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.
Continuing the series profiling Music Scholarship students at the University of Kent. This week, first-year violinist reading Psychology with Forensic Psychology, Melody Brooks.
Being part of a musical family and having such a musical name, it seems only natural that would be drawn to music. My parents have fostered in me a love of all genres of music, and waited for me to decide which instruments I wanted to play.
The first instrument I chose was the violin, after seeing an orchestra perform at my primary school. Flute and piano soon followed. After gaining entrance to my secondary school (Parmiter’s School) because of my music, I was encouraged to participate in a number of musical groups including Orchestra, Junior and Senior Flute Choir (in which I took the opportunity to play piccolo, alto flute and bass flute), Senior String Ensemble and Concert Band.
I also studied Music at GCSE and AS-Level, which widened my exposure to different genres of music and allowed me to truly appreciate composers and performers alike. I also participated in the school play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, as part of the musical ensemble.
Outside of school, I participated in the CAN Music Academy (Children Achieving Now) in both the orchestra and the choir. I also participated in the Kuyumba Youth Music (KYM) String Orchestra. The KYM experience was one of growth, as it was an extremely competitive environment based on merit and fostered in me the spirit of hard work and practice.
Singing was always encouraged in my church, and my church is well-known for its lively, inviting music. Often, I would participate in a string ensemble or play violin to accompany a meditational song. From the age of 11, I was encouraged to lead Praise and Worship with my friends, singing gospel music. We then formed a singing group called ‘Amplified Praise’ and sang in venues such as the ExCel London Centre and Pontins in Wales.
Here at Kent, I currently play in the Symphony Orchestra and String Sinfonia. I have enjoyed being a member of both groups. The Orchestra is amazing and is exposing me to different composers. String Sinfonia is smaller, but just as much fun. I love being able to develop my skills alongside those more able than me and to enjoy music once again.
We are delighted that actor Simon Paisley Day will be joining us next week, to read sections of Shakespeare’s Henry V as part of a performance of Walton’s score to the film during our December concert.
Sounding Shakespeare brings the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra together on Saturday 10 December to round off the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, including music by Mendelssohn, Bernstein and Rutter, and Simon will be taking part in the performance of the film score Walton composed for the famed film of Henry V starting Laurence Olivier, originally written in 1944 and converted into a suite in 1963.
Since leaving the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1991, Simon has worked extensively in the theatre, on screen and on radio, playing a great number of Shakespearean roles, including Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Horatio in Hamlet at the National Theatre, Iachimo in Cymbeline at Regent’s Park, Timon in Timon of Athens, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe and, most recently, Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Last Christmas he appeared as the Onceler in Dr Seuss’s The Lorax at the Old Vic in London.
Join us on Saturday 10 December for what promises to be an epic odyssey in words and music; details here.
Our Autumn What’s On is now out, and is bursting with events throughout October to December here in Colyer-Fergusson.
Our termly Lunchtime Concert series launches with percussion ensemble Kopanya in October; the acclaimed musicians of the Kentish Piano Trio bring Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio in November; and eminent sitar-player Ustad Dharambir Singh is joined by Pt Sanju Sahai on tabla for a recital in December,
The University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra will be rounding-off the Shakespeare 400 anniversary in style with a concert including the suite from Walton’s famous film score for Henry V, and the Musical Theatre Society will present their ever-popular showcase. The season ends in rousingly festive style with the Big Band’s Christmas Swing-Along.
Whatever you do, make sure you have Friday 25 November inked firmly in your diary for what promises to be a memorable concert, as internationally-renowned bass, Sir Willard White, joins forces with the Brodsky Quartet to pay tribute to the relationship between Frank Sinatra and the Hollywood String Quartet; the evening will also include folksongs by Britten and Copland, Barber’s evocative Dover Beach, a selection from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the Great American Song Book …and much more. Early booking is most definitely advisable! As ever, we also welcome the many visiting musicians to Colyer-Fergusson, including events promoted by both the Canterbury Festival and Sounds New and a birthday concert for Trevor Pinnock.
You can find out more about all these events online here, or download the new brochure here. We look forward to welcoming you to Colyer-Fergusson this season!
The final two days of Summer Music Week witnessed a tremendous flurry of musical activity both in Colyer-Fergusson and beyond, as the week-long music festival celebrating the end of the University year brought staff, students, guests, alumni and members of the local community together.
An intense forty-eight hours of rehearsing and performing began on Friday at lunchtime, with members of the Musical Theatre Society performing on the foyer-stage.
Later the same day, the Cecilian Choir, Sinfonia and soloists filled the church of St Michael and All Angels at Harbledown with a feast of Baroque music, featuring choral works by Vivaldi, Handel and Lully, and instrumental concerti featuring oboists Jonathan Butten and Dan Lloyd from the School of Biosciences, violinists Lydia Cheng (Law) and Claudia Hill (Politics and International Relations), and arias from Charlotte Webb and Ruth Webster (Biosciences – again!). A sultry encore from the Sinfonia took a packed and delighted audience to Argentina for a scintillating rendition of Piazzolla’s Libertango to conclude. And as if they hadn’t done enough playing, members of the Sinfonia provided a little light music during the post-performance reception…
With the end in sight, rehearsals continued first thing on Saturday morning as the Chorus, Symphony Orchestra and Minerva Voices prepared for the final event of the week, the annual Music for a Summer’s Day. Arriving audience-members were treated to a performance by the unstoppably energetic String Sinfonia on the foyer-stage prior to the afternoon gala concert.
The combined forces brought a programme including a zestful medley from My Fair Lady, besuited butlers bearing drinks during music from Downton Abbey, rousing music by Elgar, a Norwegian ballad, final-year Harriet Gunstone as guest soloist in the Champagne Polka, all culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (including an encore conducted by third-year Cory Adams making a rare sortie from the percussion section to the front of the orchestra), and the shedding of a few tears as we all realised that this was, for those who are graduating, their final performance at the University.
The reception afterwards saw performers, audience, family and friends mingling in the marquee, as well as the presentation of the Music Society Awards – a spirited tongue-in-cheek affair with prizes for ‘Most Likely To Be Seen On A Night Out’ and ‘Best Dressed’ among the commendations – and the raiding of sumptuous racks of cakes and scones, as the week drew to a close, whilst Minerva Voices and a jazz group provided some spontaneous musical entertainment.
Summer Music Week higlights all that making music at the University embraces: students making extra-curricular music and friends during the year; students, staff, alumni and the local community coming together on a weekly basis to work together towards termly public performances; the recognition that music-making holds a valuable place in University life in terms of making friends, developing performing and organisational skills, bringing the community together to work towards a public-facing event that represents the University in ambassadorial fashion. Where else might you find a senior Registrar, the director of the Development Office, the head of the International Office, a first-year from Blackpool reading Drama, a second-year from Malaysia reading Law, violinists from Toronto and Zimbabwe, a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, and local residents combining to let their hair down ?! It’s a terrific whirlygig, a snapshot of all the creativity that thrives both on- and off-campus throughout the course of the year, but it’s also a sad time, as we bid farewell to many who have become a vital part both of the Music department and the wider University during their time at Kent.
To all the leavers, we wish you the very best for the future in Life After Kent; to all those returning (or indeed joining!) us in September; rest assured, we’re now planning for another vibrant, action-packed, stressfull (!), creative, and ultimately rewarding year. To those moving on: we’ll miss you.
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!
A packed Canterbury Cathedral was the backdrop to Saturday’s performance by the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Berlioz’s epic Symphonie fantastique and Beethoven’s rousing Mass in C.
The long day began bright and early with the crew arriving at the concert-hall to load two vans with all the equipment needed, and unfolded across the day with the arrival of additional percussion in the form of two tuned bells and an additional timp, plus not one but two harpists.
Soloists Sally Silver and Kiri Parker were joined by University alumni Andrew Macnair and Piran Legg for the Beethoven, which in a hushed ‘Agnus Dei’ brought the concert to a close.
The Orchestra and Chorus will be back in action next month on Sunday 3 April in a Sunday afternoon programme of music by Copland, Bernstein and Gershwin.
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.