The seasonal musical calendar was opened last Friday, as the University Lost Consort brought the ancient undercroft of the Pilgrim’s Hospital in Canterbury alive to the sound of Benjamin Britten.
The audience filled the historic space to bursting for a performance of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, in which the choir was joined by harpist and fourth-year student, Emma Murton, conducted by Dan Harding. First-year alto Ruth Webster captured the mournful air of the dissonant ‘That Yongë Childe,’ whilst third-year soprano, Gabriella Grandi, lulled the listener in ‘Balulalow.’ After the opening plainchant, ‘Hodie Christus natus est,’ had died away, the choir launched into a vibrant ‘Wolcum Yole!’ and moved through the lyrical ‘There is no rose’ through to the fierce ‘This Little Babe;’ the challenging ‘In Freezing Winter Night’ rose and fell in the hushed confines of the packed undercroft, before the evergreen ‘Spring Carol’ and the animated ‘Deo Gracias’ led into the reprise of the plainchant, and the piece dissolved amidst the ancient stone.
Credit to Emma for deftly delivering a tricky harp-part, and to the whole ensemble for a spirited and enthusiastic way in which to begin the Music department’s musical Christmas.
This year, we are very excited to be launching our ensemble-in-residence, the exotically-named CantiaQuorum under the auspices of trumpeter and musician extraordinaire, Alex Caldon. With two concerts looming as part of the launch, I forced the frenetically-busy Alex into a small corner of the Gulbenkian Cafe at the sharp end of a croissant, and asked him about what’s in store…
Tell me about the name!
CantiaQuorum – The ensemble has its roots in Canterbury. I was keen that the tag for our ensemble should reflect the gravitas inspired by the city’s immense historical importance. From the late 2nd Century, Durovernum Cantiacorum was the civitas capital of Kent. The Roman settlement developed around AD43. A twist on the original Roman name for the city brought me to CantiaQuorum.
What’s the idea behind setting up the ensemble?
I have lived in East Kent for 10 years and worked as a professional musician in London throughout. As much as I love the commute (!?) and London (in some ways) I was desperate to show the denizens of Canterbury that, well, most of the wonderful musicians they travel to see in London orchestras, actually live in Kent! I am very proud to say that we have the very best of the capital’s musicians in our Canterbury ensemble. All of our members are orchestral players and soloists of the highest order. But not at the Proms, playing Rule Britannia, or on Saturday night telly backing Strictly hopefuls, but here, in the astonishing concert-hall right next door playing fantastic and fun programmes of great music. And they are yours to get to know and enjoy!
What makes this ensemble distinctive?
CQ has a unique make-up. They are all my friends. That’s essentially it. But, luckily for you I’m terribly choosey. And very lucky.
You’re launching your residency with Walton and Stravinsky, which looks exciting! Why that programme?
When I was 16, and at the Junior department of the Royal Academy of Music, a few friends and I decided to put on a concert! Facade with Posy Walton in fact. This concert, a sell-out at Lauderdale House in Highgate, London was formative in my outlook as a musician. We had a ball basically!..and lots of rehearsals. It’s a seriously tough piece! We were so intent on nailing Facade that it was literally an hour before the concert that we realised we needed another piece for the programme. Dan Bates, another friend of ours was doing a short programme of oboe pieces in the first half but there was definitely something lacking. Backstage with little time to discuss we decided to play an improvised work for the Facade ensemble. Infant became a 3-movement improvised work. We did it. And Facade was greatly appreciated!
As for the Stravinsky. I was lucky enough to play the Soldier’s Tale in a unique production at the Old Vic in 2006. The production was a joint effort between the Old Vic and the National Theatre of Bagdad!? And the text of the piece was presented in both Farsi and English. Hence, lots of rehearsal. And that before the director had decided that the musicians should play the entire work from memory! Totally incredibly. The conductor, Robin O’Neill, was thankfully fantastic, and extremely patient throughout.
It’s a wonderful piece, and I feel extremely qualified to say that. So do come along and be blown away by one of the great composers of all time.
CantiaQuorum bursts into life with a free lunchtime concert on Wednesday 5 November at 1.10pm, with the formal evening concert launching the ensemble on Friday 14 November; more details about both events here.
Excitement courses through the corridors of the Gulbenkian Theatre at the moment, in anticipation of the bOing! festival happening at the end of the month. I tripped down the corridor to talk with the dizzying whirlwind of creativity that is the Director of the Gulbenkian, Liz Moran, to find out what’s in store.
Tell me about the festival.
bOing! is a new international festival for children to share with their families. This year, it’s over a weekend and over the next few years it will grow to be an even bigger event.
Family events lie close to the heart of Gulbenkian programming; why is that ?
I believe there is an imbalance in the quality and investment in work for younger audiences in the UK and I believe that is unfair. Children and young people should be considered as audiences now, not as future audiences with access to inspiring, imaginative work.
There don’t seem to be many other events, particularly locally, quite like it; what’s unique about bOing ?
I think what’s unique about bOing! is that although we are targeting younger audiences, the programme is not all ‘children’s’ work. I think it important children and their parents share seeing amazing artists together, so we have included a range of work and workshops that can be shared and enjoyed by all ages We are also taking bOing! off campus with a fantastic dance piece to be performed in the playground on the sea front in Herne Bay; that will become an important part of bOing! In the future, taking it all over Kent in unexpected places !
Children and young people should be considered as audiences now, not as future audiences, with access to inspiring, imaginative work
What were the challenges of programming the festival ?
A new festival is a challenge in persuading world-class companies to come and present their work. Having companies such as TPO from Italy who are coming with Bleu! is a major coup; they’re in demand all over the world, and that is exactly the kind of inspirational, awe-inspiring work we want to share with our audiences. Money and resources are always an issue; big ambitions often need major investment, but we have been fortunate this year to have secure additional financial support from Arts Council England and Kent County Council.
Family Concert: A Wonderland is an interesting project; tell me more…
A Wonderland is a family concert put together by cellist, singer and producer Matthew Sharp; it forms the centrepiece of the opening day. Everyone who comes to the concert will be invited to stay at the end and learn a new piece of music that they themselves will perform later in the day. The choir is for all ages, not just children, and the idea is to give families the opportunity to sing and perform together in a magical musical wonderland that Matthew is creating.
Is there anything that you are looking forward to especially ?
I can honestly say there is no one thing; all of the companies and artists involved are inspirational
And you’ve made the festival appealing and family-friendly in terms of cost, too.
Yes. Many of the events are free (details here) but I would urge people to book now for the paid events which have been priced very low, between £4 and £5 for the festival; it’s a unique opportunity to see international work such as Bleu! and award-winning Paperbelle, but please book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment on the day!
Thanks to Liz for her time. bOing! takes place Saturday 30th – Sunday 31st August; more information about the festival here, and see full listings here.
The annual Sounds New Festival of Contemporary Music will blossom around Canterbury towards the end of next week, and we’re very excited to be a partner in this year’s festival as it brings two vibrant headline concerts to the Colyer-Fergusson Building.
The boundary-trashing Icebreaker Ensemble will be here on Saturday 3 May in a performance of Brian Eno’s Apollo for all Mankind, as well as the première of composer Ed Bennett’s Suspect Device and music by Julia Wolfe.
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The Brodsky Quartet will be here on Thursday 8 May with a celebration of the music of prog-rock legend Robert Wyatt; the former Soft Machine founder’s music will be realised in a blend of strings, improvisation and live electronics, including singer Elaine Mitchener and Matt Wright.
The festival also features the Sounds New Poetry strand, with members of the University Centre for Modern Poetry in site-specific residencies in the city. Find out more about all the events happening at Sounds New online here.
The written and spoken word is celebrated next week, as Canterbury comes alive to the Wise Words festival.
Back for a second year, running from Thursday 12 – Sunday 15 September, the festival sees poets such as Sir Andrew Motion reading from his new collection, The Customs House; the Bard of Barnsley and presenter of Radio 3’s The Verb, Ian McMillan, will be here next Friday, in collaboration with composer Luke Carver Goss.
Three of the University of Kent’s poets from the School of Creative Writing will also be participating; award-winning poet Nancy Gaffield will be leading a workshop on poetry and the journey, in the wake of her prize-winning collection Tokaido Road, and Dorothy Lehane and Patricia Debney will also be featuring in the festival.
Canterbury Laureate Dan Simpson will be presenting a crowd-sourced poem celebrating the city, and there’s also an array of events for families and children, many of which are free to attend. Poets and story-tellers will be popping up in surprising locations around Canterbury, including in a yurt in the Franciscan Gardens; or take a punt on the river to explore myths, legends and fairy-tales in the company of Emily Parrish. Join poet John Siddiquefree each morning at Browns Coffeehouse for his daily journal-writing session; the Three Cities Garden will be full of mystery, wonder and story-telling; or re-discover the lost art of exploration with explorer, navigator and broadcaster Tristan Gooley.
Find out more about next week online here; promising to be a festival that “re-awakens wonder and encourages curiosity,” you won’t be disappointed.
The wonderfully eclectic mix of music, drama, dance, art, comedy, lectures and more that is the Canterbury Festival swings into acton this Saturday, offering two weeks of artistic celebration at the heart of the city and beyond.
Highlights of this year’s festival include:
Local star of the international piano world, Freddy Kempf, will be performing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which (in my humble opinion) is an even greater work than its more celebrated cousin, the second piano concerto; accompanied by the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, the concert at the Marlowe Theatre opens this year’s festival this Saturday.
Contemporary music-lovers can look forward to the world première of When The Flame Dies by Ed Hughes at St Augustine Hall on Wednesday 17 October, in association with Sounds New.
Soloists from the Philharmonia bring Stravinsky’s spirited The Soldier’s Tale to St Gregory’s Centre on Sunday 21st October.
The legendary Van Morrison will be at the Marlowe on two nights, Tuesday 23rd / Wednesday 24th.
Stand-up comedy from Jo Caulfield, Sean Hughes and Mark Thomas will fill the Gulbenkian Theatre with laughter on various dates, whilst Marcus Brigstocke visits Shirley Hall at the King’s School.
Family events include the opening Festival Parade through the city streets this Saturday including carnival bands and a Chinese Dragon, and several family shows at the Gulbenkian each weekend.
Canterbury’s annual feast of contemporary music, Sounds New, kicks off on Friday 4 May. ’Theme GB’ is ‘a celebration of everything British in music,’ and includes a profusion of events, ranging from cutting-edge commissions to poetry workshops (the latter including members of the University of Kent’s Creative Writing Department), all unfolding across the festival which runs until 15 May.
Find out more about the festival on its website here, and explore some of the composers and works coming this season with audio and video examples on the blog here; or browse this season’s brochure below.
The whole of the Creation process, from the gradual emergence out of Chaos through first Light to Man and Woman, will take place in Canterbury Cathedral tomorrow in considerably less time than the original Seven Days the Lord took.
The University Chorus, Orchestra and soloists will render the whole series of events for you at one sitting (well, two, if you count the Interval) on Saturday at 7.30pm in the Nave.
Tickets and details here: think of us all early tomorrow morning, as the logistical process gets underway at 9am as we move instruments and stands down into Canterbury in preparation for the morning rehearsal…
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.