Despite the twin threat of soaring summer temperatures and the quarter-final match as this year’s England football squad edge ever closer to the World Cup Final, last Saturday’s University Open Day brought visitors aplenty both to the Canterbury campus as well as to Colyer-Fergusson.
Amongst the visitors filing through the doors of the music building were people from Somerset, Devon, Northamptonshire, Surrey, Hertfordshire as well as from London and Kent itself; however, the prize for the Visitor from the Farthest-Flung Shore went to a lady from Paris.
Thanks to some of our loyal Music Scholars and student ambassadors (pictured above), who took the time to lead tours of the building and its facilities for extra-curricular music-making, sharing their experience of combining their academic studies with their musical life, and to Fleur, President of the Music Society for the next academic year.
To everyone who visited, hope you had a safe trip home – hopefully the roads at 3pm, when the day closed, were rather quiet for you…
Congratulations to all the performers involved in Saturday night’s annual Colyer-Fergusson Concert, which saw the Nave of Canterbury Cathedral resounding to the heroic strains of Beethoven, Haydn and the premiere of a new work by Matthew King.
The Chorus and Orchestra came together under the baton of Susan Wanless in Haydn’s dramatic ‘Nelson Mass,’ joined by several alumni, and the Orchestra (led by final-year Law student and Music Scholar, Lydia Cheng), delivered Beethoven’s mighty Eroica symphony with aplomb.
Composer Matthew King and family were present for the first performance of Matthew’s A Hero Passes, an orchestral tribute to his late father, James King OBE, with which the concert opened. Matthew attended rehearsals the night before and on the morning at the Cathedral.
Thanks to all the behind-the-scenes crew as well, on what is a particularly long day; here’s Your Loyal Correspondent and the Music Administrator clearly early on the day…There are still plenty of events to come over the next few weeks: see what’s next here.
The University Symphony Orchestra is industriously rehearsing ahead of this Saturday’s annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in Canterbury Cathedral, and this year unveils a commission by the University Music department from Kent-based composer and Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Matthew King.
Matthew’s piece will share the Nave with two musical titans; Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass;’ I caught up with Matthew ahead of this Saturday’s premiere to ask him about the work and the concepts behind it.
How does your piece relate to (or take on!) the two titans on the programme: Beethoven and Haydn?
I didn’t really want to ‘take them on’. Obviously Beethoven’s Eroica is this massive event at the dawn of Romanticism (a bit like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the start of Modernism) and Haydn’s Nelson Mass is one of a set of pieces which he wrote at the end of his life – it’s only called ‘Nelson Mass’ because Horatio Nelson happened to attend an early performance – but I believe Haydn’s original title was ‘Mass for Troubled Times’ which I have to admit still seems a very relevant title! In any case, both of the ‘titan’ works you mention have an essentially public quality, whereas my piece is very different… and much more intimate in character. Two things connect my piece to Beethoven though: one is the ‘heroic’ key of E flat major (also the key of ‘Nimrod’ in Elgar’s Enigma Variations) and the other is the prominent use of three french horns.
Yours is a highly personal response to the commission request: did this make it easier or harder to write ?
Well easier, in the sense that it was really the only way that I could respond to the idea of ‘heroism’ at the time. But it was written as a tribute to my Dad, who died in March 2017, and that made the process of composing it quite raw emotionally. When you are a small child you tend to view your parents in a heroic way, and in fact Dad had some of the right attributes: he was very tall and good-looking and also very kind. As you get older you realise your parents are human beings with their own foibles, but in Dad’s case his essential kindness always shone through. He ran a special school and, when he died, there were many lovely tributes written about him by young people he’d helped over the years. I guess I wanted my piece to be a kind of pre-verbal tribute, at some kind of deep emotional level. I don’t mean it’s a great emotional splurge – simply that it tries to get to grips with mourning and loss and reflection in quite a measured way.
‘Hero’ can be a very tricky term: how did you deal with it ? I’m thinking it can easily date, or the sense that one man’s hero is often another’s villain…
Yes. I suppose the old idea of heroism as associated with political power, or military strength or whatever, is rather problematic nowadays. I guess there’s a vestige of that old notion of ‘hero’ in the way we view someone like Winston Churchill, or public figures like Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst: people who prevailed against evil and injustice on a huge scale. I’m also interested in ‘quiet heroism’ – the many unnoticed acts of kindness and generosity that go on all the time. Even in the recent snowy weather there were all sorts of reports of really marvellous acts of quiet heroism from people who certainly didn’t stop to think whether they were being heroic or not. In fact perhaps one definition of heroism might be ‘selfless acts of generosity undertaken by people who have no idea that what they are being is heroic!’
Did the fact that it’s being performed in the Cathedral have any influence or effect on the piece ?
Yes, actually it did. I’ve written for that space a few times. Back in the 1990s I wrote a very big community opera called Jonah which was staged in the Nave, and I learned quite a lot of things from that experience! It’s an awe inspiring building of course, and it has a really huge acoustic which can be difficult to handle, especially in music that has rapid harmonic change. I keep the harmonic pace of my music quite slow, and I tried to create orchestral effects that would blend well with the resonance of the building. I also make use of the space by locating the principal trumpet player up in the organ loft so that his solos come down from on high!
Who are your musical heroes ?
Well they tend to be whoever I’m listening to at the time so it changes from week to week really: recently I’ve been watching some of the great Hitchcock movies with my family and finding renewed admiration for Bernard Herrmann, I’ve been reading all of Jane Austen’s novels and have really been blown away by her marvellous talent. I’ve been listening to Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite and loving it’s raw energy. My daughters like Beyoncé’s Lemonade and I think it’s exciting when (and this is quite rare) musical talent and commercial success are completely compatible!
A friend introduced me last week to the controversial American cultural commentator, Camille Paglia, and I thought she was interesting. I’ve been playing some extraordinary meditative music by Federico Mompou, the Catalan composer on the piano.
Next month it will be a different list!
Matthew’s A Hero Passes will be given its premiere on Saturday 10 March in Canterbury Cathedral by the University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Susan Wanless; details here.
The mightiest orchestra the University Music department has ever assembled will gather next week, as the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra come together for a revolutionary tale of dreams, dances, hallucinations and desire in Canterbury Cathedral on Saturday 5 March.
Under the incisive baton of Susan Wanless, the Orchestra will perform one of the most exciting, revolutionary pieces in the repertoire, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a story of hopeless passion, unrequited love and hallucinogenic visions, with its famous ball scene, the March to the Scaffold and terrifying final bacchanalian revelry of sorcerers and witches. In the immortal words of conductor Leonard Bernstein – ‘Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.’
The second half of the concert brings in the University Chorus for a performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C, with four outstanding soloists Sally Silver, Kiri Parker and University alumni Andrew Macnair and Piran Legg.
Susan Wanless is particularly excited at the prospect of unleashing Berlioz’s masterpiece in the Cathedral in the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert, always one of the highlights of the University year. ‘To present such spectacular pieces, complete with off-stage instruments and massive orchestral forces, will be thrilling for both the performers and audience alike!’
The Orchestra has been hard at work industriously rehearsing for next week’s epic performance, and the concert promises to be an occasion not to be missed: tickets and details online here. Prepare to be led on a whirlwind of love, death and dance next week…
Continuing the ancillary events linked to the Tokaido Road opera coming to the Gulbenkian Theatre in May, our second exhibition in the new Colyer-Fergusson Gallery is a response to the Kent landscape, and in particular the historic Saxon Shore Way, by the Canterbury-based artist collective, Earthbound Women. I asked one of its members, Ruth McDonald, about the group and their response to the project.
Tell me about Earthbound Women
We met whilst doing an MA in Fine Art at Canterbury Christ Church University and all have an abiding passion for clay, earth, form and landscape. We are bound to the earth – it defines us.
What was it about the Tokaido Road project in particular that interested you in taking part ?
We were keen to participate in a project that features women in the Arts and were anxious to be involved and give the project our own “take”.
You’ve talked about the exhibition as ‘modern observations written over the ancient history of the Kent coast;’ what have you discovered in preparing for it ?
Initially we explored the Saxon Shore Way together spending time drawing and illustrating the landscape. We then divided the coast up and each took different section. It was fascinating to see how popular the coastal walks are and yet at the same time they do have a desolation when the weather is inclement.
Your exhibition will explore similar ideas of travel and landscape to Hiroshige’s ‘Tokaido Road:’ is it a Kent-ish version, and why did you choose the Saxon Shore Way in particular ?
We studied Hiroshige’s works and felt that we should study our own landscape in Kent and walk the paths of the Saxon Shore Way. This is a long distance walking route of 257 km named after the line of historic fortifications that defended the Kent Coast at the end of the Roman era. It stretches from Gravesend to Hastings. The range of landscape is tremendous and we wanted to record the changes in the weather and seasons.
What can we expect when your exhibition opens in Colyer-Fergusson on May 9th?
Expect to see a wide range of work in differing styles. One artist has made clay objects from earth gathered on her walks. Another has produced a series of etching and drawings. Some will be accurate observations and other work will have an emotional interpretation of the experience of the walk.
Tracing the Saxon Shore Way by Earthbound Women will be at the Colyer-Fergusson gallery from 9-24 May; admission during normal opening hours, admission free. Find out more about Earthbound Women here.
It’s with an heraldic fanfare of trumpets that we’re delighted to announce that the new Colyer-Fergusson Gallery space is now open, with its first exhibition being the evocative and scenic #walkSwaleMedway project by Faversham-based artist, Hope Fitzgerald.
The upper balcony now hosts an array of jewel-like images in beautiful frames, inspired by Hope’s walking project, and will be on display for two weeks until Friday 1 May. The exhibition is also the first of several ancillary events for the Tokaido Road chamber opera coming to the Gulbenkian next month, which explores similar ideas of travel and landscape. Hope’s exhibition is a response to, and is inspired by, her walking around the Swale area; read more about the project here.
Admission is free: come and lose yourself in the landscape of the county in Colyer-Fergusson. #walkSwaleMedway is sponsored by Arts Council funding via Ideas Test.
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…
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.