As part of the continuing ten-year anniversary of Colyer-Fergusson, the Music department continues to explore new musical frontiers in commissioning a piece from composer Russell Hepplewhite; an innovative take on the Magnificat, written for the University Cecilian Choir and string orchestra.
Bringing the Song of Mary together with new poetry by Nancy Gaffield, Emeritus Professor in the School of Creative Writing, the choir has been working on the piece in rehearsals, and we were delighted to welcome the composer to the concert-hall this week as the choir worked together with Russell.
It’s always a nervous experience to rehearse a piece with the composer present, but there was a tremendous rapport between the choir of students and staff and Russell, as the group continued to develop the piece with direct Composer Input. Heroically, Russell volunteered to be the repetiteur for the rehearsal, and choir, composer and poet spent a lively session bringing the piece to life.
Before the rehearsal, Russell and Your Loyal Correspondent filmed a conversation about the commission, about the process of writing a piece that combines a well-known sacred text with contemporary poetry, and techniques of writing for voices and strings – the interview will appear soon!
Pictured are Russell and Nancy with the Cecilian Choir; the piece receives its premiere performance in Colyer-Fergusson on Friday 31 March; tickets here.
The University Cecilian Choir has been hard at work rehearsing a brand-new setting of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which the Music department commissioned as part of its year-long anniversary celebrations of the Colyer-Fergusson Building’s ten years. Last night, the Choir was delighted to welcome poet Nancy Gaffield to the rehearsal; Nancy has written four new poems which are interspersed with the text of the Magnificat, with music written by Russell Hepplewhite for mixed choir and string orchestra.
The new piece is an exciting blend of high energy, driving rhythms, lyrical melody and sumptuous harmonic colours, particularly in the sections setting Nancy’s poetry; each of the four poems is written in response to a famous piece of art representing stages in the life of Christ, including Michelangelo’s The Birth of Adam, Ghirandaio’s The Visitation, and Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ. Here, the music revels in the same richly-colourful textures as each of the paintings; last night was an opportunity for Nancy to talk with the choir about her poems, the relationship to the paintings, and to hear some of the piece coming to life in rehearsal.
The first performance takes place in Colyer-Fergusson Hall on Friday 31 March, with a second performance on Friday 9 June as part of this year’s Summer Music Week; details and tickets for the premiere performance online here. It should be quite something…
As part of the anniversary celebrations to mark the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Colyer-Fergusson Building on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus, we’re delighted to have commissioned a new piece by the composer Russell Hepplewhite.
The piece, written for mixed-voice choir and string orchestra, is a setting of the Magnificat interspersed with four new poems written by Nancy Gaffield in the School of Creative Writing. Each poem, inspired by an historic painting, responds to the canticle, the ‘Song of Mary,’ in which Mary rejoices that she will give birth to the Christ-child and the positive changes which will be wrought in the world.
Recently named one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential People in London, Russell Hepplewhite has won critical acclaim for his ground-breaking operas for children including Shackleton’s Cat, Silver Electra and Laika the Spacedog, written for English Touring Opera. His music appears on CD releases for labels including Regent Records and has been featured on BBC Television and Radio, as well as being performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall, the Wigmore Hall, the Library Theatre Luton, the Purcell Room and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Most recently, his collaboration with the poet Michael Rosen, a set of children’s songs entitled Everything, is included in the Friday Afternoons song bank project, inspired by Britten’s song-cycle of the same name.
Nancy Gaffield is Reader Emeritus in Creative Writing at the University of Kent and an award-winning poet with six poetry publications. Her first collection of poetry, Tokaido Road (CB editions 2011) was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize and was awarded the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize that year. Other poetry publications include Continental Drift (Shearsman 2014), Meridian (Longbarrow 2019) and Wealden (Longbarrow 2021), which is a collaboration with the musical group The Drift. She was commissioned to write a libretto for the opera, Tokaido Road: A Journey after Hiroshige, composed by Nicola LeFanu. It premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2014 and subsequently toured nationally. She regularly gives workshops, lectures and readings, including festival appearances such as the Aldeburgh and Ledbury Poetry Festivals, the Canterbury Festival, and the Words and Music Festival, Rolvenden, Kent.
Russell’s music is richly colourful, highly expressive and also immediately accessible, and it’s very exciting to have commissioned a brand new work to mark the opening of Colyer-Fergusson, the building which forms the centrepiece for extra-curricular music at Kent. By bringing Russell’s translucent musical language together with Nancy’s brilliantly evocative poetry, it will be a fantastic opportunity for students and staff at the University to give the premiere as part of the year-long anniversary celebrations, and a unique take on a traditional moment in the liturgy.
The new setting will be premiered in Colyer-Fergusson Hall by the University of Kent Cecilian Choir and String Sinfonia on Friday 31 March 2023, with a further performance later in June as part of the department’s summer music festival.
Students, staff and alumni of the University sang at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday, taking part in the centuries-old tradition of Choral Evensong in the heart of the city as the University Cecilian Choir; as well as welcoming an in-person congregation, the event was also livestreamed.
Congratulations to everyone who took part, including visiting organist, John Wyatt, who played for the service, and to the Cathedral for welcoming the Choir. It’s a wonderful opportunity to sing in that richly-resonant acoustic as part of a lineage of worship across the centuries, and the performers enjoyed the service immensely.
The service remains online to watch on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel below.
The University Cecilian Choir is preparing to take part in the centuries-old tradition of Choral Evensong next month, when it will sing the service at Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 15 February at 5.30pm.
Comprising students, staff and alumni, the choir will also be welcoming back a handful of former students from near and far to sing; as well as an in-person congregation, the service will also be livestreamed on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel for those who would like to watch online.
Amongst the repertoire will be the lovely anthem, Peace I Leave With You, by the American composer, Amy Beach. Join the Choir live or online in a few weeks’ time, as they sing evensong at the heart of the cathedral city in what promises to be a lovely occasion with singers past and present.
After so long without them, it’s genuinely exciting to be back with musical events as the Christmas season starts to unfold.
The Cecilian Choir, comprising students, staff and alumni launched the Advent season with a sequence of plainsong and carols at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill, a meditative candlelit event interspersed with periods of silent reflection; there was a wonderfully atmospheric moment during one such moment, when the church clock struck on the hour at eight o’clock.
This year’s Chamber Choir, Minerva Voices, returned to the Cathedral on Monday 6 December, for the first time since December 2019, to sing for the University Carol Service; always a special event in the university calendar, drawing its community together in a modified, COVID-safe manner that was nonetheless a very welcome opportunity to come together at this time of the year. Congratulations to final-year Psychology student and Music Award Holder, Felicity Bourdillon (above, fifth from the right), whose solo verse to open ‘Once in royal David’s city’ lifted clear into the Cathedral Nave at the start of the service.
And last night, members of the String Sinfonia were in action in a fearless concert showcasing the versatility of music for string orchestra, including Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and some light-footed folksong arrangements by John Rutter.
We’ve still a week of events to go before the term ends; but it’s great to be back.
Erasmus-student, cellist and singer, Laura Osswald, looks back on her time as part of extra-curricular music-making, and how she continues to be involved all the way from her home Germany during lockdown.
More than two months have passed since I have left the University of Kent. But the connection with the Music Department is still strong and will continue to be.
Looking back on my Erasmus semester in Canterbury, music and the amazing people I got to know through it were a huge part of what turned this time into a great, enriching experience. Music allowed me to develop friendships not just based on the common fate of going to the same lecture or living in the same flat, but based on the shared passion of making music, especially making music together with others.
Within the music department, I never felt like a stranger – instead, going into the Colyer-Fergusson building more and more felt like coming home.
Being part of the Symphony Orchestra, the Cecilian Choir and the String Sinfonia and several small groups, I was very involved in the Music Department from the start. In my blogpost from November, I could only look back on the first concerts, but many more have followed. Christmas time had started wonderfully with the Advent Breathing Space with the Cecilian Choir in the medieval St Michael’s Church in Hernhill. My first term then ended with the fantastic concert with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. 2020 continued to be full of various musical activities. For Alice in Wonderland, I got the chance of not only singing in a choir, but also dancing as a playing-card which I enjoyed very much!
With the amazing University Camerata, we had a nice family concert of Peter and the Wolf where I was leading the cello section – so exciting and a great experience! I also continued to make chamber music: I joined a string quartet that performed at the Law Ball and a piano trio. With the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia, we worked hard on our repertoire for the concerts in the end of March and I loved our rehearsals – but unfortunately, Covid-19 came in the way. Particularly the cancellation of the Cathedral Concert was very sad for me as it would have offered the unique opportunity to play in the impressive Canterbury Cathedral – I even would have had a small solo in Duruflé’s Requiem. It would have been a great finale for my musical time in Kent.
But then, we found an alternative ending: a Facebook livestream concert with a piano quintet playing the beautiful music of Ólafur Arnalds. This was actually a dream of mine coming true, since I have loved his music for years and always wanted to play it myself – and now I could, together with four amazing musicians. I am very thankful that this happened, giving me a perfect ending to my Erasmus semester and bringing a bit of calm and peace into a troubled world.
When I think of all the music-making and concerts I have been part of, I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity and I am so happy I could experience all of this before the coronavirus started to change our lives so much. However, a positive side-effect is the emergence of the virtual music projects! Thanks to the great commitment of Dan Harding and the wonders of technology, I can continue playing with the people I love and miss. Of course, this is very different from making music together face-to-face and it can’t quite replace it, but nevertheless it is a beautiful opportunity to maintain my connection to Canterbury, the Music Department and joint music-making in general.
The music, the memories and the people will stay in my heart. Thank you for welcoming me in Canterbury with open arms, I hope I can come back one day.
To keep you entertained during lockdown, why not join us for a screening on YouTube Live of a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale following the adventures of Alice and a cast of wonderful characters ?!
This live performance, recreating a musical adaptation first written for the Victorian stage in 1886, was filmed in Colyer-Fergusson Hall back in February, given by the University Cecilian Choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble; students and staff from across the University community bringing Carroll’s much-loved tale to life for the first time since 1927. Carroll himself was closely involved in the original adaptation, writing verses especially for the production. The film will be premiered on the University’s YouTube Live channel on Friday 22 May at 7pm, and also broadcast at the same time on KMTV.
The cast includes a larger-than-life performance from third-year Drama student and Music Award holder Sophia Lyons in the title role; fourth-year French and Business Studies student and Music Award holder Matt Cooke as a wonderfully eccentric Mad Hatter and a curmudgeonly Mock Turtle; and a White Rabbit brimming with eccentric energy from second-year Robbie Frederick.
To whet your appetites, here’s the Mock Turtle’s aria, Beautiful Soup, in rehearsal, sung by Matt Cooke accompanied by a quartet of instruments arranged especially for the performance by Dan Harding.
Including an imperious Queen of Hearts, a dancing deck of cards and a mischievous Cheshire Cat, in a musical world filled with Victorian charm, step into the forest with us as we present the film of the performance on the University of Kent’s YouTube channel Live at 7pm on Friday 22 May.
Gather your family, friends, housemates, and take a trip into Alice’s world in an adventure for all ages.