As part of the continuing ten-year anniversary of Colyer-Fergusson, the Music department continues to explore new musical frontiers in commissioning a piece from composer Russell Hepplewhite; an innovative take on the Magnificat, written for the University Cecilian Choir and string orchestra.
Bringing the Song of Mary together with new poetry by Nancy Gaffield, Emeritus Professor in the School of Creative Writing, the choir has been working on the piece in rehearsals, and we were delighted to welcome the composer to the concert-hall this week as the choir worked together with Russell.
It’s always a nervous experience to rehearse a piece with the composer present, but there was a tremendous rapport between the choir of students and staff and Russell, as the group continued to develop the piece with direct Composer Input. Heroically, Russell volunteered to be the repetiteur for the rehearsal, and choir, composer and poet spent a lively session bringing the piece to life.
Before the rehearsal, Russell and Your Loyal Correspondent filmed a conversation about the commission, about the process of writing a piece that combines a well-known sacred text with contemporary poetry, and techniques of writing for voices and strings – the interview will appear soon!
Pictured are Russell and Nancy with the Cecilian Choir; the piece receives its premiere performance in Colyer-Fergusson on Friday 31 March; tickets here.
The University Cecilian Choir has been hard at work rehearsing a brand-new setting of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which the Music department commissioned as part of its year-long anniversary celebrations of the Colyer-Fergusson Building’s ten years. Last night, the Choir was delighted to welcome poet Nancy Gaffield to the rehearsal; Nancy has written four new poems which are interspersed with the text of the Magnificat, with music written by Russell Hepplewhite for mixed choir and string orchestra.
The new piece is an exciting blend of high energy, driving rhythms, lyrical melody and sumptuous harmonic colours, particularly in the sections setting Nancy’s poetry; each of the four poems is written in response to a famous piece of art representing stages in the life of Christ, including Michelangelo’s The Birth of Adam, Ghirandaio’s The Visitation, and Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ. Here, the music revels in the same richly-colourful textures as each of the paintings; last night was an opportunity for Nancy to talk with the choir about her poems, the relationship to the paintings, and to hear some of the piece coming to life in rehearsal.
The first performance takes place in Colyer-Fergusson Hall on Friday 31 March, with a second performance on Friday 9 June as part of this year’s Summer Music Week; details and tickets for the premiere performance online here. It should be quite something…
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.
As part of the Music department’s observing of the anniversary of World War One, including the Battle of the Somme, three events next week.
On Thursday 10 November, a special performance by the Cecilian Choir, conducted by Your Loyal Correspondent, commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme with a new choral piece written by American composer David Lang in Studio 3 Gallery. Memorial Ground is an evocative, haunting meditation on the Battle of the Somme, but also reaches beyond it to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in conflict ever since. The piece was commissioned as part of the nationwide 14-18NOW project.
As part of a national series of performances, Memorial Ground is the Pulitzer-prize-winning composer’s response to the anniversary, written in such a way as to allow choirs around the country to realise the piece in whatever way is appropriate to their occasion. For this performance by the Cecilian Choir, the piece will be combined with words by the First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon, as well as with a new poem written by Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English. The performance will be illuminated by a series of projections from the Special Collections and Archives department in the Templeman Library, curated by Joanna Baines. This sepcially-crafted son et lumiere event begins at 1.10pm, and will last approximately twenty minutes; admission is free – if you can’t make it, the event will be streamed live online here.
On Friday 11 November at 11am, third-year Music Scholar and trumpeter Alex Reid will play the Last Post in the Registry Garden; this is followed at 1.10pm by a lunchtime concert focusing on poet and composer Ivor Gurney. Arranged by Dr Kate Kennedy, the event dramatizes Gurney’s life as musician, soldier and eventually asylum patient, following his progress in his own words and music, with humour and poignancy.
From the start of next week, Colyer-Fergusson Gallery will host an exhibition produced by the Gateways to the First World WarProject exploring music during the conflict, which will be on display until Friday 25 November.
Find out about all these events and more online here.
Currently touring the UK after a successful premiere at the Cheltenham Festival last year and its recent London premiere at Milton Court Theatre, we are very pleased to be bringing the chamber opera, Tokaido Road: a journey after Hiroshige, to Kent on Saturday 23 May.
The chamber opera, an evocative fusion of music, poetry, art, mime and photography comes to the University in a few weeks as part of the University’s fiftieth anniversary celebrating the work of members of the University community; the libretto is written by Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English, and is based on her own award-winning cycle of poems of the same name. Commissioned by frontier-challenging Okeanos Ensemble, and composed by Nicola LeFanu, the work is inspired by Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road, a series of woodblock prints evoking the Japanese landscape and its people along the ancient route linking Edo and Kyoto. The chamber opera sees Hiroshige reflecting on life, love and loss on his journey along the Tokaido Road, unfolding against a backdrop of projected images of both Hiroshige prints as well as photos of modern-day Tokyo.
The score combines Western instruments with Japanese sho and koto, and the first half of the performance sees members of Okeanos perform traditional Japanese music.
Come along The Road when it arrives at the Gulbenkian Theatre on Saturday 23 May; details and tickets here. You can find out more about the chamber opera, including image galleries and audio extracts, here.
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.
The written and spoken word is celebrated next week, as Canterbury comes alive to the Wise Words festival.
Back for a second year, running from Thursday 12 – Sunday 15 September, the festival sees poets such as Sir Andrew Motion reading from his new collection, The Customs House; the Bard of Barnsley and presenter of Radio 3’s The Verb, Ian McMillan, will be here next Friday, in collaboration with composer Luke Carver Goss.
Three of the University of Kent’s poets from the School of Creative Writing will also be participating; award-winning poet Nancy Gaffield will be leading a workshop on poetry and the journey, in the wake of her prize-winning collection Tokaido Road, and Dorothy Lehane and Patricia Debney will also be featuring in the festival.
Canterbury Laureate Dan Simpson will be presenting a crowd-sourced poem celebrating the city, and there’s also an array of events for families and children, many of which are free to attend. Poets and story-tellers will be popping up in surprising locations around Canterbury, including in a yurt in the Franciscan Gardens; or take a punt on the river to explore myths, legends and fairy-tales in the company of Emily Parrish. Join poet John Siddiquefree each morning at Browns Coffeehouse for his daily journal-writing session; the Three Cities Garden will be full of mystery, wonder and story-telling; or re-discover the lost art of exploration with explorer, navigator and broadcaster Tristan Gooley.
Find out more about next week online here; promising to be a festival that “re-awakens wonder and encourages curiosity,” you won’t be disappointed.