The University Cecilian Choir, String Sinfonia and soloists were busy rehearsing for the first in our series of Christmas concerts, which takes place on Friday 1 December. A feast of seasonal music and words reflecting the start of the Christmas period, A Christmas Corncuopia brings together carols, popular seasonal favourites and readings to create a magical atmosphere.
For the event, the Music Department will be joined by Will Wollen, (pictured right), Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Studies, who brings life to characters including Scrooge, Adrian Mole, Elizabeth David grumbling about cooking at Christmastime, Nancy Mitford bewailing traditional customs which frighten the house-guests and evocative poems by Edward Thomas and Thomas Hardy.
The music includes Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ from ‘The Four Seasons,’ featuring third-year Music Scholar, Lydia Cheng, (pictured below) as soloist, and carols with the Cecilian Choir including Warlock’s beautiful Bethlehem Down and the traditional Ukrainian Carol of the Bells.
Come and launch the department’s Christmas season this Friday evening, and enjoy a glass of Smoking Bishop punch afterwards (included in the ticket-price); further concerts including the Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, a seasonal #EarBox in Studio 3 Gallery from the String Sinfonia, and the Big Band’s enduringly popular A Christmas Swingalong – details about all these online here. ‘Tis the season…
Currently studying abroad for a year as part of his European Legal Studies with Kent Law School, and a member of the University Chorus and Cecilian Choir, singer Ben Weiland writes from Vienna…
Hello from Vienna! I just wanted to share what I’ve been up to and ask how everything is going with Kent music – I’m missing the Cecilian Choir! I saw that you did the Fauré Requiem recently – very jealous. What an absolutely marvellous work! I remember seeing the programme for the Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral as well which also looked marvellous – Tchaikovsky Symphony 6! I very much look forward to returning to it all in September!
Spending this year in Vienna has been (and will continue to be) an utter delight. It is a thriving city, full of life and excitement. The greatest beauty Vienna has to offer for me is its musical culture, which is unique and unparalleled. I didn’t fully comprehend until I arrived just how central Vienna has been to the history of music. It’s obviously famous for Mozart and Schubert, but Beethoven, Brahms and many other towering figures had lived and composed here. As a result, the current musical tradition is still very strong; you can’t walk around a corner without seeing the famous golden Musikverein poster advertising a concert, or a similar advertisement for an opera at the Staatsoper. Concert-going, I realised early on, is very much both a cultural and societal affair. It’s almost a customary tradition for the Viennese aristocracy to suit up and attend operas and concerts, as if it’s simply a matter of course. This isn’t to say it’s taken for granted, but this is just how life is – the people are surrounded by this supreme musical wealth. However, for someone outside of this aristocracy, the concerts are still very accessible. Ticket prices can be very reasonable depending on certain factors – very often I have decided to go to a concert on the day, which is made possible due to standing tickets (3-4 Euros for the opera; 5-6 Euros for the Musikverein). It cannot be stressed enough, the joy of knowing that every day there is a world-class concert that I could go to if I felt like it.
From a personal standpoint, I was very keen to go to the Musikverein, as this was the home of my father when he studied and played the violin here (before becoming a composer) in his early 20s. He had a month playing in the Vienna Philharmonic, so it was a must for me to attend a concert as soon as possible. I also had to refresh my memory of the great building, as I came here when I was little to attend the concert of my father’s piano trio, performed by the Altenberg Trio. I am reminded of a photo of me standing on the Brahmsaal stage, with the performers at the end of the concert, and naturally it was a very surreal experience for me to be there once again, around 14-15 years later. I have managed to go and hear the superb Altenberg Trio perform twice since being here and it is quite something, hearing wonderful pieces being performed with such a pure beauty. I still get a fuzzy feeling whenever I walk into the Grossersaal (or ‘Golden Hall’), even though by now I must have gone in over twenty times! Its nickname of the ‘Golden Hall’ is very apt, the clue is in the name – there is gold everywhere.
Alongside concert life, I have also been taking part in a lot of singing. Initially, it was just with the University Choir. We had a wonderful first semester, singing Frank Martin’s Mass with the Symphony Choir, and a range of baroque pieces (Palestrina, Byrd) with the Chamber Choir. The highlight, however, has to be the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that we performed with the University Orchestra at the Musikverein in September. This was an extraordinary experience! As if I hadn’t been reminded enough, standing on the stage of the Golden Hall it hit me that this is the home of the ground-breaking, incredible piece of music. It was first performed in 1824 here in Vienna, along with so many of Beethoven’s other works. Like with any really great music, regardless of other factors such as the history, it’s very hard to put into words the feelings, emotions and significance of experiencing it – all I can say is that it was a very special evening for everyone involved, something I will remember forever.
Singing in the Symphony choir continues this semester, but the most exciting development since being in Vienna was being invited to sing in a professional choir – the Philharmonia Chor Wien – in productions of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto in an Austrian festival in the summer. Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled by the opportunity, and after already having a week’s rehearsals I am in awe of what the summer promises. The Philharmonia Chor Wien perform regularly at the Salzburg festival and the Baden-Baden festival, and receive engagements from major institutions and orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. I was aware of this before attending my first rehearsal, and indeed I was expecting a high standard, but was still nonetheless taken-aback by the quality of the choir’s sound. As the choir specialises more in operatic music, the sound is different to what I’m used to with more traditional, church choral music. It is different but in a very positive sense; in many ways richer and grander. The eminent chorus master and founder of the choir has very kindly been giving me some lessons, teaching me a real grounding in what is required of an operatic voice. Certainly, my voice has come on a lot in such a short space of time.
This exploration into operatic music has opened my eyes to an area I never had much experience with previously. My musical upbringing has always been with choral, chamber and orchestral music – a wide spectrum but one that can only offer insight to a certain extent into opera. My initial impressions are there is definitely a specific charm to opera that isn’t found in, for example, orchestral music. I am still trying to decide whether I am left overall satisfied to the same degree as with orchestral and choral music, but certainly in the Rigoletto there is a type of excitement and drama to the music that I haven’t come across before. This is ignoring the fact that acting is required in opera as well (something I’m looking forward to engaging in, albeit slightly nervously). Definitely this is one of the many aspects of life here that I wish to try and understand far more by time I leave in the summer, and what better place to learn than to be able to go to one of (if not the) greatest opera institutions in the world – the Wiener Staatsoper – every day if I wanted to!
I could write a small book on the musical life of Vienna, and undoubtedly there is much that I have left out of this short piece. There is so much more to be learnt and experienced throughout this semester, and to enjoy in the summer the numerous Musical festivals Austria puts on show. After my stay here I will have to sit down and try to write out everything that I have seen and experienced – a difficult task! The irony is that I’m actually here to be studying Law, which has been also very stimulating and of course I have been immersing myself in my studies, but music is my love and passion. When an opportunity to be in a place like this comes around, it has to be grabbed with both hands!
I just really wanted to share the experiences I have been having, say hello, and express my looking forward to returning to the University next year. I trust everyone is well at Kent and wish everyone the best for the rest of the year!
Continuing the series profiling Music Scholarship students at the University of Kent. This week, first year Art History student, Fleur Sumption.
Ever since I can remember, it seems that constantly being surrounded by music of some kind has had a massive impact on my life. Whether it was my Grandad taking me to various symphonies or being sat as a baby on the lap of the drummer in my Mum’s Jazz Band that she ran. Initially, I was encouraged to learn the piano, and for a child who could rarely sit still, when I got to about 8 years old it was decided that I’d rather take up the alto sax and have singing lessons instead.
My introduction to the world of the Theatre started at age 10, when I was picked for the children’s choir in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End. Having been “bitten by the performing bug”, this marked the start of many musical possibilities. I then went on to participate in Bill Kenwright’s touring production of Joseph in the following year, and appeared on Children in Need as part of the Joseph Cast. In 2012, my passion for singing increased when I was in the English National Opera cast of Carmen at the London Coliseum and was swiftly followed by recording Andrew Lloyd Webber’s children’s recording of Cats with The Really Useful Company.
Closer to home, I frequently participated in Music Festivals in Essex, winning classes across the seven years when I competed. In 2015 this lead me to be named Havering Young Musician of the Year, through the annual competition ran by the Rotary. I have also previously been awarded the Jacamar Shield for outstanding performance, having reached the Regional Finals of the Rotary competition. At home, I am a member of Firebirds, a local theatre group, being Cast as Martha in our production of the Secret Garden in 2014, and the Baker’s Wife in our 2016 production of Into the Woods– the latter of the two won many local awards, including “Best Performance by a person aged 18 and under” for my portrayal of the Baker’s Wife.
At my Secondary School and Sixth Form, The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School, I was able to complete my ABRSM Grade 8 for Singing, and also my Music Theatre Diploma. Throughout my years there, I have been fully involved in the music scene, being able to perform with the Symphonic Wind Band at the Mansion House for the new Lord Mayor each year, having travelled to Birmingham for the Music for Youth Finals, and played and sang around Italy in our bi-annual music trip. In my last year at Sixth Form, I was invited to perform at prestigious company events and gigs, including a wedding at the top of the Gherkin in London!
At University, I have been lucky enough to gain a place in the University Chamber Choir (pictured above) which is a huge privilege when you see the other musical talent in the University. Also taking part in Chorus and the Cecilian Choir, my musical diary is always bursting with events and rehearsals. I really love that there are so many wonderful musical opportunities here, and I am extremely excited to see how my musical journey will progress at the University of Kent.
The final two days of Summer Music Week witnessed a tremendous flurry of musical activity both in Colyer-Fergusson and beyond, as the week-long music festival celebrating the end of the University year brought staff, students, guests, alumni and members of the local community together.
An intense forty-eight hours of rehearsing and performing began on Friday at lunchtime, with members of the Musical Theatre Society performing on the foyer-stage.
Later the same day, the Cecilian Choir, Sinfonia and soloists filled the church of St Michael and All Angels at Harbledown with a feast of Baroque music, featuring choral works by Vivaldi, Handel and Lully, and instrumental concerti featuring oboists Jonathan Butten and Dan Lloyd from the School of Biosciences, violinists Lydia Cheng (Law) and Claudia Hill (Politics and International Relations), and arias from Charlotte Webb and Ruth Webster (Biosciences – again!). A sultry encore from the Sinfonia took a packed and delighted audience to Argentina for a scintillating rendition of Piazzolla’s Libertango to conclude. And as if they hadn’t done enough playing, members of the Sinfonia provided a little light music during the post-performance reception…
With the end in sight, rehearsals continued first thing on Saturday morning as the Chorus, Symphony Orchestra and Minerva Voices prepared for the final event of the week, the annual Music for a Summer’s Day. Arriving audience-members were treated to a performance by the unstoppably energetic String Sinfonia on the foyer-stage prior to the afternoon gala concert.
The combined forces brought a programme including a zestful medley from My Fair Lady, besuited butlers bearing drinks during music from Downton Abbey, rousing music by Elgar, a Norwegian ballad, final-year Harriet Gunstone as guest soloist in the Champagne Polka, all culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (including an encore conducted by third-year Cory Adams making a rare sortie from the percussion section to the front of the orchestra), and the shedding of a few tears as we all realised that this was, for those who are graduating, their final performance at the University.
The reception afterwards saw performers, audience, family and friends mingling in the marquee, as well as the presentation of the Music Society Awards – a spirited tongue-in-cheek affair with prizes for ‘Most Likely To Be Seen On A Night Out’ and ‘Best Dressed’ among the commendations – and the raiding of sumptuous racks of cakes and scones, as the week drew to a close, whilst Minerva Voices and a jazz group provided some spontaneous musical entertainment.
Summer Music Week higlights all that making music at the University embraces: students making extra-curricular music and friends during the year; students, staff, alumni and the local community coming together on a weekly basis to work together towards termly public performances; the recognition that music-making holds a valuable place in University life in terms of making friends, developing performing and organisational skills, bringing the community together to work towards a public-facing event that represents the University in ambassadorial fashion. Where else might you find a senior Registrar, the director of the Development Office, the head of the International Office, a first-year from Blackpool reading Drama, a second-year from Malaysia reading Law, violinists from Toronto and Zimbabwe, a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, and local residents combining to let their hair down ?! It’s a terrific whirlygig, a snapshot of all the creativity that thrives both on- and off-campus throughout the course of the year, but it’s also a sad time, as we bid farewell to many who have become a vital part both of the Music department and the wider University during their time at Kent.
To all the leavers, we wish you the very best for the future in Life After Kent; to all those returning (or indeed joining!) us in September; rest assured, we’re now planning for another vibrant, action-packed, stressfull (!), creative, and ultimately rewarding year. To those moving on: we’ll miss you.
In the week of the composer’s ninetieth birthday, fittingly rehearsals are in progress for our production of Horrortorio, Joseph Horowitz’s mock-Baroque comic oratorio, celebrating the marriage of Dracula’s daughter to the son of Frankenstein.
A small group of fiends, sorry, soloists will be joined by members of the Cecilian Choir for an in-the-round performance during Summer Music Week, on Monday 6 June at 5pm, complete with smoke and mirrors, as we transform the concert-hall into a ghoul-frequented wedding party.
Pictures above from the recent soloist’s dress rehearsal; join us in two weeks to be transported to Dracula’s grim castle…
The annual musical celebration of the end of the academic year at the University of Kent, Summer Music Week, is set to burst into life next month.
Featuring many of the University’s ensembles, the week-long festival opens at the seaside on Sunday 5 June with the University Big Band, conducted by Ian Swatman, visiting Deal Bandstand. Events throughout the week include a recital by University Music Scholars, a Wednesday evening gala concert with both the Concert and Big Bands, a feast of Baroque music with the Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia at St Michael’s Church, Harbledown,plus various other lunchtime events, all culminating in the traditional Music for a Summmer’s Day on Saturday 11 June with the Chorus, Orchestra and Minerva Voices, followed by cream teas.
The full line-up of events is now live on our website here, and you can follow all the events on the Summer Music Week Twitter feed here: printed brochures are also available in Colyer-Fergusson and the Gulbenkian. Join us as we bid an action-packed musical adieu to another year at Kent!
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.
This Easter, the Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia explore the dark side of Vivaldi, his Credo and Magnificat, two ferocious statements of religious belief that are shaped by the fear, uncertainty and death that coloured Venetian life at the time.
Less than a hundred years before the composition of the Credo, the population of Venice had been devastated by a particularly fierce outbreak of the Black Death; a scant two generations separated the fearsome death-toll, accounting for nearly a third of the population, from Vivaldi’s writing. The city had been riven by plague five times; after each, relieved and terrified citizens gave money to the building of so-called ‘plague churches,’ in the hope that thankfulness and prayer would save them. It was a time when the prospect of Purgatory and Hell was all too real, and the awareness of the fragility of human life hovered at every turn.
The mood of the times is captured perfectly in its art, too. One of the plague churches, the Scuola di San Rocco, houses Tintoretto’s Annunciation, painted between 1583-87; but this is no dewy-eyed moment of revelation. Instead, the angel and various cherubs tumble out of dark, louring skies to find the Virgin amidst ruin, tumble-down woodwork, executed in a dark, sombre palette with only a hint of clear skies in the distance.
The same sense finds expression in Vivaldi’s music, with sheer drama realised musically in stark black and white with vivid contrasts. Part of a large collection of music written between 1713-17, the Credo is no rose-tinted joyous affirmation of faith; rather, it’s a fist-clenched proclamation, driven by a very real fear. The sombre E minor tonality broods throughout the first and last movements – there is no escape from its relentless grip. The mystery of Christ’s birth is expressed in slowly-evolving harmonies in the ‘Et incarnatus est,’ which move in unexpected ways as we marvel at the incarnation of God in the flesh. But the mood is dispersed in the ensuing ‘Crucifixus,’ in which the steady, unremitting crotchet pace of the lower strings takes the listener on each step of the walk to the crucifixion with Christ himself, underlined in the angular shape of the fugal idea. The phrase ‘Passus est’ (He suffered) sighs through the choir in sympathy with Christ’s misery, rising to a peak and then gradually subsiding onto ‘Et sepultus est’ (He was buried) in a very low tessitura. The last movement’s ‘Et expecto resurrectionem’ is delivered in an almost manic intensity, underlined with stark homophony, giving voice to a very real desperation as much as it is a declaration of belief; I expect – nay, demand – the Resurrection of the dead because I have little else left to me.
Similarly, the Magnificat celebrates the Virgin Mary not only as the Mother of Christ but as a Protector of the Venetian Republic, as another prospect of hope in these plague-ridden times. The grand sonority of the opening moves from a brooding G minor through a series of gradually heightening dissonances before returning, inescapably, to the tonic; hope is scarce. A quantum of solace is offered in the dancing ‘Et Exultavit,’ but it is all too brief; the aching dissonances of the ‘Et misericordia’ movement unfold hesitantly, as though the musicians themselves don’t know how the music is going to proceed. Then comes the truly astonishing heart of the work: two fiercely declamatory movements – ‘Fecit potentiam’ (He hath shewed strength with His arm) as much a comment on the devastation of the plague as it is on the might of God – followed by choir and orchestra coming together in a ferocious, unison ‘Deposuit potentes’ (He hath put down the mighty from their seat), railing with anger, and with the choir in full spate in ceaseless quaver runs. The final ‘Gloria’ is given menacing overtones in its return to the tonic minor, and a vigorously fugal ‘Et in saecula saeculorum’ seems to suggest that the consolation of eternal salvation is a long way off. After the cascading fugue, the piece finally offers hope in its conclusion in the major – but Vivaldi makes you wait until the very last chord.
Fear, plague, darkness; these elements combine to inform two of Vivaldi’s greatest choral works, revelling in the drama and the fervour of the text. The concert on Thursday 31 March also includes Mozart’s sublime Ave Verum – a lyrical antidote to the Vivaldi, yet not without its intense harmonies too – and a Vivaldi trio sonata. The light, airy interior of St Peter’s Methodist Church, on the High street in Canterbury, will, for one afternoon in March, become a Venetian plague church, with its hopes, dreams, fears and beliefs brought to life in Vivaldi’s vivid music; admission is free, find out more here.
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.