Category Archives: Notes on Music

The philosophy of music: or the music of philosophy ?

Summer Music Week 2021: rehearsals are underway

For the first time since December, we’re able to resume in-person rehearsals once more, as we come together in preparation for this year’s somewhat smaller (but no less welcome!) Summer Music Week.

It’s the first week of term, and at first the Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia have begun rehearsals, as well as some of this year’s Music Scholars in preparation for various recitals.

Photo: Flo Peycelon

Wednesday night saw Concert Band and Big Band back in action:

Photo; Jonathan Stott

And Thursday saw the Symphony Orchestra coming together tutti for the first time since March 2020:

Photo: Ian Swatman


It’s a very welcome return to music-making! Follow the pictorial story through the term over on our Pinterest board here; Summer Music Week is on its way…

Minervan Miniatures: The Four Seasons by women composers

Part of the fun of exploring new repertoire is coming up with creative ideas for programming it; and for the Minervan Miniatures recital series next year, exploring forgotten or neglected piano repertoire by women composers, here’s a foretaste of how that might work – The Four Seasons by Women Composers, a suite of pieces reflecting the changing seasons, all written by women.

Not your usual Vivaldi!


The suite I’ve put together is of music by Marguerite Balutet, Mary Earl, Carrie Williams Krogmann, Tatiana Stankovych and Nannie Louise Wright, ranging from the opening Valzer di Primavera through to Autumn: A Tone Poem and closing with Winter and A Skating Carnival.

See more of the repertoire in the series on our YouTube playlist here.

Minervan Miniatures: piano works by women composers continues

Our project for the next academic year focusing on piano repertoire by women composers has been developing nicely recently; I’ve been at work researching further pieces, and have recorded several as part of highlighting some of the works which will feature.

A series of movements from the charming suite, A Wreath of Melodies Op. 35 by Carrie Williams Krogmann:


The first movement of a Baroque keyboard sonata by Maria Teresa d’Agnesi:


A wonderfully light-footed waltz by Marie de Croze-Magnan with a deliberately emphatic ‘wrong note’ that appears in the second section:


And the evocative Autumn – a Tone Poem by Mary Earl.


Keep an eye on the developing Playlist on our YouTube channel, more pieces coming soon…

New project highlighting piano repertoire by women

A new project for the coming year involves exploring neglected piano repertoire written by women composers, which we’re starting to present in a sequence called Minervan Miniatures. The series of short recordings highlights forgotten gems and unearths overlooked piano pieces, and affords the opportunity to bring women composers into the limelight.

Like a musical cabinet of curiosities, Minervan Miniatures will unfold as a series, and next year will see a series of piano recitals themed around diverse repertoire, performed by Your Loyal Correspondent.

The first three episodes in the series are now online; the first features two preludes by Nannie Louise Wright, combining almost Wagnerian majesty with sonorous textural writing in a series of twelve preludes that demands further exploration:

The second episode presents a trio of tangos, full of flair and vigour, by Maria Ramalho Pires Galvao and Chiquina (Francisca) Gonzaga.

The third piece is the beautifully melancholic Cantico do Pastor by the very, very young Sylvia Regina Portella:

More as the series unfolds; there are some marvellous pieces I’m currently discovering, including a bold statement set of piano preludes that deserves much wider recognition;  I’m looking forward to bringing this repertoire to the concert-hall next year.

Continuities and radical surprise: the absorbing treasury of Magnificat 2

The second volume in the Magnificat series by Andrew Nethsingha and The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge takes a keen look at settings of the Evening Canticles across the years, from 1932 to 2019 from stalwart composers of the canon in Sumsion and Howells to perhaps lesser-known figures including Sydney Watson (who conducted the first performance of Walton’s epic The Twelve) and Giles Swayne, as well as contemporary titans Arvo Pärt and Julian Anderson.

Swayne’s wonderfully dynamic Magnificat I setting revels in repetition, bearing African influences, pitching glowing upper-voices over repeated lower voices, whilst a radiant ‘Amen’ recedes skywards. There is the usual vigorous, robust setting by Walton, a richly celebratory response to the text’s jubilation. Luminous cluster-chords opens Lennox Berkeley’s meditative, contemplative setting, which pushes ahead with a wonderfully expressive flow, in contrast to Swayne’s rhythmically robust response. Pärt’s hushed, timeless incarnation of the text is filled with a reverential awe in its widely-spaced textures and unhurried pace.

The disc finishes with the challenging, bracing setting by Julian Anderson, written for the college’s 150th anniversary in 2019. His Magnificat is vibrant with polyrhythms and a dizzying web of textures; contrasting lyrical, melodic lines unfold over glowing sustained chords in Anderson’s richly colourful tonal language. In contrast is a sedate, darker-hued Nunc Dimittis – which brings the whole disc to a reverentially hushed conclusion.

The introductory essay by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, speaks of “these ancient hymns, so redolent of continuities yet so full of radical surprise,” words true both of the canticles and of this absorbing treasury, impeccably performed by St John’s College Cambridge Choir under the direction of Andrew Nethsingha.

Magnificat 2 is released on 16 April on Signum Classics.


In Conversation: saxophonist Phil Veacock

This week’s episode of our In Conversation series features saxophonist with the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Phil Veacock, in discussion with director of the University Concert and Big Bands, Ian Swatman.

From reflecting on early inspiration playing the recorder and school leading into playing the clarinet, Phil looks back on being inspired to take up the saxophone on seeing 2-Tone bands playing on Top of the Pops; playing with The Larks and turning down a recording contract; illicit vegetable snaffling in east Kent; joining the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, playing on Wogan and Chris Evans’ Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and the ‘Hootenanny’ revels; and, during COVID restrictions, finding alternative work as a delivery driver for the Charlton Bakehouse bakery.

Enjoy this lively and fascinating chat over on our YouTube channel, where the hour-long conversation is divided into chapters covering various aspects of Phil’s reflections.

Zoom For Thought: Radio Lento interview: episode two

This week’s episode of our Zoom For Thought podcast is the second episode featuring an interview with Radio Lento, the weekly podcast presenting ‘sound postcards from beautiful places.’

In the second part of the interview with Hugh, he reflects on listening to the skies over his back garden over lockdown when air traffic had been suspended; the impact of drone technology on environmental sound; the importance of listening in to other worlds; and the idea of structured listening to the environment compared to listening to music.

Listen to the episode on Spotify here.

(You can hear the first episode here.)