Category Archives: Now Hear This!

Music you should hear at least once…

Kent-Calais Connections: exploring a musical entente cordiale

During last week’s heatwave, the Music department found itself walking the streets of Calais, exploring various cultural venues throughout the city as part of a planned collaborative partnership in the forthcoming academic year.

From its humble beginning as a fishermen’s village, recorded as early as the eighth century, Calais rose to become the Gateway to France. The cities of Calais and Canterbury are united by the former’s history as a trading-port with England, with Calais having been a part of the diocese of Canterbury following the seizure of the throne of France by Edward III in 1347. The damage suffered by Calais during the Second World War laid the way for major rebuilding projects, leading to the creation of several striking venues and a city endowed with exciting creative spaces. The shared history between Kent and Calais is something which the Music department and the Calais city council will be looking to explore and celebrate.

Following an approach earlier this year from the city council about a shared endeavour, we found ourselves boarding the Eurotunnel early on Wednesday morning, travelling to meet the representatives from Calais at the historic L’Église Notre-Dame de Calais, the first stop on our tour of the plethora of cultural venues threaded throughout the city.

After the city was retaken by the French from the English in 1558,  L’Église Notre-Dame became its most important church. A majestic altar-piece of marble and alabaster presides over a large church currently undergoing restoration, which began in 2009 and which are bringing the vanished magnificence to life once more. Once a year, the church is filled with over 4,000 candles for the Festival of Light, which attracts visitors from all over France.

Our next stop was La Halle, a flexible space on the Place d’Armes which can open its striking concertina-door, which occupies one entire side of the covered hall,  onto the plaza. The space hosts outdoor and indoor performances as well as festivals throughout the year.

Next on our cultural odyssey was the Museum of Lace and Fashion, housed inside an original lace factory from the nineteenth century, with vast echoing galleries and an auditorium.

The Forum Gambetta is a bright, modern venue that would be ideal for a bustling big band set; its jazz atmosphere has seen its stage graced by legendary French jazz violinist Didier Lockwood.

The next venue was, fittingly, L’Ecole Nationale de Musique de Calais, of which Lockwood is a former student commemorated in the Studio Didier Lockwood.

Our steps then led us to the Musee des Beaux-Arts, which houses artwork from the sixteenth century to the present day.

The tour came to a magnificent conclusion at the city’s town hall, built in 1885 but harking back to the sixteenth century. The gardens adorning the museum’s grounds include one of the fourteen bronze casts throughout the world of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais from 1889, and commissioned to commemorate the six residents who were prepared to sacrifice themselves to save the city during the Hundred Years War.

The town hall itself includes beautiful rooms, a wonderful Grand Salon just crying out for a string orchestra to perform the music of Lully, imperious marbled corridors, and a belfry 75 metres high which affords panoramic views across the city; across the Channel, we could see the cliffs of Dover looking towards the bustling port.

With such rich history rubbing shoulders with modern venues, artistic exhibitions, festivals and all within walking distance of each other, Calais offers fertile ground for some exciting artistic collaborations – we’re looking forward to building and developing ideas in the new academic year.


Mille remerciements to Philippe and the team from Calais City Council for making us so welcome, and for sharing the city’s vibrant artistic possibilities with us – we are looking forward to taking the first steps in a musical entente cordiale celebrating both sides of La Manche!

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.

Sanford Sylvan: a legend

Sad to hear of the passing of the great American baritone, Sanford Sylvan, who has died at the age of 65.

I grew up listening to his recording of John Adams’ moving The Wound-Dresser, a meditative reflection on the First World War based on Walt Whitman’s recollections of serving as a hospital volunteer, in which Sylvan is a commanding presence, yet also an intimate one; the recording was nominated for a Grammy.

Sylvan also created the role of Chou En-lai in Adams’ opera, Nixon in China; there is a wonderful moment in the final act, where Sylvan’s elegant craft at the phrase ‘The taste is still in my mouth’ as Chou En-lai and Pat Nixon recall the taste of apricots, which is a joy to year.

I had the great fortune to hear Sylvan live in 2002, in a concert performance of Adams’ controversial opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, in an electrifying delivery of the title role. His warm, communicative and expressive singing will be sorely missed.

A legend.

A carol for Epiphany: the University Chamber Choir

Just in time for Epiphany, a film of the University Chamber Choir performing Star of the East by composer Russell Hepplewhite; the Choir sang the piece live on BBC Radio 4 last month, here’s the complete piece in a recording in made in Colyer-Fergusson Hall.

With grateful thanks to the composer and to Banks Music Publishing for permission to make the recording.

Commemmorating the 150th anniversary of Amy Beach

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the American composer, concert-pianist and educator, Amy Beach. She achieved widespread recognition not only for her compositions but also for her career as a concert-pianist, performing in both America and Europe. Known as the ‘Dean of American Composers’ after the premiere of her Gaelic Symphony in 1896, she became a major figure representing women working in the arts at a time when – as still – it was dominated by men, and establishing an identity for herself was a struggle. On concert-stages throughout Europe, she flourished as a performer of both her own works as well as the usual bastions of piano repertoire. Her legacy includes a wealth of choral and orchestral music, songs, a piano concerto (written to demonstrate her own capabilities) and chamber music.

To celebrate her anniversary, here are two pieces from her delightful Children’s Album, Op.36 – a collection which displays her lyrical creativity, a boisterous sense of fun matched with a highly expressive harmonic ear, and also, in the ‘Waltz,’ a wonderful melodic sense tinged ever so slightly with a hint of melancholy. Both pieces are played in the concert-hall by Your Loyal Correspondent.

Amy Beach: Waltz

Amy Beach: March

And here is the charming Columbine from her Op.25 set, Children’s Carnival.

Echoes and waves: #Reverberate exhibition at the Dockyard in May

Have you ever seen someone dance to Funkin’ for Jamaica in a library ? Well, now you can…

Bringing the disco vibe to unexpected public spaces is the work of Yasmeena Goosani, one of the students taking part in Reverberate, the end-of-year exhibition Fine Art Degree Show given by students in the School of Music and Fine Art at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, which also includes work by third-year Music Scholar and clarinettist, Megan Boyle. The exhibition opens in May, and promises an exploration of society, culture and interaction with space, as well as an inflatable banana, some broken meringues and a fridge.

Intrigued ? Find out more on the exhibition’s website here, or catch up on their Facebook Page here. It all starts in a few weeks’ time…

Cecilian Choir featured on BBC Radio 3

The University Cecilian Choir, together with the String Sinfonia, was featured on BBC Radio 3’s The Choir on Easter Sunday.

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Image credit: Matt Wilson

The weekly programme dedicated to all things choral has a regular feature, ‘Meet My Choir,’ and last Sunday, Dr Michael Hughes – lecturer in linguistics in the School of English and a member of the Cecilian Choir – introduced the Choir, its ethos and its place within the University community. The musicians can be heard during the episode performing Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir.

The feature is permanently on the Radio 3 website here: click here to listen.

Bach solo Partita in D minor: Alina Ibragimova at the 2015 Proms

This was quite extraordinary; transcending time and space, intimate music speaking on a global scale, part of a complete survey of the Bach solo Partitas over the course of two concerts at this year’s BBC Proms. Lithe, effortless music, played with breath-taking skill, total commitment and a profound connection to the piece by Alina Ibragimova, Bach draws the outline of humanity in filigree violin arabesques; reaching beyond the intimate nature of the solo instrument to touch every listener.

I shamelessly admit to weeping openly during the performance of the D minor Partita when it was broadcast on BBC4 recently; be careful, you might too…