Between Worlds: in rehearsal

With the new term beginning earlier this week, rehearsals for Summer Music Week have begun in earnest, and the String Sinfonia and Chamber Choir have been once again getting to grips with Between Worlds, an exciting multi-media odyssey which comes to Colyer-Fergusson as the penultimate event in our week-long music festival.

Both choir and strings have been busy rehearsing Anna Phoebe’s new piece; earlier this week, Anna came in especially to work with the String Sinfonia,

The exciting aspect of new music is watching it slowly evolve, and there was time on Wednesday for Anna and percussionist Leon to develop ideas for the timpani part, which plays a crucial textural role at key moments in the piece.

The full performance beams in to Colyer-Fergusson on Friday 7 June at 7.30pm; find out more here…

Scholars’ Spotlight: Florence Nightingale Obote

Continuing the series profiling University Music Performance Scholars and Music Award Holders at the University of Kent. This week, third-year Biosciences student and violinist, Florence Nightingale Obote reflects on a less than auspicious start to her violin-playing career…


I have been playing the violin for 15 years. I started at the age of seven and have no memory of my first ever violin lesson or the first time I held a violin underneath my chin. My violin teacher, however, remembers it fondly and never ceases to tell me. She’d always say to me, “I remember you when you walked through the door. Your shirt and trousers were way too big for you because you were so tiny, and the moment you held your violin under your chin: you had the biggest smile on your face.”

Even though I do not remember this, I remember my very first violin concert very well. I was playing the French folk song with three other violinists. We practised ample times for the concert, and all seemed fine. But the day of the concert was a whole other issue. So, we walked onto the stage, and bowed at the applause. Then our violin teacher counted us in. As soon as I heard four, I knew I had to start playing, but I didn’t. Instead I was stood there frozen with my bow on the violin while the others were playing the right notes in all the right places. I looked to my parents on the second row who were trying their best to not laugh which started to make me giggle. Then I distinctively remember dropping my bow, and in the process of picking it up I almost whacked one of the other players. After picking up my bow, I tried to find my place, but at that moment, I forgot how to read music, so I just started playing random notes hoping no one would notice. And after the concert, my violin teacher said to my parents at the that I had potential. So, the violin and I did not get off to a great start.

I did improve as the years went passed. Year 7 was when my violin journey started to accelerate. In secondary school, MHCHS, I played in all the possible orchestras I could join. This consisted of chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, Vivaldi strings, string group, and so on. In year 9, MHCHS did a project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and I was given the opportunity to play the Vivaldi concerto for four violins accompanied by them. A year later, I got the opportunity again to play the Corelli Christmas concerto accompanied by them again. Both were conducted by Benjamin Pope.

Image credit: DJ8Photo

Whilst doing all these things in school, I also joined music groups externally. I was part of the Finchley Music strings for a couple of years where I joined Jazz strings as well. I wasn’t very fond of it because I was of being classically trained on the violin, but like my 7-year-old self I decided to persevere with playing Jazz on the violin (it did not last very long). Towards the end of year 9, I played in the Barbican Youth Orchestra where we got to play a several orchestral works, including the famous Romeo and Juliet overture by Tchaikovsky, and works by Glinka and Mozart.

Going back to year 7, I joined a chamber group until year 12. I got to play in trios, quartets, sextets, septets, and octets. We played a plethora of music, with my favourites being: Death and the Maiden by Schubert,  Mendelssohn’s Octet, and Dvorak’s American quartet. We also entered music competitions and participated in music festivals. Because of this period in my life, I will always love playing chamber music more than anything else.

During my year-in-industry, I went to Thailand where I joined the Thammasat University Symphony Orchestra (TUSO). I got to meet so many lovely people and had the opportunity to play gigs around Thailand and travel with them to Laos to play at Laos university. The orchestra was quite different to orchestras previously I’ve played in, in the UK. They played more music that appealed to students to get more recognition and they also arranged music from famous TV dramas and K-pop songs. It was very relaxed, and I had a great time playing with them.

Image credit: Jib Racharin

I’m coming up to the end of my final year studying Bioscience at the University of Kent, and the music opportunities in the university has been incredible. I’ve played in the Symphony orchestra, String Sinfonia, and have played chamber music with several people. After Kent, I hope my music journey will continue.

 

Image credit: Molly Hollman

I’d like to give a special thanks to my father who is the reason why I started playing the violin.

Summer Music Week details now online

We’re very pleased to reveal the full line-up of events for this year’s Summer Music Week live online this morning!

Launching on Friday 31 May with a sonorous concert by the Chamber Choir and Consort in Canterbury Cathedral Crypt, our musical farewell to the academic year unfolds over the next eight days to include a trip to the seaside with the University Big Band at Deal Bandstand, a recital by University Music Scholars, a Gala concert with the Concert and Big Bands, the String Sinfonia and Chamber Choir in the premiere of Between Worlds exploring music and science by Anna Phoebe, all culminating in the annual Music for a Summer’s Day with the Chorus and Orchestra bidding a tearful farewell to this year’s music-making.

See all that’s to come, grab your tickets and help us celebrate another musical year in the life of the University as it draws to a festive close. The brochure will be available shortly…

String Scholars have an eggcellent time at the Easter Orchestra week

Not content with busily rehearsing and performing during term-time, final-year Music Performance Scholars and string-players Žaneta Balsevic and Molly Richetta headed off to Shropshire last week to participate in an Easter Orchestra Week run by the Easter Orchestral Society at Ellesmere College. Here, Molly reports on a week of orchestral and chamber music rehearsals, concerts and chains…


During the Easter break, Žaneta and I attended an orchestral course in Shropshire called Easter Orchestra Week. It was a week of intense and challenging music making with a huge orchestra of like-minded music lovers.

The list of music for the week was extensive; there were four main works that were rehearsed each morning, and in each afternoon and evening rehearsal we would sight-read through one or two works. The four main works were performed in an informal concert on the last afternoon. These included From the House of the Dead suite from a ballet by Janáček, which uses chains in the percussion section to represent the chains of the prisoners where the work is set. The second was Symphony No. 3 by Arvo Pärt; between the second and third movements was a thunderous cadenza for the timpani (obviously milked to its fullest extent) which took the rest of the orchestra completely by surprise on the first play through. The third work was Concerto Festivo by Andrej Panufnik. This was challenging as the meter changed every couple of bars. I was talking to the musical director at breakfast one morning and he said that the composer was fascinated by trains, and while traveling would have ideas and write them down- but had forgotten exactly the time signature of the part he had written before, hence the constant changes from ¾ to 3/8!

The final work was the famous tone poem by Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, the story of a practical joker and possibly the most technically difficult but rewarding of the four works. All four of these I grew to love as the week went on.

In the afternoons and evenings, we sight-read through many of the most famously difficult pieces in the orchestral repertoire, including the ballet Daphnis and Chloé by Ravel and Shostakovich’s Symphony 12. Most of these sessions I spent clinging on for dear life in the viola section and praying that I didn’t make my debut as a soloist in one of the rests. One of my favourite pieces of the week was Rodion Shchedrin’s Naughty Limericks; a piece full of humour. One moment of the piece required the player at the very back of the viola section to play the first violin tune in the wrong key as loudly as possible at one of the few quiet moments. The final evening before the performance brought some light relief with film music including ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. In these sessions we also had the opportunity to sit in different seats and sections, so I was able to play violin as well as viola through the week, and people had the chance to play concertos or sing as soloists.

The conductors and the leader of the orchestra were incredible from start to finish in the week- being able to tackle such repertoire was an experience I will not forget, and they made even the most difficult pieces enjoyable and (almost) playable!

After lunch we had free time which some people used to play through chamber music. I had the chance to tick many pieces off my bucket list; I was able to play Mendelssohn octet, a Dvorak string quintet and the Smetana quartet (which may have the best opening tune for viola of any quartet I have heard) among others! It was wonderful to be around so many like-minded people who were capable of and exited to sit down and read through pieces. The location of the course was perfect- in a school in the middle of the beautiful Shropshire countryside, which others used the free time to explore.

Even though the music from the week was great, it was the people on the course which made it so much better. There was a wide range of ages and professions of people and getting a chance to speak with more experienced members of the orchestra was a real privilege. The atmosphere was so friendly; Žaneta and I went down to breakfast on the first morning and sat on a table of strangers-who all spoke to us as peers and friends. Every evening exhausted from the day of rehearsing we would head to the bar and get to know the other members over a few too many glasses of wine. I was lucky enough, as well as 5 others, to be given a scholarship. The others quickly became our close friends, and as always in the music world, we found out we had mutual friends.

It was a brilliant opportunity to experience music that as an amateur musician you would not get the chance to play anywhere else. I remember sitting in the first rehearsal and feeling amazed that so many people who do not work in music were meeting together to spend a week of their life playing music purely for the enjoyment, inspiration and challenge that comes from it. I feel that my sight-reading has definitely improved as a result of playing so many challenging works, as well as the ability to convincingly pretend that I know where I am. Many of the members had been going back every year for many years, and I hope to be able to go back again next year too!

Music and science come together: Between Worlds

Between Worlds is an exciting new inter-disciplinary project which brings together music, science, film, live media projection and performance in the form of a new piece for choir and ensemble by composer and performer, Anna Phoebe. Written for the University of Kent Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia, the piece is a direct, original musical response to spectacular visual imagery provided by research at the University’s School of Biosciences, and to the scientific environment in which is is conducted, drawing on hi-resolution spectroscopy, video evidence and even sampled sounds from the laboratory.

Anna Phoebe / AVA / Shot by Rob Blackham / www.blackhamimages.com

Composer and performer Anna Phoebe has toured extensively throughout the world, both as a solo artist and with bands including Roxy Music and Jethro Tull, from arenas across the USA to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury, including supporting Bob Dylan at the Rock Legends Festival in Poland . Anna works with The Royal Ballet School as a composer and music advisor, and has worked on several music/dance projects with the students, as well as improvisation workshops

Bringing together a combination of disciplines, the mixture of live music, projections and performers forms a new, highly creative approach to engaging audiences with cutting-edge scientific research data; the project presents images and film generated by exploratory research at the sub-molecular level. Field recordings from the laboratories at the University are also incorporated into a mesmerising soundscape clothing the live musicians, forming an evocative sonic backdrop to stunning research imagery.

The research, led by Dr Chris Toseland, explores Gene Expression, and is used to combat diseases. Funded by Cancer Research UK, Chris’ research is the inspiration behind the 38-minute work for choir, solo violin, string ensemble, synthesiser and percussion. Chris received a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry from the University of Wales – Aberystwyth in 2006 then commenced a PhD at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research – London. He received his PhD in 2010 from the University of London. His thesis focused upon the biochemical and biophysical characterisation of DNA helicases. At the end of his PhD, Chris was awarded an EMBO Long Term Fellowship to move to the Ludwig Maximilians Universität – Munich to work on single molecule studies with myosin motors. After 3 years he relocated to the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry with a research focus on genome organisation. Chris joined the School of Biosciences in 2015 as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow. In the same year he was awarded a highly prestigious MRC Career Development Award to establish his research group.

The University Chamber Choir, directed by Deputy Director of Music, Dan Harding, has been working with Anna since January, and performed three a cappella choral movements from the piece as part of a recent concert the Choir gave in Wye, for which they were joined by Anna on solo violin.

The premiere of Between Worlds in its entirety, complete with live projections and electronic soundscapes, will be given on Friday 7th June 2019, in the spectacular surrounding of the University’s Colyer-Fergusson concert-hall, conducted by Dan Harding, as part of the Music department’s annual Summer Music Week festival.

For tickets and event details, click here.

Out of this world: playing The Planets with the Virtual Orchestra

The Virtual Orchestra is currently ensconced in Canterbury, an immersive digital experience evoking the feeling of being a part of the Philharmonia as it performs Holst’s epic The Planets suite. The installation breaks the orchestra up into its various sections, and visitors can tour round a filmed performance to see and hear the physicality of performing.

Several of us took the opportunity yesterday afternoon to escape from the pressure of looming academic deadlines and visit the exhibition, housed in the back of the Sidney Cooper Gallery on the high street, with the student players taking their instruments with them – the installation has mock orchestral desks set up around the various sections, with sheet music, allowing you to play alongside the performance.

David, Fleur, Your Loyal Correspondent, Fleur, Rory, Sophie and Jeni: ready to take on Holst

Moving from bright afternoon sunlight into the sepulchral darkness of the exhibition, we walked around the different ‘rooms’ before each player set up in his or own own station; the Event Manager very kindly agreed to start the filmed performance from the beginning, and we were off…

Second-year Economics student and viola player, Jeni Martin, at the start of ‘Mars’

Third-year Psychology student, Peter Coleman, plays as part of the digital first violins

Each ‘room’ in the installation focuses both visually and aurally on the various orchestral sections – strings, woodwind, brass, percussion – with the orchestral sound weighted in order to favour the respective instruments.

The view from behind the clarinet section
First-year Physics student, David Curtiss and second-year Drama student, Maddie Rigby, getting to grips with the clarinet section

Lit by the solitary LED stand-light and the glow from adjacent screens featuring the various orchestral musicians in action, it really is an immersive experience.

Top brass: Masters in History student, Rory Butcher, playing along with the performance
Third-year soprano and Art History student, Fleur Sumption, and mathematics PhD student, Floris Claassens, following the score ahead of singing along in ‘Neptune’

Members of the public visiting the installation also stopped to listen to the students playing; there was a lovely moment where a girl of about three or four was dancing along with the string-playing students, being filmed by her delighted parents!

“I really had an absolute blast,” said third-year Psychology student and violinist, Peter Coleman, “I can’t speak for anyone else but I myself was stuck in a deep, bottomless rut of essay-writing and referencing. Playing my way through Holst reminded me what it was like to truly enjoy something again (we don’t need to go into note-accuracy do we?). It also reminded me what an enormous amount of respect I have for that suite. I played ‘Mars,’ ‘Venus’ and ‘Jupiter’ in my community orchestra, and though it paled in comparison to the scale, colour and grandiosity of the Philharmonia, it taught me so much about how expressive and visual a piece of music can be. Though my playing was patchy at best, I do recall a buzz coming from onlookers who drifted in and out of our section, and there were a couple of people who liked us so much they didn’t leave.”

Over an hour later, we emerged back into the gallery having heroically sight-read our way through the entire suite, including Joby Talbot’s additional movement (there are, sadly, no photos of Your Loyal Correspondent, the Director of Music and the Music Administrator thoroughly enjoying themselves in the percussion room…). “It was really fun,” commented second-year violinist and viola-player, Jeni Martin, “and a great break from essay deadlines.”

We loved playing at the exhibition yesterday. And we giggled our way through a couple of the trickier passages..! Maddie Rigby, second-year Drama student and clarinettist

“As a trombonist,” reflected Rory Butcher, studying for a Masters in History,  “the first movement of Holst’s Planets Suite is one of those pieces that I’ve never been able to play in the right setting (i.e. as part of a full symphony orchestra). Well yesterday I got pretty close! It was amazing being able to play along with the “pros”, and to see the entire piece come together across the different sections. It was even more incredible being able to participate, even in a small way, so it was very gratifying to see some of the public enjoying our contributions!”

To have a chance to get the feeling that you were playing alongside musicians in such a fantastic orchestra is an opportunity that really shouldn’t be missed – David Curtiss, first-year Physics student and clarinettist

Our thanks to Event Manager, Carys, and assistant Tom for making us welcome, and well done to our own Guardians of the (musical) Galaxy for participating.

Guardians of the (musical) Galaxy…

In pictures: Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert

Congratulations to everyone involved in last Saturday’s annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert; to all the performers in the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, the stewards, those working behind the scenes, conductor Susan Wanless and soprano soloist, Rachel Nicholls.

The early shift: Alice, Fleur, Tom, technician Marc and Estates member, Mark.
Members of the Music Society Committee confer during the morning set-up at the Cathedral
The view from the top tier of the soprano section of the University Chorus
Drummer boy: alumnus Cory, back to play percussion
The violin section, led by third-year Music Scholar, Zaneta Balsevic

Chorus and Orchestra in full swing
Soprano soloist Rachel Nicholls rehearsing Poulenc’s ‘Gloria’
The view from behind the Orchestra as it rehearses Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony
The orchestra being very attentive…
The lower strings of the Orchestra
Conductor Susan Wanless rehearsing Butterworth’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’
The evening stewards: Alex, Kiyan, Euan, Eloise and Tom
Some familiar faces back to take part: Alice H, Charlotte, Ben, Ruth, Alice B, Cory and Alice Sh!
A soprano selfie: but only if your name is Alice…
Chorus members Carmen, Maddie, Helen, Nicholas, Fleur (President of the Music Society), and Joseph
Strings attached: Melody, Zaneta (leader), Corinna, Millie, Molly and Rosie
Leader of the Symphony Orchestra, third-year Music Scholar Zaneta Balsevic
Chorus of approval

Scholars’ Spotlight: Euan Bonnar

Continuing the series profiling current Music Performance Scholarship and Music Award holders at the University of Kent. This week, first-year Biochemistry student and Music Performance Scholarship brass-player, Euan Bonnar.


My musical journey began very early, aged four, with piano lessons at school. Although it would eventually become a secondary instrument later, I immensely enjoyed being able to learn and perform what were initially very complex pieces for such a small person. Looking back, it is easy to see that my love for the piano sparked my passion for music, with endless hours spent either hammering out scales or a wide variety of pieces. I vividly remember my eccentric piano teacher at the time handing me Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier,’ telling me to take a look and play around with some of the pieces. Much of my early musical life was spent pursuing a solo venture, rather than any ensemble playing. The closest I got to playing with other musicians on the piano was performing in the Portsmouth Music Festival with my brother, who ironically is now a much better pianist than I ever was.

I picked up the Baritone as a second instrument halfway through Junior School and began to play in the school’s orchestra. Although the sound produced was crude in retrospect, I enjoyed playing with the type of ensemble and would return to playing in this setting much later in the form of brass ensembles, dectets and concert bands.

Throughout the rest of my school years, I learnt both instruments at the same time. However, there came a point where I had to choose a primary instrument to focus my efforts on as my workload increased. As I had recently achieved Grade 6 in the piano, I decided to put it on the back burner and continue with the Euphonium as my primary instrument. As I was learning outside of the school system, my only ensemble playing was with the school orchestra. However, in the final weeks of secondary school, I spoke to Jock McKenzie about my plans for ensemble playing at Sixth Form, and if I would be interested in joining his ensembles in the new academic year. Having been playing with his student and orbiting his ensembles for the past five years, I couldn’t wait to play in the calibre of the band that he conducted.

During my time at Sixth Form, I joined in on every musical opportunity I could; taking AS Music, joining the Porchester, Gosport and Fareham Youth Band and the Sixth Form’s Dectet. Although I had come very late to the party in terms of ensemble playing, I grabbed every opportunity with both hands and learned a completely new way of playing my instrument. The PFGYB played an amazing variety of pieces which vastly expanded my appreciation for music, and although I missed my solo opportunity in Holst’s ‘Second Suite in F’ in the summer concert as I was on the way back from my Gold DofE expedition in Snowdonia, it still was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget.

A highlight of my time playing the Euphonium was when I was invited to participate in the ‘Low Brass Day’ at the Royal Marines School of Music in Portsmouth, hosted by the British Trombone Society. This day was attended by professional musicians including David Childs, Les Neish, Simon Minshall, Robbie Harvey, as well as many members of the Royal Marines Band School. The day included masterclasses from the invited professionals and was based on a variety of techniques and topics and was truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

As a biochemistry student here at Kent, I enjoy music as an extra-curricular activity as a way to stay in touch with my creative side between lectures and long periods of study. I take part in the University’s Concert Band (pictured in rehearsal, below) and Pops Orchestra but have also formed my own Brass Ensemble to continue to play the type of music that I played in the brass. I am very grateful to be the recipient of the Music Performance Scholarship, which has allowed me to purchase a new euphonium to use at University and continue to fuel my passion for music alongside my studies.