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.
The heady excitement generated by the run-up to the University Cecilian Choir‘s appearance on Heart Kent Radio this morning – and if you’ve missed it all, where HAVE you been ?! – finally peaked when the station broadcast the recording this morning.
To the delight ot listeners, commuters and those on the school-run throughout the county, the air-waves resounded to staff and students singing ‘England’s Gateway To The World,’ the mock anthem celebrating the glories of our county, arranged for mixed choir by Your Loyal Correspondent.
If you missed this stirring moment, watch the video here; thanks to all the students and staff involved in the project; how about taking it to the Albert Hall ?!
The rising tide of excitement surrounding the ‘Anthem for Kent,’ created by HeartKent Radio by presenters James and Becky (see previous post), and turned into a full mixed-choir arrangement by Your Loyal Correspondent, finally peaked when members of the Cecilian Choir went out to the radio station yesterday in order to record the piece.
Like something out of the Italian Job, a fleet of cars left the University campus and trekked deep into the darkest recesses of the north Kent coast, to arrive at the radio station where the excitement was palpable: we were really here! Ushered into the atrium, we met the presenters and production team, before recording the anthem; soprano Charlotte Webb and tenor Joe Prescott were also interviewed about their experience learning the piece.
A terrific experience for all the students and staff involved, and a chance to see into the life of the radio station where all the magic happens. Thanks to James, Becky, Producer Matt and the rest of the team for making us welcome; tune in to Heart Breakfast tomorrow (Thursday) morning between 8 – 8.30am to hear the final result…
Since we last spoke, you and I, Your Loyal Correspondent has been busy making good on his rash promise to create a choral arrangement of the Anthem for Kent, which presenters James and Becky broadcast on HeartKent Radio a few weeks ago, and which I thought on Tuesday might work as a choral piece.
Since then, with brow furrowed and wielding quill and parchment, the arrangement has been written and type-set, and is here unveiled for the first time; the University Cecilian Choir will be taking a first look at it in rehearsal later today.
This stirring, epic hymn to the glories of the county will resound around Colyer-Fergusson Hall this afternoon; prepare for the earth to move…
Early risers may have caught Your Loyal Correspondent live on air this morning, talking on Heart Kent Radio about the Anthem for Kent which presenters James and Becky have put together.
This stirring, majestic eulogy to the glories of the county – think Elgar and Walton – celebrates its Roman roads, its White Cliffs, as a ‘Garden of England green,’ and I rashly suggested that what better than a choral arrangement of the piece sung by the University Cecilian Choir ? A piece about the county sung by the county’s University seemed a great idea whilst listening to it in my car in the white-heat of the school run a couple of weeks ago, a thought I carelessly voiced out loud and to which my children immediately yelled ‘WE DARE YOU!’
So, here we are; I’ve now made a start on converting the piece to a full arrangement for mixed choir, which the Cecilian Choir will then need to learn. We’ll keep you posted as to how it’s progressing. It’s my children’s fault…
Who knows, maybe a performance in the Royal Albert Hall, anyone ?!
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.