We’re delighted to have been able to reschedule our postponed Lunchtime Concert from February, to bring music from South India on Wednesday 30 May at 1.10pm.Postgraduate University Music Performance Scholar, Ramnath Venkat Bhagavath is studying for a Masters in Applied Actuarial Science at the University of Kent, and brings a strong performing tradition to the campus. In 2016, Ramnath performed in the renowned ‘Swathi Sangeethotsav’ at the royal palace of Trivandrum, an event which attracts musicians from across the globe.
The Lunchtime Concert, taking place in Colyer-Fergusson Hall, will feature a selection of different ragas and thalas in the Carnatic music tradition, accompanied by violin, mridangam and ghatam.
She might not thank me for doing so, but on International Women’s Day it seems fitting to pay tribute to our Head of Department, conductor Susan Wanless, who has been at the helm of extra-curricular music at the University for a very long time. A positive role model for female musicians, Sue’s career is a great example of how gender should be no barrier to succeeding in musical life and in areas of cultural responsibility and leadership, including wielding a baton in front of the massed ranks of assembled performers in the glare of the public eye.
Sue’s tireless championing of music as part of the life of the University includes conducting the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra each year, including the epic annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in Canterbury Cathedral, as well as a variety of other ensembles. From a humble fifty members originally rehearsing in the Senate Building, the University Chorus has grown to over two hundred students, staff, alumni and members of the local community, now able to rehearse and perform in the magnificent Colyer-Fergusson Hall, itself a testament to the value the University places both on music-making and Sue’s advocacy for cementing it into life at Kent.
Under her leadership, music is now a flourishing part of the University; over four hundred students and staff are involved each academic year, with over fifty musical events taking place in Colyer-Fergusson – both departmental concerts as well as visiting ensembles and performers – throughout the course of the year. The Music department regularly commission new music written especially for its forces to perform – witness this Saturday’s premiere of an orchestral work by Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Kent-based composer Matthew King. When not busy on campus, she can be found on the panel of judges for the Canterbury International Festival’s annual music performance competition. (And, as many of us know, also on the golf course…!)
Sue was also heavily involved in the design and consultation process behind the creation of the Colyer-Fergusson Building, travelling up to London to confer with architects, designers and sound engineers at the point that crucial decisions were being made. Thanks to the generous bequest from the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, chaired at the time by the Honourable Jonathan Monckton, and since opening its doors in December 2012, Colyer-Fergusson has greatly enhanced the possibilities for making music at Kent, and continues to flourish under Sue’s watchful eye. Each year, a host of students graduates from the University with fond memories of having performed in the Nave of the Cathedral, the Crypt, Colyer-Fergusson Hall, churches around the county, and with friendships forged in the white-heat of rehearsing and performing alongside their academic studies; all facilitated by the Music department and Sue’s leadership. Who can forget those summer performances in Eliot Dining Hall, or Chorus rehearsals in the Grimond Building in the Era Before Colyer-Fergusson…Depending on the era in which students passed through the University, they might have been involved in the summer opera projects, in which Sue helmed fully-staged productions of works such as La Traviata, The Magic Flute and Tosca with professional soloists; they might have performed on one of the stages that popped up around campus during ArtsFest, which itself transformed into the current annual music festival celebrating the end of the academic year that is Summer Music Week.
Here’s to Sue, and to women musicians who are making such an impact on musical life in their communities everywhere!
Congratulations and thank you to the members of the University Chamber Choir, who rose to the occasion (and rose early, too…) to sing live on this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
The programme was broadcast directly from the Gulbenkian, and the programme closed with the Choir performing Star of the East, a carol written by composer Russell Hepplewhite. A lovely opportunity to present a recent carol to a wide listenership; thanks to all the singers.
At the end of the academic year, it’s always a pleasure and a privilege to be able to recognise particular students for their outstanding contributions to music-making. During Summer Music Week, a public presentation takes place in which to acknowledge their participation and involvement in music with a number of prizes, and the occasion on Tuesday 6 June followed the Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital as part of the week’s event.
The Canterbury Festival Prize, presented by Festival Director Rosie Turner, awarded to to a final-year student who has made an outstanding contribution to music at the University, went to Jennifer Morgan, who has just finished reading French and Spanish. Jenn has been Principle double bass in Symphony Orchestra, bassist in Concert Band, star electric bassist for the Big Band, and our 1930s dance orchestra, General Harding’s Tomfoolery. Throughout her final two years, Jenn was a Music Performance Award holder, and was Social Media Representative on the Music Society Committee this year.
The Colyer-Fergusson Music Prize, awarded to a student who has made a major contribution to the organisation of music at the University, was presented jointly to Amy Poulter and Inger Kviseth.
Amy is a final-year student reading Philosophy and English Language & Linguistics, and has been awarded the prize for her exceptional all-round behind-the-scenes organising and admin skills as Concert Band and Big Band Assistant, in which she plays alto saxophone. This involved liaising with the conductor, Ian Swatman, helping to set-up rehearsals and co-ordinating, circulating and collecting all the many sheets of music which go into the instruments folders (a somewhat arduous and thankless task – especially when they go missing!) She also had the mammoth task of running this year’s student battle-of-the bands event, Keynestock, in her capacity as College President.
A final-year student reading Conflict, Peace and Security, Inger’s award recognised her role as Chamber Choir Assistant and Minerva Voices Assistant. She managed the running and the choral library for both choirs during this year, liaised with the choir members about rehearsals and performances and organised the catering during workshop days (which, as anyone who has ever worked with musicians will know, was very important!). She also organised a fund-raising carol-singing afternoon in aid of Cancer Research UK on a very cold December day. Her quiet, proactive efficiency has been a crucial part of the success of both choirs this year. Both students received their awards from the former Chair of the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the Honourable Jonathan Monckton.
The John Craven Music Prize, awarded to a returning student who has a made a major contribution to music at the University this year, was awarded jointly to Lydia Cheng and Jasper Rose.
In her second year reading Law, Lydia is a wonderfully talented violinist – indeed, she turned down music scholarships to both Berkeley and McGill in order to come to Kent. Such is her commitment and talent that she was given the sole responsibility as leader of the Symphony Orchestra in the cathedral concert this year. She also plays in the String Sinfonia and gave a public lunchtime concert last term as part of a piano trio exploring the world of the tango. She is a Music Performance Scholar and is one of the Symphony Orchestra Assistants.
Jasper is a second-year reading Criminal Justice and Criminology on our Medway campus, and trombonist who features prominently in both the Concert and Big Bands, as well as the Symphony Orchestra. Jasper also plays in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and is a Music Performance Scholar. The students received their prizes from Patron of the Music Scholarships, Dame Anne Evans.
Where appropriate, the Music Awards Committee can also award the First-Year Prize, to a student who has made a significant contribution to music-making during their first year of study. This year, the award went to Tom Wust, reading Business and Management on our Medway campus. Tom is Co-principal clarinet in the Symphony Orchestra and in Concert Band, and tenor sax in Big Band and General Harding’s Tomfoolery. Tom is a Music Performance Scholar, and demonstrated his prowess in the Music Scholars’ concert with two movements from the fiendish Clarinet Sonata by Joseph Horovitz. Tom’s award was presented by Professor April McMahon.
This year, we were pleased to be able to award the cumbersomely-titled yet no less important Music Awards Committee Prize renamed as the David Humphreys Music Prize, in memory of David who was a terrific supporter of music at the University, and whose fund in memory of his wife, Julia, continues to support the annual Crypt Concert by the University Chamber Choir. The award recognises students who have made a special contribution to music at Kent, and this was awarded to three students jointly: Jonathan Butten, Faith Chan and Cory Adams.
Jonathan is a final -year student, reading Biomedical Sciences, and the prize was awarded for his outstanding contribution as Principal oboe and cor anglais in the Symphony Orchestra. Jonathan has been a remarkable woodwind player, performing in lunchtime concerts, and has been a University Music Performance Scholar, and this year acting as one of the Symphony Orchestra Assistants.
In her final year reading Law, Faith received her prize for her special contribution to University Music as a cellist. She is principal cellist in the Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia and gave a public lunchtime concert last term with the Piazzolla piano trio. Her versatility meant she has also been a very fine continuo player, featuring in Baroque concerts and lunchtime performances over the course of her time at Kent. She is a Music Performance Scholar, and has also been one of the Symphony Orchestra Assistants.
Cory is Masters student reading Hispanic and Comparative Literature; he has been Principal timpanist and percussionist in Symphony Orchestra, and kit and percussion in Concert Band, Big Band and General Harding’s Tomfoolery. He is a University Music Performance Scholar and has just finished impressively organising (and exhausting!) everyone in his capacity as President of the Music Society. The three students received their prize from Chair of the Music Awards Committee and Reader in Biosciences, Dr Dan Lloyd.
Music-making at Kent, as an extra-curricular activity, really does rely on the participation, commitment and enthusiasm of all the many students (and staff) who take part in rehearsals and performances on top of their studies during the academic year. The awards ceremony during Summer Music Week is an opportunity publically to recognise and to thank a few individuals for all that they contributed during their time at the University; our congratulations to everyone on their awards, and our gratitude for the part they have played in making the musical year at the University such a success.
Currently studying abroad for a year as part of his European Legal Studies with Kent Law School, and a member of the University Chorus and Cecilian Choir, singer Ben Weiland writes from Vienna…
Hello from Vienna! I just wanted to share what I’ve been up to and ask how everything is going with Kent music – I’m missing the Cecilian Choir! I saw that you did the Fauré Requiem recently – very jealous. What an absolutely marvellous work! I remember seeing the programme for the Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral as well which also looked marvellous – Tchaikovsky Symphony 6! I very much look forward to returning to it all in September!
Spending this year in Vienna has been (and will continue to be) an utter delight. It is a thriving city, full of life and excitement. The greatest beauty Vienna has to offer for me is its musical culture, which is unique and unparalleled. I didn’t fully comprehend until I arrived just how central Vienna has been to the history of music. It’s obviously famous for Mozart and Schubert, but Beethoven, Brahms and many other towering figures had lived and composed here. As a result, the current musical tradition is still very strong; you can’t walk around a corner without seeing the famous golden Musikverein poster advertising a concert, or a similar advertisement for an opera at the Staatsoper. Concert-going, I realised early on, is very much both a cultural and societal affair. It’s almost a customary tradition for the Viennese aristocracy to suit up and attend operas and concerts, as if it’s simply a matter of course. This isn’t to say it’s taken for granted, but this is just how life is – the people are surrounded by this supreme musical wealth. However, for someone outside of this aristocracy, the concerts are still very accessible. Ticket prices can be very reasonable depending on certain factors – very often I have decided to go to a concert on the day, which is made possible due to standing tickets (3-4 Euros for the opera; 5-6 Euros for the Musikverein). It cannot be stressed enough, the joy of knowing that every day there is a world-class concert that I could go to if I felt like it.
From a personal standpoint, I was very keen to go to the Musikverein, as this was the home of my father when he studied and played the violin here (before becoming a composer) in his early 20s. He had a month playing in the Vienna Philharmonic, so it was a must for me to attend a concert as soon as possible. I also had to refresh my memory of the great building, as I came here when I was little to attend the concert of my father’s piano trio, performed by the Altenberg Trio. I am reminded of a photo of me standing on the Brahmsaal stage, with the performers at the end of the concert, and naturally it was a very surreal experience for me to be there once again, around 14-15 years later. I have managed to go and hear the superb Altenberg Trio perform twice since being here and it is quite something, hearing wonderful pieces being performed with such a pure beauty. I still get a fuzzy feeling whenever I walk into the Grossersaal (or ‘Golden Hall’), even though by now I must have gone in over twenty times! Its nickname of the ‘Golden Hall’ is very apt, the clue is in the name – there is gold everywhere.
Alongside concert life, I have also been taking part in a lot of singing. Initially, it was just with the University Choir. We had a wonderful first semester, singing Frank Martin’s Mass with the Symphony Choir, and a range of baroque pieces (Palestrina, Byrd) with the Chamber Choir. The highlight, however, has to be the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that we performed with the University Orchestra at the Musikverein in September. This was an extraordinary experience! As if I hadn’t been reminded enough, standing on the stage of the Golden Hall it hit me that this is the home of the ground-breaking, incredible piece of music. It was first performed in 1824 here in Vienna, along with so many of Beethoven’s other works. Like with any really great music, regardless of other factors such as the history, it’s very hard to put into words the feelings, emotions and significance of experiencing it – all I can say is that it was a very special evening for everyone involved, something I will remember forever.
Singing in the Symphony choir continues this semester, but the most exciting development since being in Vienna was being invited to sing in a professional choir – the Philharmonia Chor Wien – in productions of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto in an Austrian festival in the summer. Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled by the opportunity, and after already having a week’s rehearsals I am in awe of what the summer promises. The Philharmonia Chor Wien perform regularly at the Salzburg festival and the Baden-Baden festival, and receive engagements from major institutions and orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. I was aware of this before attending my first rehearsal, and indeed I was expecting a high standard, but was still nonetheless taken-aback by the quality of the choir’s sound. As the choir specialises more in operatic music, the sound is different to what I’m used to with more traditional, church choral music. It is different but in a very positive sense; in many ways richer and grander. The eminent chorus master and founder of the choir has very kindly been giving me some lessons, teaching me a real grounding in what is required of an operatic voice. Certainly, my voice has come on a lot in such a short space of time.
This exploration into operatic music has opened my eyes to an area I never had much experience with previously. My musical upbringing has always been with choral, chamber and orchestral music – a wide spectrum but one that can only offer insight to a certain extent into opera. My initial impressions are there is definitely a specific charm to opera that isn’t found in, for example, orchestral music. I am still trying to decide whether I am left overall satisfied to the same degree as with orchestral and choral music, but certainly in the Rigoletto there is a type of excitement and drama to the music that I haven’t come across before. This is ignoring the fact that acting is required in opera as well (something I’m looking forward to engaging in, albeit slightly nervously). Definitely this is one of the many aspects of life here that I wish to try and understand far more by time I leave in the summer, and what better place to learn than to be able to go to one of (if not the) greatest opera institutions in the world – the Wiener Staatsoper – every day if I wanted to!
I could write a small book on the musical life of Vienna, and undoubtedly there is much that I have left out of this short piece. There is so much more to be learnt and experienced throughout this semester, and to enjoy in the summer the numerous Musical festivals Austria puts on show. After my stay here I will have to sit down and try to write out everything that I have seen and experienced – a difficult task! The irony is that I’m actually here to be studying Law, which has been also very stimulating and of course I have been immersing myself in my studies, but music is my love and passion. When an opportunity to be in a place like this comes around, it has to be grabbed with both hands!
I just really wanted to share the experiences I have been having, say hello, and express my looking forward to returning to the University next year. I trust everyone is well at Kent and wish everyone the best for the rest of the year!
Passing through the University campus on a Monday night, you might just hear the voices of around a hundred and twenty people in full throttle in Italian, or French, or Latin; occasionally Finnish, Czech or German. Draw closer to the open doors of Colyer-Fergusson Hall, and you will spy the combined might of the University Chorus in its regular weekly rehearsal.
Drawn from students, staff, alumni and members of the local community, the University Chorus comes together each Monday night to prepare repertoire for its termly performances, two of which take place in the concert-hall, and the third in the sonorous surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral each spring, to which alumni regularly return to take part. Accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus regularly grapples with popular titans from the choral canon – the Mozart or Verdi Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis – as well as more unusual works, which have recently included Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater and Rutter’s When Icicles Hang.
Each June, the Chorus strikes a more informal note with choral medleys and stirring opera-pops for the annual Gala concert during Summer Music Week which closes the academic year, and can be found adroitly becoming a battalion of chimney-sweeps in Mary Poppins, or (in the nicest possible way, of course) dishevelled London urchins in My Fair Lady. Dinner jackets are swapped for bold striped blazers and straw boaters; in a recent American-themed spring concert, the Chorus adorned themselves with stars-and-stripes to imitate farm-yard livestock in Copland’s Old American Songs. It’s not all meditations on Death and mass settings, you know…
As many find, making music – and singing in particular – is a wonderful antidote to the stresses and strains of working life, and Chorus provides a welcome respite from the pressures of dissertation-thrashing in the Templeman Library or grappling with your inbox as a senior member of staff. Staff from both academic and support services can be found alongside postgraduates and undergraduates, senior administrators alongside alumni, members of Registry reaching for those top notes along with local residents. When you’re singing in Polish, or Finnish, all social distinctions are cast aside as you grapple with linguistic challenges and try to keep one eye on the vocal score and one on the Director of Music. But with a strong international flavour to the University community, there’s usually a native-speaker sitting in the choral risers who can advise on tricky pronunciation!
The University Chorus started life as a fifty-strong group which rehearsed in the Senate Building, before taking up residence in the cavernous confines of Eliot College Hall, with its Monday nights in the nowhere-to-hide lack of acoustics in Grimond LT-1; nowadays, it sits in Colyer-Fergusson Hall and watches as the acoustic curtain shifts and flows according to need. Later in the year, it sits on the vertiginously-steep choral risers in the nave of the Cathedral and wonders how it can make its way safely down to the flagstone floor again… The life of a University Chorus member is never dull.
Depending upon what time you pass by Colyer-Fergusson on a Wednesday night, you’ll either hear stirring film scores such as Gladiator, swing classics by Count Basie or versions of Stevie Wonder tunes ringing out. It can only mean one thing: rehearsal night for the University Concert Band and Big Band (though thankfully not at the same time…)
On the conductor’s podium is the sprightly figure of Ian Swatman – Bob Marley devotee and possibly the most dedicated fan Hull City will ever have – vigorously taking charge of Wednesday rehearsals and leading the assembled forces through repertoire in preparation for their various termly concerts. In December, the Big Band can be found in Santa hats and jazz-infused versions of seasonal repertoire for the popular Christmas Swing-along, whilst both forces combine each March for their roof-raising Spring concert, and for a farewell concert each June.
Both national and international students, staff and members of the local community find themselves grappling with the complexity of the repertoire Ian hurls at them each year, as they sweat blood to get the music under the fingers. Each year, too, auditions are held for solo singers, for the opportunity to sing with the Big Band.
A particularly exciting aspect to the working life of the Big Band is the opportunity to work with guest musicians; in the past, this has included trombonist Mark Bassey, trumpeter Mike Lovatt from the John Wilson Orchestra, and saxophonist Phil Veacock from the Jools Holland Orchestra. It’s a great opportunity for the young stars of tomorrow to work with, and learn from, accomplished professional performers.
The Concert Band has worked with composer James Rae too, when James was commissioned by the Music department to write a piece for the gala concert to open the Colyer-Fergusson Building in December 2012. As part of an action-packed weekend, the Concert Band gave the world premiere of James’ Platform One.
The groups don’t just perform in the adaptable acoustics of Colyer-Fergusson Hall. The Big Band also launches the annual Summer Music Week, a musical farewell to the University’s academic year, with a trip to the seaside to perform on the Memorial Bandstand at Deal, which involves combining rehearsals and coach-trips with a visit to the promenade chip shop and the roving ice-cream stand. (It’s a hard life…). The band has also headed down the road to perform alongside pupils at St Edmund’s School, and also in Whitefriars in the heart of the city.
Whether it’s epic film soundtracks, 70s funk, classic big band standards or soul ballads: Wednesday evenings certainly sound unlike any other on campus…
If someone asked you where on campus a member of staff from the History department; a dentist; the Head of the Unit for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning; a primary school teacher; a peripatetic string teacher; a Senior Lecturer in Biosciences; a member of the Registry team; and a cross-section of undergraduate and postgraduate students, all led by a second-year reading Law, come together to tackle ambitious projects, you might scratch your head.
And yet, each week, this is exactly what happens when the University Symphony Orchestra comes together in Colyer-Fergusson Hall to rehearse for its termly concert, often meeting head-on the challenge of twentieth-century repertoire or titans of the late Romantic Period. The orchestra comprises students, staff and members of the local community who, each week, sit down and get to grips with works such as Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique or, in the case of the current term, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.6, the Pathetique. And that doesn’t include the works that the orchestra learns to accompany the University Chorus, either…
Such communal music-making offers the opportunity for students (and, it must be said, quite a few staff as well…) to escape the stress of their course commitments, and embark on a shared creative endeavour as they work towards a termly public performance. Each spring term, that performance is unveiled in the sonorous surroundings of the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral, always a highlight of the University’s performing calendar, and which regularly sees alumni making their own musical pilgrimage to the Cathedral to participate, and to relive the heady excitement of standing at the very top of the choral risers to sing, or of navigating the steps to the Crypt in the gloom clutching highly fragile musical instruments at various levels of expense.
The wonder of it all is that everyone gives up their free time to attend weekly evening rehearsals, and, as concerts loom, additional rehearsals and workshops at weekends. No-one is obliged to take part – excepting the Director of Music, who arrives in the concert-hall each Thursday clutching oversize scores, a selection of conductor’s batons and the fierce determination to master that term’s repertoire – and when concerts are in the offing and more rehearsals are taking place, time-management (or, in the case of some of the players, parental child-management) skills are called in to play, as everyone makes time for them on top of their coursework or vocational commitments.
The orchestral repertoire which they have embraced over the years has ranged from epic monsters of the Romantic Period – the Berlioz in 2016 being a memorable example – to energetic orchestral showpieces including the Symphonic Suite from Bernstein’s West Side Story, or Verdi’s Requiem. It’s hard work, particularly at the end of a long working day, especially for those students who have the additional task of commuting from Medway on a Thursday evening as well, where they have been studying Fine Art or Business and Management; and yet the enthusiasm with which the players embrace the works which the Director of Music hurls at them is wondrous to behold.
This year, the Symphony Orchestra will be led – for the first time for the entirety of the Cathedral concert – by Lydia Cheng (picture right), a second-year Music Scholarship student from Canada, who came to Kent for the strength of its Law degree as well as for the extra-curricular music-making opportunities that it offers. Elsewhere in the orchestra, a former member of the National Youth Orchestra sits amongst the woodwind, and a current member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra lurks in the brass section. There’s an international flavour to the orchestral members, too, including players from Malaysia, America and South Africa.
International in its make-up, ambitious in scope, hard-working in ethos and bringing students, staff and local community together from all walks of life – the University Symphony Orchestra really does epitomise all that the University is about.