Fugitive pieces: behind the tapestry of the Ghosts and Whispers project with Clare Hammond

Colyer-Fergusson Hall will host what promises to be a wonderfully atmospheric event at the end of this month, as pianist Clare Hammond brings a combination of music and film to the concert-hall as part of the Ghosts and Whispers tour.

The project, a combination of live piano pieces haunted by ideas of ‘fragments, last thoughts, elegies and absences’ and specially-commissioned film, embraces music by an eclectic range of composers; before the performance on Friday 27 May, The event beguils with its promise of immersing the listener in a world of illusions and shadows, interweaving works by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and others with piano miniatures by John Woolrich.

Intrigued at the notion, I caught up with Clare and asked her about some of the ideas behind the project…


Female pianist sat at a grand piano

How did you decide which composers’ repertoire to pull together ? It’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of composers for the theme of the event.

We wanted to explore fragments – short pieces, many of which are unfinished – and create a rapidly changing tapestry of different styles. Listening to the programme (and performing it!) really is a unique experience. You will hear fragments of pieces by Mozart and Schubert for the first time – ideas for sonatas that never saw the light of day. There are works that muse on death by Janacek, Stravinsky and John Woolrich, a touching Sarabande from Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and a philosophical puzzle by Robert Schumann. It provides a radically new perspective on familiar composers while the visual elements transport us to a surreal and unsettling world.

 

How do John’s Pianobook pieces work to hold the programme together ?

John’s Pianobooks are essentially a series of miniatures that explore a myriad of different themes – Goya’s Caprichos (engravings of witches and monsters that form a grotesque counterpoint to Enlightenment ideals), Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), and ‘micograms’ by visionary Swiss writer Robert Walser, highly admired by Kafka but then incarcerated in an asylum for much of his life. While the miniatures are ‘finished’, they are ephemeral and many just evaporate into thin air. They are the perfect partners to these vanishing fragments by more familiar composers, some of which barely register before they disappear.

How do the live music and the filmed content related to one another ?

We created the musical programme first and the Quay Brothers then put together a sequence of fragments from previous films that had been unused – left on the cutting room floor! Music and film are very tightly bound together and precisely synchronised. On the whole, music in a more familiar or tonal style is paired with abstract images, while John Woolrich’s music coincides with these grotesque puppets. The narrative, again, is fragmentary – it promises continuity and then snatches it away.

How would you like / do you hope audiences will respond to the immersive combination of music and film ?

Ghosts & Whispers is so unusual that it is impossible to predict how people will react. I hope that the audience will very quickly feel submerged in this bizarre universe, and that they think back to the piece for many years to come. I have performed it several times now and whenever I return to the work, I find more layers to unpack. It is certainly very macabre and, at times, unnerving but, in providing such an unorthodox perspective, it also brings depth and a wealth of new ideas.


The performance will fill the concert-hall on Friday 27 May at 8pm; book tickets here for what promises to be a unique experience…

Image Gallery: Composer in Focus: John Woolrich

Many thanks to everyone involved in Saturday’s Composer in Focus event; a great opportunity to hear from John Woolrich, a major figure on the British compositional landscape, about his approach to composition, relationship to music from the past, and ideas behind the pieces performed by the University Symphony Orchestra, String Sinfonia and Music Scholar pianists.

John is currently Associate Artist, and has been in attendance at rehearsals and a recent performance by the String Sinfonia in Folkestone as we prepared for Saturday.

The event was an opportunity to bring University musicians and John together to explore two of his works; Ulysses Awakes and Gesänge der Frühe, pieces with two distinct relationships to music of the past. As part of the event, John also talked about his approach to composing, the context surrounding the music performed, and learning from models of the past – musical ‘echoes’ being a particular, fascinating aspect of John’s music.

Composer John Woolrich pays close heed to the rehearsal

Thanks to Flo Peycelon for directing the String Sinfonia, to second-year postgraduate Architecture student and Music Scholar Charlotte Cane for playing the solo viola in John’s Ulysses Wakes; and also to second-year Chemistry postgrad and Music Scholar, Kira Hilton, who played the solo viola in performances of the same piece at Folkestone’s Cafe Eleto and at Studio 3 Gallery on the University campus recently.

The University Sypmhony Orchestra

Thanks to all the musicians, including Scholar pianists Will Morgan (Economics), Michael Lam (Kent and Medway Medical School) and Hana Faizuramira (Politics and International Relations).

Pianist and KMMS Music Scholar, Michael Lam
Third-year Economics student and Music Scholar, Will Morgan
Postgraduate in Politics and International Relations and Music Scholar, Hana Faizuramira

Contemporary music really is the lifeblood of our times; it writes in the urgent language of Now, addressing today’s concerns, and as we heard, is often mindful of its relationship to the past; how fantastic to have brought one of its exponents in to work with the Music department this week. Thank you to John for his support, and for being a wonderfully generous and insightful ‘In Conversation’ guest.

John Woolrich with director of the String Sinfonia, Flo Peycelon
Second-year Architecture postgrad and Music Scholar, Charlotte Cane, with composer John Woolrich before performing his ‘Ulysses Awakes’
John Woolrich in conversation with Head of Music Performance, Dan Harding
Second-year Chemistry postgrad and Music Scholar, Kira Hilton, with John Woolrich

Images © Nathan Eaton-Baudains / University of Kent

#EarBox: art and music in dialogue returns to Studio 3 Gallery

After a lengthy absence, it was good to be back in the richly-resonant acoustic of Studio 3 Gallery, the University’s art gallery, for a performance by the String Sinfonia yesterday.

The #EarBox series of events bringing music and visual art together returned with a programme relating to Le piazze [In}visibili, an exhibition of photographs documenting empty Italian piazzi during the first lockdown in 2020, when normally vibrant social spaces became suddenly silent.

The ensemble’s opening piece, the Chacony by Purcell, took on a greater emotional significance as it rang out against the backdrop of the images, Purcell’s aching dissonances assuming more of an impact. Vivaldi’s Spring picked up on the Italian connection, and in a wonderful moment of serendipity, birdsong in the spring afternoon outside the gallery could be heard in between the movements. Music Scholars Jeni Pang, Alice Nixon and Kammy Pike each took a movement.

Music Scholar Kammy Pike warming up with Vivaldi in front of a photograph of an empty St Mark’s, Venice

Matt Brown’s Solitude at Dusk had one or two ravishing chords, and the performance ended with the weighty Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, whose main melody (When rising from the bed of death) somehow again took on different overtones in light of the photographic evidence of the impact of the pandemic which surrounded the audience.

Congratulations to the students, and to its director, Floriane Peycelon. #Earbox will return to Studio 3 Gallery again in the future…

Image Gallery: Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert: in rehearsal

Congratulations to all the members of the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra on Saturday’s electrifying return to Canterbury Cathedral. For the first time since 2019, the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert resounded in the Cathedral Nave, and we were delighted to welcome back several alumni to take part.

Thank you also to our fantastic soloists: soprano Rachel Nicholls, mezzo Emma Stannard, and two Kent alumni, tenor Andrew Macnair and bass-baritone Piran Legg.

Images © Chris Wenham / University of Kent

In pictures: Music Scholars’ masterclass with London Conchord Ensemble

It’s never easy to take part in an instrumental masterclass; it’s like having a very public lesson, with someone you’ve only just met, who’s asking you to produce instant results in the way you play.

rbt

So it’s many congratulations to flautists Rena Ward, Yuyu Hosokawa and Kiran Dehal, and pianists Will Morgan and Hana Fairuzamira, on this afternoon’s masterclass with members of London Conchord Ensemble, working on the three movements of the Poulenc Flute Sonata. The session followed on from the ensemble’s Lunchtime Concert, and was a great opportunity for some of this year’s Music Performance Scholars and Music Award Holders to work on Poulenc’s challenging work.

Scholar’s Spotlight livestream: Ridima Sur and Jonathan Mayer

The lunchtime concert on Weds 16th March is the second in our Scholar’s Spotlight series, and features international student and Hindustani singer, Ridima Sur.

As well as welcoming a live audience, the event will be livestreamed and may be watched for free on our YT channel here:

In her third year reading Astrophysics, Ridima is joined by sitarist and composer Jonathan Mayer, with tabla-player Denis Kucherov. The livestream opens at 1pm, and the concert begins at 1.10pm.

Image Gallery: Chorus of approval: in rehearsal

The University of Kent Chorus comprises students, staff, alumni and members of the local community amongst its ranks, meeting every Monday night to rehearse towards its termly concerts. A great example of communal music-making, bringing people together in a shared creative endeavour, both from across the University community – librarians, staff in Registry, heads of department, lecturers, members of the University chaplaincy – as well as former members of staff, and people from across the region, working collectively towards a common outcome.

This term, that concert takes place in the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral – in fact, it’s happening in just five days’ time… – and here is the choir in action, rehearsing at the weekend in Haydn’s Nelson Mass with the Symphony Orchestra.

Images © Chris Wenham / University of Kent