Tag Archives: Britten

New term, new faces – new projects


The start of the academic year is always something of a whirlwind, and this year’s been no exception, such that it’s only now, three weeks before term ends, that I’m finally able to catch up with writing about choral exploits so far. So apologies, loyal readers (both of you), for taking so long to find the time to reflect on what’s happened – but there’s lots to tell…

Chamber_Choir_2014webThe Chamber Choir, phoenix-like, has risen anew once more – over half the Choir is new this year – and has been busy exploring a range of repertoire for the annual concert in the Cathedral Crypt in March. Before that, though looms the University Carol Service – always a high point in the Choir’s performing calendar – and we’re currently busy learning a fistful of pieces; this year, one of the carols is the radiantly-colourful Hymn to the Virgin written by Edinburgh-based Steven Griffin, which was originally written for the Kings’ Singers and won the Classic FM ‘Carol for Christmas’ competition in 2012. It’s nice to be exploring a different setting to the customary one by Britten, and the work’s purple-hued harmonic language is really starting to blossom as the Choir grows in confidence. This year’s student conductor, fourth-year Emma Murton, is also working on Ravenscroft’s meditative Remember, O Thou Man, for the Big Church in a couple of weeks’ time.

Cecilian_Choir_2014The Cecilian Choir has also burst into life, and is currently rehearsing Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir and Hassler’s Alleluja, two vibrant pieces which explore textural variation within the ensemble to dramatic effect; and the Monteverdi is certainly keeping us on our toes…

Both Choirs will come together at the end of term in two festive performances – the first at Beach Creative arts centre in Herne Bay on Tues 16 December, and then on Weds 17 December with a final choral flourish on the foyer-stage.

Click to view

Click to view

The Lost Consort has also been working hard in preparation for a seasonal performance of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which we’re giving in the ancient undercroft of the old Pilgrims’ Hospital, Eastbridge, in Canterbury on Friday 5 December; the candle-lit performance starts at 5pm and is free to attend, and promises to be an evocative way to herald the festive season.

The University Chorus is about to take flight as well on Saturday 13 December in Mozart’s Vespers; plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks; choral life at Kent is as busy, and as exciting, as ever. Stay tuned…

Summer ups and downs

I’d forgotten what a heady mixture the summer term is at Kent, of excitement and angst: because it’s exam term, one never quite knows how many people will be at rehearsals over the weeks of term, given that (quite rightly!) many students are revising for exams, or taking exams, or attending revision sessions to prepare for exams. Quite often, one never has everyone in the ensemble until the final rehearsal. And sometimes not necessarily then, either…

For all that planning for rehearsals is fraught, the great aspect of this term, in choral terms, is that the Chamber and Cecilian Choirs are each revisiting repertoire from the year, in preparation for the concert at St Paul’s Without, in Canterbury, on Friday 7 June. Because singers duck in and out of rehearsals, in order to take the pressure off and not add to everyone’s already frantic stress-levels, the summer choral concert comprises pieces the Choirs have each already learned, by and large.

Click to view

Click to view

Having said that, though, the Cecilian Choir is learning a short piece by Judith Weir, from The Little Tree for upper-voice choir and marimba, whilst the Chamber Choir is learning three new pieces. (Well, as anyone who knows me well will realise, I never like to do things exactly the same way twice…). So, there is some new repertoire with which to grapple, but we are covering pieces we’ve already learned and performed.

And the effect is tremendous. Both choirs have developed a real confidence in the repertoire, and in performing as an ensemble, such that there is a real commitment to the sound and a solidity about the pieces that is new. The confidence comes, in part, from having already performed the pieces in public, and through being familiar with the tonal landscapes the pieces occupy – this is most readily apparent in the Cecilian Choir’s recent return to Britten’s Ceremony of Carols which will form part of the concert in June. There’s a sense that the Choir is enjoying itself anew, and with the confidence comes a richer, more positive sound. It’s very exciting to discover. (And – dare I say it – there’s a sense that the Choir is starting to enjoy the Britten… 😮 !)

The Chamber Choir, meanwhile, is letting its hair down with three pieces ranging from jazz to arrangement of two pop pieces straight out of the current charts (I can’t say which two, as we’re sworn to secrecy – all shall be revealed in the Summer Sunday concert on June 9). Again, as we revisit pieces from the Crypt concert back in February, there’s a developed sense of confidence and a new freedom in the sound.

The sad thing, though, is that all this comes scant weeks before the end of the academic year, when many of the singers will graduate, and the Choirs (as we have know them this year) will cease to exist. For such positive steps in each Choir’s evolution to come only a few weeks before they will finish is sad, really. But very exciting to finish with such a flourish, too.

Celebrating Britten: the Cecilian Choir

The University Cecilian Choir has been rehearsing industriously for its concert as part of this year’s Britten centenary celebrations, including working on the Ceremony of Carols together with second-year harpist, Emma Murton.

In rehearsal: the Cecilian Choir

In rehearsal: the Cecilian Choir

The concert looms this Wednesday, with the additional prospect of hearing other music by Brittten – a short fanfare for three trumpets, and two folksong settings, the lachrymaic O Waly Waly and the regret-tinged Down By The Salley Gardens, which will be sung by two sopranos, Paris Noble and Kathryn Cox.

Also in the programme are two choral pieces from the preceding era, Mendelssohn’s Abendlied and Debussy’s star-light Nuit d’Etoiles, from the Cecilian Choir with pianist Sharon Yam, plus the reading of two poems.

Britten_KarshA veritable cultural feast; come and see it this Wednesday, 1.10pm in the Colyer-Fergusson hall – admission free!

First choral rehearsals in the new hall

And what a relief it’s been this week to get into the new concert-hall and sing (well, for the members of the Chamber Choir and Cecilian Choir to sing, that is…). The reverberant acoustics mean we can actually start working to develop the ensemble sound, as we can now hear ourselves as the chords rise into the rooflight. Rehearsing the plainsong which opens Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with the Cecilian Choir gave us the first chance to shape the lines, waiting at the ends of phrases for the sound to recede before beginning the next – something the former choir rehearsal room (the OTE) has never afforded.

The Chamber Choir get moody…

The Chamber Choir rehearsal on Tuesday evening overran by some considerable margin, as we all got slightly carried away with exploring the acoustics in the new space; we ended up finishing at about 9.55pm. But we were having too much fun… At one point, the Choir were stepping in stately procession around in a circle to get the one-in-a-bar feel of Hear Thou My Weeping, whilst Emma organised them into mixed formation to explore the creation of an overall sound in You Are The New Day. Exploring movement and space was never a possibility in the OTE; this year, it might just become de rigeur

Great Britten from the Cecilian Choir

There was great sparkle about ‘Wolcum, Yule!’ as the Cecilian Choir rehearsed the first movement of the Britten, whilst we were able to start crafting the rise and fall of phrases in the opening plainsong.

It’s been a terrific first couple of rehearsals; the chance for the Chamber Choir to sing the pieces we’ll be performing in the Gala opening concert in December, in the very space we’ll be using, will no doubt do wonders for our confidence on the night.

It all starts here…

A Ceremony of Cecilians

The newly-formed University Cecilian Choir met for the first time earlier today, and discovered plenty of opportunity for confusion during the warm-up – we discovered we have two Sophies, two Hannahs, and one Montana. You can see how this year is going to shape up…

Nearly all the Cecilian Choir!

This year, we’re working on developing Britten’s evergreen A Ceremony of Carols, for a performance next term, which falls during the centenary celebrations of Britten’s birth. Having a harpist Scholar (Emma) at the University, it seemed churlish not to do the Britten, really…

Rehearsing started with a look at ‘There is no rose,’ which builds from relatively simple triads in F major to a spectacular burst of A major at ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,’ at which point the newly-formed Choir really let rip and sounded like they’d been together for six months already. A good sign! And with approximately another third of the Choir coming next week as well, the sound could be enormous…

In contrast, ‘This little Babe’ is a fiercely intense charge through E minor with plenty of opportunities to fall foul of some linguistic trickery – at one point, the altos ended up singing about ‘haystacks’ rather than ‘haystalks’ and the sopranos singing enthusiastically about ‘shepherd’s pie,’ which isn’t quite what the imagery entails…

We finished by looking at what is my favourite movement, ‘Spring,’ which captures the mood of the season with delicate finesse in the swoops of modal harmony in the accompaniment, a skirling rhythmic sense, and wonderfully simple phrases in the voices. We ran the movement from start to finish to close the rehearsal, and I was able to leave playing the voice-parts and instead play the accompaniment – a sign that this choir can pick things up very quickly indeed.

Seeing stars

Even though we were missing a few members, a very positive start; and, following the precedent set at the Chamber Choir rehearsal on Tuesday, there were biscuits at this rehearsal too. Next week ?