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A letter from Vienna: Ben Weiland

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…


Ben (centre, back) with the Cecilian Choir singing at Heart Kent Radio in 2016

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.

Ben (right) with the Cecilian Choir in 2016

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!

New What’s On season now launched

With an heraldic fanfare, we’re delighted to say that our new What’s On season is now available to view online, with a mouth-watering programme of events to see you through to July.

As usual, we’ve performances in the majestic surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral with the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky and Puccini for the annual Colyer-Fergusson concert, and the Chamber Choir and Ensemble will fill the Crypt with Fauré’s evocative Requiem in a new chamber edition. The Concert and Big Bands return in March with a dazzling evening of concert band classics and big band swing, and the Musical Theatre Society is back in action too. CantiaQuorum brings its usual eclectic and innovative approach to programming with a new series of concerts, and our popular Lunchtime Concert series ranges from the shores of Scotland to the heady sensuality of Argentinian tango.

A new collaboration with the School of Biosciences forms the backdrop to a concert bringing together live music with beautiful images from its cutting-edge research, which will also be exhibiting in the Colyer-Fergusson gallery throughout the spring term; and there’s a look ahead to warmer weather and seaside pleasures with events to come during our annual Summer Music Week festival in June.

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Image: Molly Hollman

Take a look at all these events and more on our online page here, and download the new season brochure here. We look forward to welcoming you through the doors of Colyer-Fergusson and to our performances elsewhere over the coming months!

Music, science and beauty in the everyday

Exploring the intersection between science and music this morning, in preparation for a project which will take place next spring.

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A combination of music and images from cutting-edge research in the School of Biosciences will aim to highlight moments of beauty in in the mundane, or more functional, aspects of the scientific environment. Bringing together piano works including pieces by John Cage, Tarik O’Regan and Philip Glass, the experience involves drawing out the aesthetics of the laboratory environment and the scientific process, aspects which are often overlooked or ignored.

8F7F26F0-597F-40E0-9F34-CA8FBFF48A06 webThe project, in collaboration with Dr Dan Lloyd in Biosciences, will be unfurled next spring.

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Word Up! Canterbury’s literary and musical festival set to blossom next week

Words, music, poetry and song will echo around the stones of the historic cathedral city next week, at the opening weekend of Wise Words, Canterbury’s literary festival which blossoms anew each spring and autumn.

The festival encourages wonder and curiosity through new encounters with literature, the written, spoken and sung word, and this year features poet and Radio 3 presenter Ian McMillan, Olympic Poet Lemn Sissay, former Canterbury Laureate Patience Agbabi, current Canterbury Laureate John Siddique, and a host of writers, poets and spoken word performers.

Matthew Sharp
Matthew Sharp

The festival has a strong musical thread running throughout its nine days, which sees all manner of performers take to the stage in the yurt in Greyfriars’ Garden, including cellist and baritone Matthew Sharp’s voyage from Bach to Tavener by way of Piazzolla; there’s a return visit from rapper and musician Dizraeli,
bluegrass with Gentlemen of Few, and even Your Loyal Correspondent in a lunchtime performance on the opening day, Saturday 30 April, at 12.30pm, as accompanist in a recital with mezzo-soprano Michelle Harris, in a programme of operatic arias and musical theatre songs ranging from Handel and Bizet to Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The opening musical weekend is a partnership with City Sound Project, Canterbury’s metropolitan music festival taking place in venues across the Bank Holiday.

Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay

Poetry on the river; writing workshops and retreats; midday music each day; magic lantern parades and events for children and families expect the unexpected when Wise Words bursts to life in the city next week. The festival runs from Saturday 30 April to Sunday 8 May, find out more online here, or browse the digital programme online:

Wise Words 2016 logoand keep an eye out for printed programmes around Canterbury. It all starts next weekend…

This floating, fleeting world: in rehearsal

As a curtain-raiser to the performance of Tokaido Road, which comes to the Gulbenkian Theatre on 23 May, the lunchtime concert the day before is an exploration of the meeting-point between poetry and music for two pianos, set against a backdrop of some of the Hiroshige prints which inspired both poetry and opera.

Pianists Matthew King and myself, together with poet Nancy Gaffield, part of the Creative Writing team in the School of English and author of the original Tokaido Road cycle of poems, spent yesterday exploring the programme which we have put together, which intersperses music by Debussy, Ravel and Matthew himself with poems from the cycle, which Nancy will be reading. There is some wonderful connectedness between the words and the music – a phrase in a poem is echoed by a rising melodic shape; the opening arc of a poem emerges out of a slowly-dying piano chord; a cluster-sonority echoes the tone of one of the Hiroshige prints which is projected above the performers. We spent several hours immersed in floating words and chords in the darkened concert-hall, playing with moving between music and poem.

The concert will take place on Friday 22 May at 1.10pm, admission is free, more details here: come and immerse yourself in time-out-of-place with music, poetry and print.

#EarBox: new collaborative project launching with Studio 3 Gallery

We are very excited to be launching #EarBox,  a new collaboration between the School of Arts’ Studio 3 Gallery and the Music Department next Wednesday, 28 January, at 1pm.

WP_20150122_10_42_55_Pro#EarBox is a series of events exploring the meeting-point between visual art and music, where visitors can experience the latest Studio 3 exhibition, or listen to the unfolding musical performance – or wander the new emotional landscape mapped by the intersection of art and music, where the experience of one medium informs and influences a response to the other.

The event next Wednesday will feature piano works by Debussy, John Cage, Chick Corea and Philip Glass; visitors can explore the paintings during the performance, or sit and listen to the music – admission is free.

This term’s exhibitions features an exploration of colour and form in paintings by  Brian Rice, and sculpture by Richard Rome, and the music includes piano works performed by Deputy Director of Music, Daniel Harding, as well as performances later in the term by University ensembles including the Chamber and Cecilian Choirs and the Wind Ensemble.

WP_20150122_10_42_24_ProAdmission to all these events is free; make sure you’re following @Unikent_music or @Studio3Gallery for event details, or visit the Music department’s What’s On or the Studio 3 blog page.

Indulge the senses: #EarBox at Studio 3 Gallery.

Studio3

 

Music prizes recognise outstanding contributions to the musical life at Kent

The annual Music Prizes were awarded last week to a selection of students who have made an outstanding contribution to the musical life of the University this year; and what a year it has been!

Marina receiving her award from Rosie Turner
Marina receiving her award from Rosie Turner

The Canterbury Festival Music Prize, awarded to a final-year student who has made an outstanding contribution to music was awarded to Marina Ivanova, in her final year reading Economics. Since coming to Kent as a Music Scholar, Marina has participated in Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir, Lost Consort, as well as being a soloist in the Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert, Vivaldi Gloria; she also  took part in the Dame Anne Evans masterclass in the autumn, and many other recitals. The prize was presented by the Director of the Canterbury Festival, Rosie Turner.

Alex Turner receives her award from Jonathan Monckton
Alex Turner receives her award from Jonathan Monckton

The Colyer-Fergusson Music Prize, which is awarded each year to a student who has made a major contribution to organising music at the University, was presented to Alex Turner, a second-year student reading Biomedical Science. The prize recognises her exceptional all-round behind-the-scenes organising and admin skills as Concert Band/Big Band assistant (and flautist, and sax player), and in other music activities including the Symphony Orchestra (flute and piccolo), Dance Orchestra,  the flute ensemble, as well as playing in the pit-band for this year’s Musical Theatre Society’s production of Hair. Alex received her prize from Jonathan Monckton, Chair of the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust.

John Craven presents Gordon Wood with his award
John Craven presents Gordon Wood with his award

The John Craven Music Prize, which goes to a returning student who has made a major contribution to music at Kent, this year went to Gordon Wood, in his second year reading Philosophy. A Music Scholar, Gordon plays double bass in Symphony Orchestra, Camerata, String Sinfonia, Dance Orchestra, tuba in Concert Band, Double bass/bass guitar in Big Band, and at various Watch This Space and jazz gigs. John Craven himself was there in person to make the presentation.

Matthew Bamford receives his award from Dan Lloyd
Matthew Bamford receives his award from Dan Lloyd

The University Music Awards Committee Prize, for a student who has made a special contribution to music, was awarded jointly to two final-years students;  Matthew Bamford, reading International Business, and Carina Evans, reading Accounting and Finance. Matthew’s award was for his all-round contribution to music-making this year. Student conductor of Chamber Choir, MD for Musical Theatre Society’s production of Hair, sings in Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir and Treasurer of the Music Society.

 

Dan Lloyd presents Carina Evans with her prize
Dan Lloyd presents Carina Evans with her prize

Carina’s prize recognises her contribution, as a University Music Scholar, to music over three years as timpanist and percussionist with the Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, Camerata and many recitals on marimba. Both students received their award from committee-member, Dr Dan Lloyd.

Finally, the First-Year Prize, awarded if appropriate to a student who has made a significant contribution to music-making during their first year of study, went to Joe Prescott. Reading English Language and Linguistics, Joe has made a significant impact on music as a University Music Scholar since arriving in September, playing jazz trumpet in Big Band and Dance Orchestra, Trumpet in Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, as well as singing tenor in Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir.

First-year Joe Prescott receives his award from Keith Mander
First-year Joe Prescott receives his award from Keith Mander

The musical life of the University is nothing without the commitment, enthusiasm and participation of its student community – our thanks and congratulations to all the prize winners for their outstanding involvement in, and contributions to, what has been a memorable year. Here’s looking forward to the next!

The assembled prize-winning students and guests
The assembled prize-winning students and guests