week, is set to burst into life next month.

Deal webFeaturing many of the University’s ensembles, the week-long festival opens at the seaside on Sunday 5 June with the University Big Band, conducted by Ian Swatman, visiting Deal Bandstand. Events throughout the week include a recital by University Music Scholars, a Wednesday evening gala concert with both the Concert and Big Bands, a feast of Baroque music with the Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia at St Michael’s Church, Harbledown,plus various other lunchtime events, all culminating in the traditional Music for a Summmer’s Day on Saturday 11 June with the Chorus, Orchestra and Minerva Voices, followed by cream teas.

Sinfonia webThe full line-up of events is now live on our website here, and you can follow all the events on the Summer Music Week Twitter feed here: printed brochures are also available in Colyer-Fergusson and the Gulbenkian. Join us as we bid an action-packed musical adieu to another year at Kent!

May 17

Exploring musical colour at the Gothic Colour day ahead of the MEMS Festival next month

The University’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies MEMS Festival takes place next month, a two-day event highlighting new research, round-table discussions, exhibitions, talks and performances celebrating developments in the field.

A special preview day on Thursday 16 June at Eastbridge Hospital, Illuminating the Past, will explore the making and meaning of Gothic colour, as part of which Minerva Voices will be singing in the ancient Pilgrim’s Hospital during a day of interactive workshops and talks.

Ahead of the day, Your Loyal Correspondent reflects on the idea of colour in music, and reflects on the immediacy of performing ancient music in historic spaces, where song meets stone, over on the event webpage here.


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The Choir will sing music from the period, including a skirling Kyrie by Hildegard von Bingen. Find out more about the festival here.

May 16

A summer evening concert at Canterbury Castle with Minerva Voices

Next week, Minerva Voices presents a summer evening performance set amidst the historic grounds of Canterbury’s eleventh-century castle, on Tuesday 24 May.

WP_20160428_007_webThe castle is amongst Britain’s most ancient, begun around 1070 to replace a motte-and-bailey construction built as one of several fortifications protecting the Roman road from Dover to London. The keep and surrounding walls are all that remain, and the site surfaces like a blunt reminder of Canterbury’s military history.

As the sun sets, the ancient flint and sandstone walls of the surviving keep will ring to the upper-voice chamber choir’s colourful programme, which includes medieval plainsong, a contemporary Norwegian folksong, Veljo Tormis’ filigree Spring Sketches, Bob Chilcott’s scintillating Song of the Stars, and pieces by Mozart, Holst and Gounod. The concert will conclude with a dramatic Norwegian telling of the Song of Roland, for which the choir will be joined by percussionist Cory Adams.WP_20160428_014_web

WP_20160428_012_webAdmission is free; the concert starts at 7.30pm, and is with the kind permission of Canterbury City Council. Please note that there is no seating at the site, so you might like to bring a blanket or folding-chair; the performance will last approximately fifty minutes. Join Minerva Voices as the sun sets over the historic site for a musical odyssey across the centuries.

May 10

From Norway to Alvin Lucier: music from Minerva Voices as #EarBox returns to Studio 3 Gallery


Alvin Lucier

The #EarBox series in which music speaks to visual art – and vice-versa – returns next week to Studio 3 Gallery on Weds 18 May with a short musical ‘happening,’ centred on Alvin Lucier’s otherworldly Unamuno, in which four semitones are articulated in a changing sequence; this focused pitch-collection, which is presented in twenty-four different patterns, creates an intense yet beautiful soundworld, which promises to be something remarkable, with singers spaced around the gallery’s sonorous acoustic

The short programme juxtaposes ancient and modern music, opening with twelfth-century plainsong and Cornysh’s meditation on love and fidelity, Ah Robin, and finishing with a dramatic re-telling of the Song of Roland, an epic poem written sometime between 1040 and 1115, based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, featuring Cory Adams on percussion. Staying with the Norwegian theme, Lillebjørn Nilsen’s haunting, lilting contemporary piece, Danse, ikke gråte nå (Dance, do not cry now), has echoes of old folk-song, with drone harmonies beneath a skirling melody.

DungenessThe backdrop to the event will be a new exhibition of works by Philip Hughes devoted to the strange landscape of Dungeness, including paintings, prints and photographs, as well as a special garden installation made in collaboration with the ceramist, Psiche Hughes (more details here).

Admission to the event is free, and the performance will last twenty minutes. Join Minerva Voices to hear Lucier’s unique piece amidst the new exhibition in Studio 3 Gallery .Studio 3 logo small

Apr 22

Goodnight, sweet Prince…

2016 gropes blindly forward, bludgeoning its way through each month at the expense of more well-loved musicians; first there was Bowie, then Boulez; guitarist and co-founder of The Eagles, Glenn Fry; prog-rock’s Keith Emerson; and hot on the heels of the death of the incomparable comedienne and pianist, Victoria Wood, comes the news of the death of Prince at the age of fifty-seven.

sign-o-the-times-posterFor those of my generation, Prince’s fierce creativity during the 80s was the backdrop to our formative years; cassette copies of Sign O’ the Times and Under the Cherry Moon exchanging hands feverishly, eager ears desperate to catch up with the latest release from the endless outpouring of creativity from the Prince stables. We air-guitared to the screaming agony of Purple Rain, or stepped light-footedly to Kiss and Alphabet Street. That famous SOTT poster, in which Prince squeezed his guitar orgasmically, adorned our bedroom walls. We were in thrall to this relentless fount of arresting, driven music, created by this pint-sized genius who swaggered around on the stage in platform heels and outrageous outfits, the epitome of pop’s immediate, glamorous appeal and yet somehow also impossibly cool at the same time. If you didn’t know the latest Prince song, or hadn’t got a copy of the new album, you weren’t worth talking to. He seemed to flirt with you too, whether you were a boy or a girl, the taunting ambiguity of If I Was Your Girlfriend, or the come-hither knowing look which promised, lured and generally batted its eyelashes at you from the cover of Lovesexy. He exhibited such a confident sexuality, a surety in himself that gave his provocative lyrics and stage-strut such power, that was awe-inspiring to my gawky, angst-ridden teenage self. “If I gave you diamonds and pearls,’ he sang, ‘would you be a happy boy or a girl ?’ I still recall idly channel-hopping and stumbling across Channel 4’s broadcast of the Sign o’ the Times film (with Eric Leeds playing sax in what seemed to be a hooded monk’s robe); I’d never seen anything like it before, so blatantly theatrical yet so musically vibrant and flawlessly executed, it was astonishing.

There were the dark years, in which he wrangled with Warner Brothers over creative decisions and speed of album releases; there were stories about huge bins of recorded takes, whole swathes of music that the record label wasn’t putting out because it couldn’t keep up with him and was stifling his apparently limitless creativity; the name changed, interviews were denied, he refused to speak and wore a handkerchief over his face, ‘slave’ tattooed on his cheek; there were some fallow albums – who remembers the sprawling Emancipation ? and Diamonds and Pearls is highly forgettable – but 2004’s Musicology was a return to the Prince of old, and he was always one step ahead of the game, evident in his releasing later albums as cover-mounts on tabloid newspapers, believing that albums were a signal for live performance and the shows. And that, reportedly, is where his genius lay, the legendary after-show jam sessions that would run for hours and had greater kudos than the live gigs, the stage performances full of energy and drive and flamboyant costumes. The film Purple Rain was mainly soft-focus soft porn, but it spawned a soundtrack that transcended the comparative poverty of its film to become one of the greatest pop albums of all time. There was a sense, too, that even his cutting-room floor leavings were better than what others mainstream artists were releasing.

Unlike his main rival to the title of Prince of Pop, Michael Jackson, you never felt that Prince had gone off the rails or lost touch with the business of making music, never mind the endless creativity. His million-dollar Paisley Park studio never bloated into the ill-conceived Neverland that became an emblem of Jacko’s lost grasp of reality. Prince was always about the music, the white-heat of recording and performing that governed his career. Rhythm and blues, in the older sense of the term, remained at the heart of Prince’s output, but he brought to it an inventiveness that gave it renewed swagger; just listen to the closing chords of the full version of Purple Rain, those aching harmonies yearning over a circling piano-figure, slowly shifting colours at the exhausted finale of one of the greatest pop ballads ever written.

But he could be funky too: funky as hell. Think of Sexy MF, New Position or Controversy.

Or Kiss, covered immortally by the great Tom Jones;

the euphemistic Tambourine from Around the World in a Day; and the unstoppable, barrelling energy of Life Could Be So Nice. He flirted with jazz, too, being the multi-tracked performer on the various number-titled albums with Madhouse and saxophonist Eric Leeds, as a side-project. Because, damn him, he was a poly-instrumentalist who played everything on early albums like For You, and sang too. It was ridiculous, really. And he could write such intimate, heart-breaking songs like Sometimes it Snows in April, that could pull you up short and wrench at your heartstrings. Sinead O’Connor’s greatest moment in the pop limelight, Nothing Compares 2 U, was penned by Prince.

For me, three minor gems sum up his musical magic: from 20Ten, the nimble funk of Sticky Like Glue and the dreamy ballad Walk in Sand, the polar opposites of what he did best, and from 2014’s Art Official Age, the understated, hip-shimmying Breakfast Can Wait.

Here, in the realm of us mortals, the doves may be crying, but you can be sure that upstairs, there’s now one heck of a gig going on: Miles Davis, Prince and Bowie. It seems fitting, for someone whose music seems to have come from another planet, to let those final chords of Purple Rain circle and lift as he goes back. The world mourns the loss of one of its brightest, most creative musicians, who will remain, always, indisputably, the Prince of pop.

Apr 19

Word Up! Canterbury’s literary and musical festival set to blossom next week

Words, music, poetry and song will echo around the stones of the historic cathedral city next week, at the opening weekend of Wise Words, Canterbury’s literary festival which blossoms anew each spring and autumn.

The festival encourages wonder and curiosity through new encounters with literature, the written, spoken and sung word, and this year features poet and Radio 3 presenter Ian McMillan, Olympic Poet Lemn Sissay, former Canterbury Laureate Patience Agbabi, current Canterbury Laureate John Siddique, and a host of writers, poets and spoken word performers.

Matthew Sharp

Matthew Sharp

The festival has a strong musical thread running throughout its nine days, which sees all manner of performers take to the stage in the yurt in Greyfriars’ Garden, including cellist and baritone Matthew Sharp’s voyage from Bach to Tavener by way of Piazzolla; there’s a return visit from rapper and musician Dizraeli,
bluegrass with Gentlemen of Few, and even Your Loyal Correspondent in a lunchtime performance on the opening day, Saturday 30 April, at 12.30pm, as accompanist in a recital with mezzo-soprano Michelle Harris, in a programme of operatic arias and musical theatre songs ranging from Handel and Bizet to Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The opening musical weekend is a partnership with City Sound Project, Canterbury’s metropolitan music festival taking place in venues across the Bank Holiday.

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay

Poetry on the river; writing workshops and retreats; midday music each day; magic lantern parades and events for children and families expect the unexpected when Wise Words bursts to life in the city next week. The festival runs from Saturday 30 April to Sunday 8 May, find out more online here, or browse the digital programme online:

Wise Words 2016 logoand keep an eye out for printed programmes around Canterbury. It all starts next weekend…

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