From the infinite mystery of the opening bars to the dramatically hushed close, Saturday’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem by the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra for this year’s Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert was full of high drama.
Standing in as a last-minute replacement for the billed soprano soloist, Rachel Nicholls took time out from her current ENO run of Die Meistersingers to step up alongside mezzo Carolyn Dobbins, tenor Gerard Schneider and bass Simon Thorpe, and together all four singers delivered Verdi’s demanding solo parts with consummate skill. Under the baton of Susan Wanless, the Chorus and Orchestra both rose to the occasion superbly. From the off-stage trumpets ranged high above in the organ-loft to the bass-drum positioned down the side-aisle, the combined forces filled the majestic Cathedral with Verdi’s profound meditation on death and redemption, rich in operatic detail crammed into oratorio form.
It’s a long day that starts at 9am with the heroic crew who pitched up on campus to load two vans with all the equipment to take down to the Cathedral, and ends with that same equipment delivered back to campus at 10.30pm, with rehearsal and performance in between. It was lovely to see many alumni come back to sing in the Chorus, with the concert a major highlight of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations throughout this year.
(Much excitement was caused by the arrival of the 66-inch bass drum from Bell Percussion, which was mobbed by many people eager to be photographed with the monster-drum, you’d have thought it was a Hollywood Celebrity…)
Very many thanks to everyone involved; a triumphant conclusion to all the hard work put it by students, staff, alumni and members of the local community, who came together in the splendour of Canterbury Cathedral for a memorable performance.
A big week this week, as we continue our preparations ahead of the annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert on Saturday, for which the combined might of the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra will come together in Verdi’s Requiem.
Here’s the Chorus in fine form yesterday afternoon, rehearsing old-skool style in Grimond, where for many years the Chorus used to meet each Monday night. Although we don’t recall its ever having been quite so green before…
Yesterday’s all-day rehearsal is followed by rehearsals tonight, Thursday and on Saturday morning. It all culminates on Saturday evening; how much tremor there shall be…
Next Saturday sees the annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert, in which the University Chorus and Orchestra will come together to commemorate the start of the First World War in music by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bach and Fauré.
This Sunday is our all-day rehearsal in the hall, a first combined run-through; then it’s Monday – Thursday – Friday – Saturday over the course of next week, and then Sunday for everyone to recover…
The concert on the 15 March features Elgar’s Spirit of England, for which we’ll be joined by soprano Sally Silver, Fauré’s Cantique de Jean-Racine, Elgar’s arrangement of Bach’s Fantasia in C minor, and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no.3.
Looking forward to Sunday’s Greater Coming Together; Ladies and Gentlemen of the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, we’ll see you there!
A dizzying profusion of events is unleashed over the coming months, as you can now see from our online events calendar.
The free Lunchtime Concert series includes a visit from British saxophonist Martin Speake, who brings his trio as part of his current UK tour, and from acclaimed sitar-player, Jonathan Mayer. There’s the annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert with the University Chorus and Orchestra, this year commemorating the First World War with music by Elgar and Vaughan Williams, and the Chamber Choir returns to the Cathedral Crypt to sing a programme including Palestrina, Brahms, Whitacre and Paul Patterson.
Conductor Ian Swatman leads the Concert and Big Bands at the end of February in Ravel and Earth, Wind and Fire, and later teams up with the Big Band from St Edmund’s School in a charity gig in aid of the Pilgrim’s Hospice. There’s music down the hill, too, as the Lost Consort explores the music of Hildegard von Bingen in the Roman Undercroft of St Thomas’ Hospital, and the Chamber & Cecilian Choirs at St Peter’s Methodist with music by Hassler, Maskats and Chilcott.
Visitors to the concert-hall include Rachel Podger, who brings a recital of works for solo baroque violin, and later in May there’s a recital from pianist Malcolm Binns.
Plenty to enjoy over the coming months; see the calendar online here, or download the brochure (PDF) here. Meanwhile, the Lunchtime Concert series begins on Weds February 12 with music for two-pianos and four-hands by Poulenc, Ravel and Gavin Bryars with pianists Matthew King and your loyal correspondent, who is now off to practice…
Masters student and violinist Jon-Mark Grussenmeyer reviews the recent Cathedral concert.
After rehearsing with Sue into the late hours of countless Thursdays, performance day was finally upon us. It promised to be a busy day, not least because my family had flown in from New Jersey to watch the concert.
My father kindly offered to drive me from my flat to the pre-concert rehearsal, at which we were supposed to arrive by 10:45. He promptly made a wrong turn at one of the roundabouts, though thankfully he was, at least, still driving on the wrong—I mean left—side of the road. By the time we pulled into town, I was nearly late. Knowing the English fondness for punctuality, and fearing being skewed by Sue’s angry baton, I sprinted into the Cathedral only to find that half of the orchestra had yet to arrive!
As a postgraduate student of Mediaeval Studies, I am often in the Cathedral, usually examining tombs and other objects related to long-dead people, but filling such a building with beautiful music was completely new to me. To sit and play in the vast nave, the gothic vaulting soaring far above our heads, sunlight piercing the leaded windows in dusty golden shafts, was, for me, an unforgettable experience.
After practicing for a while, we were allowed a brief respite, during which my stand partner and I rushed to purchase the coffee and muffins that would keep us alive for the rest of the afternoon. Of course, as we ate, poor Miriam was then subjected to a mini-lecture on the finer points of the Great Cloister’s architecture, which was only halted when we heard the rest of the orchestra tuning inside.
The second half of the rehearsal went quite well for the orchestra. Several times, the combination of such beautiful harmonies and stunning setting was so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes. Then, the beautiful shafts of sunlight began to shift until they shone directly in my face whenever I attempted to look up at Sue, so teary eyes necessarily remained an integral part of the rehearsal.
Rehearsal at an end, I ate a late lunch and wandered around town with my family. As evening wore on, we repaired back to my parents’ room in the Falstaff Hotel, where I changed into my dinner jacket and then walked back to the Cathedral, violin in hand. The only mishap en route was a ‘gentleman’ who attempted to lay hands on my dinner jacket whilst babbling something unintelligible, though I rid myself of him with a fierce look and a few well-chosen words.
We set up our instruments in the shadowy Cathedral Crypt, one of my favourite places in all of Canterbury, and waited for the concert to begin. As 7:30 rolled around, the chorus marched out to take their places on the enormous risers that seemed to reach as high as the quire’s rood screen, and we took our seats and tuned our instruments. I was stunned by the number of people filling the Nave, including the Lord Mayor, who was sitting across from me in the front row with his impressive chain of office. We certainly ought to have chains of office in the States. Finally, Sue, Jeremy, and the soloists emerged to thunderous applause, and the concert took off in the whirlwind of Haydn’s interpretation of Chaos. I am glad that I had time to appreciate my surroundings whilst playing during the rehearsal, for I had little time to notice anything but the notes, the baton, and Jeremy’s bow as I shifted into my intense concert mode. As I am on the front edge of the orchestra, I found it amply necessary to concentrate; in the complete view of the audience, I have to at least appear to know what I’m doing.
As with any performance I have ever completed, orchestral or theatrical, the concert seemed to fly by at breakneck speed, and suddenly, after weeks and weeks of tiring rehearsals, the orchestra and chorus were belting out the last magnificent strains of the Creation. As the echoes of our final chord lingered among the high-flung columns and the audience filled the nave with applause, I gazed up at that splendid Cathedral and at my fellow musicians, trying to etch the moment into my memory. Though I shall take many amazing memories back with me to New Jersey when my time here is over, the memory of this concert numbers among the very best.
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.