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.
It’s been an action-packed musical week this week, with several events unfolding across three days.
Composer Russell Hepplewhite came to Colyer-Fergusson on Wednesday to hear Minerva Voices, the University’s upper-voice chamber choir, perform his recent work, Fly away over the sea, as part of the choir’s lunchtime concert. Members of the String Sinfonia joined the choir for a programme which includes music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Ola Gjeilo, alongside plainsong and an American spiritual
Yesterday, the string were in action once again as the String Sinfonia performed a tea-time concert of serenades, including works by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Britten’s Simple Symphony.
The action continues tonight, as the University Chamber Choir performs a meditative service by candlelight at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill, called Breathing Space, an hour-long event combining music and silence that creates a space for tranquility and reflection. The event starts at 7.30pm and is free, and draws the week to a close in an oasis of calm.
Which will last until next Friday’s annual roof-raising gala concert with the University Concert and Big Bands…
Just in time for Epiphany, a film of the University Chamber Choir performing Star of the East by composer Russell Hepplewhite; the Choir sang the piece live on BBC Radio 4 last month, here’s the complete piece in a recording in made in Colyer-Fergusson Hall.
With grateful thanks to the composer and to Banks Music Publishing for permission to make the recording.
Students in the University Chamber Choir had the opportunity to work with one of Britain’s leading composers in rehearsal yesterday, in preparation for singing in the University Carol Service in Canterbury Cathedral next month.
The choir was privileged to welcome Russell Hepplewhite to its usual evening rehearsal, to work on Russell’s Star of the East. It can be a daunting prospect, performing a composer’s work in their presence, but the Choir rose to the occasion magnificently.
Hailed by the Evening Standard as ‘one of the brightest young talents to have emerged in recent years,’ Russell’s award-winning work has been commissioned to critical acclaim by English Touring Opera, and his choral works are part of the recent Genesis Choral Library series launched by Banks Music Publications. His next work, Moonfleet, is set to open at the Salisbury Playhouse in April.
It was a terrific opportunity for the students to get to grips with contemporary music with the composer offering them insights into the creation of the work and its realisation; huge thanks to Russell for coming down from London especially last night; we’re looking forward to unfurling the piece in the majestic Nave of Canterbury Cathedral on 11 December.
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