Category Archives: Notes on Music

The philosophy of music: or the music of philosophy ?

Summer Music Week: Saturday Gala concert

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saturday’s annual Music for a Summer’s Day Gala concert, the crowning event as part of Summer Music Week.

The University Chorus, Orchestra and Chamber Choir each gave a final, valedictory appearance in seasonal, summery music, whilst the members of the Limoncellos filled the foyer before the concert with stirring film tunes and pop music arrangements.

Assistant conductor Hannah Ost rehearsing the Chamber Choir ahead of the concert
The Limoncellos performing in the foyer ahead of the Gala concert

Final-year sopranos Helen Sotillo and Fleur Sumption brought a packed hall to tears with a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the final occasion of their singing with the Music department in what has proved to be a memorable year for both ladies.

The incoming President of the Music Society, second-year Owen Kerry, provided some scene-stealing moments as he deftly wielded name-cards (and at one point a mobile phone for a couple of selfies…) as part of An Illustrated Guide to the History of the Symphony.

And final-year flautist Robert Loveless was handed the baton to conduct the traditional encore which brought the concert to a rousing conclusion.

Following the concert, audience, performers and guests spilled out into the marquee for the annual cream tea, for which the sun shone and blue skies bloomed overhead.

What becomes apparent at the end of the Gala concert is what a wonderful sense of community has been built up during the academic year by everyone involved in extra-curricular music-making at the University. It’s a real tribute to how committed everyone is, and how involved they have become, to see so many of those graduating so moved by the occasion of their final appearance; parents, friends and family all coming along to support throughout the series of events often remark on how much being a part of music at Kent has meant to the students involved throughout their time. There’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie throughout the entire week, as the various ensembles gather for a final musical hurrah before the academic year ends.

Our thanks to everyone who has been a part of the Music department across the year; undergraduate and post-graduate students, staff, members of the community and all the alumni who have returned at various points either to participate or to be part of the audience. To all those who are leaving this year: thanks for all your contribution – hail and farewell!

Summer Music Week: Days Five and Six

The relentless pace of Summer Music Week continues; Wednesday saw a roof-raising gala concert from the University Concert Band and Big Band under the baton of Ian Swatman entertaining a packed house. Prior to the concert, the sax quartet played on the foyer-stage, led by Peter Cook.

Sax appeal: Peter Cook, Megan Daniel, Owen Kerry, David Curtiss

And yesterday saw a celebration of chamber music in A Musical Miscellany, ranging from a fiercely-modern duet for two violins by Prokofiev to the first movement of Borodin’s String Quartet no.2, lively woodwind music by Seiber, a fragile aria by Copland and the String Sinfonia in not-quite-Mozart…

l-r: Owen Kerry, Charlotte Read, Helen Sotillo, Leon Schoonderwoerd
Pianists Will Morgan and Kiyan Agadjani, with diligent page-turning from Jenny Pang
l-r: Florence Nightingale Obote, Zaneta Balesevic, Molly Richetta, Ken Macdonald
Soprano Alice Shires
The String Sinfonia, directed by Flo Peycelon

Plus post-performance selfies, of course…

Summer Music Week continues tonight with the premiere of Between Worlds by composer/violinist Anna Phoebe by the Chamber Choir and String Sinfonia, plus string music by Britten and Pärt.

Summer Music Week: Days One and Two

As temperatures soared and the weather became balmier, Summer Music Week launched over the weekend in the first two events of this year’s annual celebration of the musical year at Kent.

On Friday, the University Chamber Choir and Consort gave an electrifying concert in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, for which they were joined by composer and violinist Anna Phoebe in three evocative movements from Anna’s Between Worlds, an exploration of music and science that receives its full premiere later this week. Second-year student Hannah Ost led the choir in a piece in the first half as part of a wide-ranging programme that received huge applause from a packed crypt audience.

And yesterday, conductor Ian Swatman bravely headed out to the seaside with the University Big Band, to entertain a Sunday crowd at the Memorial Bandstand at Deal, including guest vocal appearances from final-year student Fleur Sumption and first-year Elle Soo. Sea, sunshine and swing – perfect conditions for a perfect day.

Well done to everyone involved; Day Three of Summer Music Week today features the University Rock Choir in action. Find out all that’s going on throughout the week here.

A milestone for the University Cecilian Choir

Congratulations to all the students, staff and alumni who were a part of the University Cecilian Choir‘s service of Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday.

It was the first time the Cecilian Choir has sung at Canterbury Cathedral, and as seasoned choral evensong singers will know, it’s quite a discpline to learn; the pointing and flexibility of psalm-singing, the need for security in delivering the unaccompanied Responses, and the constant having-to-be-on-your-toes throughout the service so you are ready for what comes next, with the right music in the right order, able to pluck the note of your chord from the intoned sentence from the Precentor. Not withstanding the additional challenge of singing in split formation across an extremely wide aisle in the Cathedral Quire, in mixed-voice arrangement without the security of singing amongst others of your voice-part. And all in front of an expectant congregation, fitting your contribution flawlessly into the well-oiled machinery of the Liturgy…

In rehearsal: Cantoris…
…and in rehearsal: Decani

The Choir rose the occasion marvellously, particularly in Stanford’s Canticles in C and Elgar’s Ave Verum Corpus, a heady blend of lyricism and stirring ensemble singing.

It was lovely to welcome back some former members of the Choir and University alumni to take part; thanks too to organist Charles Francis, Organ Scholar and sixth-form pupil at St Edmund’s School, for playing for the service.

We are back at the Cathedral this Friday night, as the University Chamber Choir performs in the sonorous acoustics of the Cathedral Crypt to launch this year’s Summer Music Week...find out all that’s coming up 31 May – 8 June here.

The view of the Cathedral from the University campus

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…

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!

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…