Category Archives: Notes on Music

The philosophy of music: or the music of philosophy ?

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…

Image round-up: Minerva Voices and the String Sinfonia

It’s been an action-packed musical week this week, with several events unfolding across three days.

Composer Russell Hepplewhite came to Colyer-Fergusson on Wednesday to hear Minerva Voices, the University’s upper-voice chamber choir, perform his recent work, Fly away over the sea, as part of the choir’s lunchtime concert. Members of the String Sinfonia joined the choir for a programme which includes music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Ola Gjeilo, alongside plainsong and an American spiritual

Russell Hepplewhite (centre) with Minerva Voices at the Lunchtime Concert

Minerva Voices, conducted by Dan Harding, in rehearsal that morning

Yesterday, the string were in action once again as the String Sinfonia performed a tea-time concert of serenades, including works by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Britten’s Simple Symphony.

The action continues tonight, as the University Chamber Choir performs a meditative service by candlelight at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill, called Breathing Space, an hour-long event combining music and silence that creates a space for tranquility and reflection. The event starts at 7.30pm and is free, and draws the week to a close in an oasis of calm.

Which will last until next Friday’s annual roof-raising gala concert with the University Concert and Big Bands…

Worn and Weathered: new exhibition comes to Colyer-Fergusson Gallery in March

Music and art come together throughout the month of March, as the Kent-based collective of artists, Earthbound Women, presents a new exhibition in Colyer-Fergusson Gallery. Worn and Weathered will feature landscape in the extreme eroded by centuries of wind and relentless rain and the pounding of the sea.

Earthbound Women are united by a passion for clay, earth, form and landscape. Exhibiting together regularly, they record their dreams, annotations, observations, aspirations and their life in Kent. The exhibition features work by ceramicists Barbara Colla  and Clare Curtis, painter Julie Frampton, painter and printmaker Ruth McDonald, and printmaker Kristiina Sandoe.

Coastal Strata: Ruth McDonald
Russell Hepplewhite

The exhibition reflects the Lunchtime Concert which will be given by Minerva Voices, the University’s female-voice chamber choir, and ensemble on 13th March, and links particularly to the idea of exploring landscapes, in Tundra, an evocative piece by Ola Gjeilo reflecting part of his native Norway, and Fly away, fly away over the sea, a recent setting of a words by Christina Rossetti by the exciting British composer Russell Hepplewhite, who will be in attendance. The programme also includes music by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. Both the concert and the exhibition explore concepts of the natural landscape, and also celebrate women in the arts, as musicians, writers, composers and artists.

Painting by Julie Frampton

Earthbound Women’s Worn and Weathered will be on display in Colyer-Fergusson Gallery from  Saturday 2 to Saturday 30 March during normal working hours; admission is free, and there is disabled access. The Lunchtime Concert by Minerva Voices and Ensemble is on Wednesday 13 March at 1,10pm in Colyer-Fergusson Hall; admission free, suggested donation £3, more details online here.

Chamber Choir sings Choral Evensong

Many thanks and congratulations to the members of the University Chamber Choir on delivering a fine Choral Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday.

The University Chamber Choir preparing to process into Choral Evensong

The students travelled down the hill to participate in the centuries-old tradition of evensong, with a colourful set of Responses written by David Truslove, and the evocative anthem Blest are the Pure in Heart by composer James Webb, both of which rang beautifully in the lofty roof of the Quire.

Composer James Webb and daughter (centre) with the University Chamber Choir in the Quire of Canterbury Cathedral

And thank you to James, who had travelled down to Canterbury especially to hear the Choir perform his piece. It was a lovely opportunity for the students to participate in the daily life of the Cathedral and experience the nature of the service of Evensong.

We return to the Cathedral for the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in the Nave on Saturday 30 March, and the University Cecilian Choir will be singing Choral Evensong on Tuesday 28 May.

 

Chineke! Junior Orchestra at the Southbank Centre: Melody’s view

Over the weekend, third-year Music Performance Scholar and violinist, Melody Brooks, took part in the Chineke! Junior Orchestra’s events as part of the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre; this is her story…


This weekend, I had the pleasure of playing with the Chineke! Junior Orchestra as part of the annual Imagine Children’s Festival that takes place in the Southbank Centre. Children of all ages gathered (with their parents) to take part in a number of workshops with us and then watch our concert.

Each workshop was led by a different person. The first two were led by dancers, who focused on the first and last movements of the Othello Suite by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. They taught the children dances to to fit the pieces, and then the orchestra surprised them by entering through the audience and performing the pieces live. After an initial play-through, the children and orchestra performed the piece together, in front of all their parents and peers. The final workshop, led by a viola player in the Chineke! senior orchestra, was a singing workshop. This focused on the ‘Children’s Song’ in the Othello Suite. She taught them a song based on the main melody of the piece, and again, the children were able to perform it live with the orchestra. The audience truly enjoyed exploring the movements of this recently resurrected suite.

The concert started at around 3:20pm. Conducted by the brilliant Stephanie Childress, we performed the St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst, the first movement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, and four of the five movements of the Othello Suite. We were truly inspired by our conductor, who brought clarity and excellence to our interpretation of the pieces. A former BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist, she was the epitome of musical excellence. The atmosphere was truly electrifying. The children were enthralled by all the lively movements, whilst their parents were moved by the slow ones. Everyone was in awe of the two young female soloists in the Bach concerto. They carried themselves with grace and poise, and perfectly embodied the essence of Bach. I was especially proud of Inez and Shona, especially as I had met and played with Shona as a budding violinist 10 years ago. All in all, it was a beautiful concert, especially considering that we only had two-and-a-half days to prepare!

Finally, the concert ended with a bedtime story told by the founder of Chineke!, the formidable Chi Chi Nwanoku, OBE. She told the children how music had always been a massive part of her life, and how she started playing the double bass after a knee injury took her out of the running for the Olympics. As she revealed her motivations for founding Chineke! – and more specifically the Chineke! Juniors – the orchestra accompanied her with the harrowing ‘Willow Song’ of the Othello Suite. It was truly moving.

All in all, it was a beautiful weekend experience. I had fun learning the new, enthralling music by Coleridge-Taylor and playing St Paul’s Suite (which has a special place in my heart!). I was able to meet new musicians, including several LPO Junior Artists (the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s initiative in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music) and future Royal College of Music attendees. It was an honour to play with such talented and dedicated BME youth, and I look forward to seeing what the orchestra does in the future. Be sure to check them out!

‘Remember me…’

Rehearsals are well underway for the performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by the University Cecilian Choir, String Sinfonia and soloists in two weeks’ time; here are some shots from recent rehearsals, including Music Scholar, soprano Helen Sotillo, rehearsing Dido’s heart-breaking lament, the Cecilian Choir as palace courtiers in Act I, and some of the String Sinfonia rehearsing Act II.

The tragic story of the doomed love of the Queen of Carthage for the Trojan prince unfurls in Colyer-Fergusson Hall on Friday 1 February at 7pm; more details online here.

Burns unit: first-year Scholar pipes us home

Congratulations and thanks to first-year Music Scholar, Eloise Jack, who piped us home on Friday evening in honour of Burns Night.

Jack of all trades…

Dressed in her Day Uniform, Eloise – who is in her first year studying Biochemistry – patrolled the piazza outside Gulbenkian as people headed home at the end of the day, sending a selection of traditional Scottish tunes skirling into the evening air.

Cellular Dynamics goes to Hong Kong

The ever-developing Cellular Dynamics project, where science meets music, takes on an international aspect this weekend, with a performance as part of #SPARKhk2019 in China.

A Festival of Ideas run by the British Council in Hong Kong which takes place from 18-20 January, the weekend includes an incarnation of Cellular Dynamics at Tai Kwun, at the venue pictured here earlier today by Professor Dan Lloyd from the School of Biosciences.

Read the Festival programme online here, and follow Cellular Dynamics on Twitter here.