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.