Rousing finale to the term

The University Chorus and Orchestra came together on Saturday for a rousing, Italianate end to the autumn term, including Vivaldi’s evergreen Gloria, featuring soloists from the University Music Scholarship students, Cimarosa’s Magnificat, the overture to Verdi’s Nabucco and Respighi’s homage to Rossini, La boutique fantastque.

It struck us, in the afternoon rehearsal, that this was the first time since last December that the Chorus and Orchestra had come together to perform in the concert-hall – March sees them both in Canterbury Cathedral, and they each perform separately in the Summer Gala – so this was something of an anniversary performance!

The concert concludes

The concert concludes

Next term we present music by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Fauré in the annual Cathedral Concert on March 15th: see you there…

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The Gala weekend beckons

After an extremely busy term rehearsing, the Gala weekend is upon us tomorrow.

Last night saw the first rehearsal in the new concert-hall with the combined forces of the University Orchestra and the Chorus, as we rehearsed the Handel and Orff’s epic Carmina Burana.

I’m delighted to report that there was space for everyone, including the massed ranks of percussion (and percussionists) required for the Orff, as well as the Steinway piano that tucks neatly into the orchestra between the horns and the back desks of the first violins; the chance to be an orchestral player on such an instrument was fantastic last night, and I’m looking forward to really putting the instrument through its paces in the concerts over the weekend.

There was some diligent work from the percussion team, some scintillating playing from the brass in the Orff, and tireless work from the strings and woodwind sections throughout the evening.

Here we all are in rehearsal.

See you tomorrow night…

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Sitting in on a Philharmonia rehearsal

As many of you will know, the world-famous Philharmonia has a residency at the Marlowe Theatre, giving five concerts in the 2012-2013 season. Last Saturday they performed Elgar’s Enigma Variations which the University Symphony Orchestra will also be playing in December, and 21 student and staff members had the amazing privilege of being allowed to sit in on the Philharmonia’s rehearsal in the afternoon.

Had my Phil ?

It was fascinating to see how they rehearsed, first of all running the whole piece, and then going back over certain passages to double check speeds etc. Unlike the University orchestra, they never had to sort out any wrong notes!!  We then had the extra treat of hearing them rehearse Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with their soloist/conductor Michael Collins – an amazing player and the precision and rapport between the players was extraordinary. Ten of us then had tickets to attend the actual concert in the evening, and it was so interesting to see how all the players raised their game to create electrifying performances!

”It was a fascinating experience to be able to watch the Philharmonia Orchestra in rehearsal and then in the concert,” observes first-year Victoria, clarinettist with the University Orchestra. ”It was also interesting that the parts that they went over in Elgar’s Enigma Variations in the rehearsal were some of the parts that we had been working on in the University Symphony Orchestra. As a clarinettist I particularly enjoyed watching Michael Collins not only play but also conduct Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and it surprised me to hear that the embellishments he used in the repeated sections in the rehearsal were different to those he used in the concert!”

Whilst first-year flautist Alex says, ”It was a wonderful experience and so interesting to see how the orchestra’s playing and demeanor all changes at the evening concert compared to in the rehearsals.”

We are extremely grateful to the Michael Collins and the Philharmonia Orchestra for allowing us to attend this closed rehearsal, and to Lucinda, their Education Trainee, for organising everything so efficiently.

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First rehearsal in the new concert-hall: the conductor’s view

Last night saw the first opportunity for the University Symphony Orchestra to rehearse in the new concert-hall; conductor and Director of Music, Susan Wanless, reflects on the occasion.

Excitement and emotions ran high at the Symphony Orchestra’s first rehearsal in the Hall on Thursday evening. The first thing we did was play through Nimrod from the Enigma Variations and, from the very first bars, we knew we had a very special rehearsal space and that we could leave the ghastly acoustics of Eliot Hall behind for ever more. I confess that I got somewhat overwhelmed that this was all really happening at last, and I know that a few tears were also shed amongst the players. Then it was down to business for a great rehearsal – and no-one had to put any percussion away, fold stands or stack chairs at the end – hooray!

Now all that remains is for the University Chorus to rehearse here on Monday, and all the current ensembles will have tried out the new space. Stand by…

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Campus Watch, how we love thee!

Third-year cellist and Secretary of this year’s Music Society, Aisha Bové, looks at the start to the orchestral year.

Madam Secretary!

Filling Eliot Hall with music from 7.30, Thursday night is rehearsal time for the University Symphony Orchestra. The newly-formed orchestra is now slowly getting on the way with preparing the pieces for the Grand Gala Opening in December. The third rehearsal of the year took place last week, and it is good to see that the orchestra is starting form a unity, which is always the tricky part of each new academic year.

Following our conductor’s plan, we warmed up with a bit of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations, playing No.6 and taking it to pieces, then adding No.5, 4 and 3. The rehearsal was without our brass players, which meant that we could concentrate on the strings and woodwind sections, before putting it all back together next week with the complementing Brass and Percussion players. Our main aim was to get the idea of running the different Enigma ‘variations’, playing them without stopping to get an idea of the running of the concert performance. Elgar’s portrayal of his friends means that each variation has got a very specific tone, and moods change rapidly.

To break up the hard work on Enigma Variations, we played through bits of Carmina Burana, which is all about rhythms and percussive sounds. It is very challenging due to its changing of bar values and paces. Nevertheless we are slowly getting to grips with Carl Orff’s piece and the way it’s supposed to sound. Personally, I think it is crucial to listen to recordings in order to get your head around this scenic cantata – and my attending of chorus rehearsals makes me comprehend how it all fits together. In my opinion, the complementing use of the Cellos alongside the sopranos, during Orff’s soprano phrase containing the dreaded top C, is interesting as it creates a blending sound between the high registers of the choir and parts of the lower section of the orchestra.

The orchestra is very much looking forward to being able to finally rehearse in the Colyer-Fergusson Building (especially since every rehearsal this year suffers under the inconsiderate attitude of some students, casually walking through Eliot Hall: Campus Watch, thanks for looking after us!). In the words of our Director of Music: “TTNY” (This Time Next Year). But maybe next week, we’ll risk saying TTNW!

Aisha Bové

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The glorious work: Sunday rehearsal

Well done to all the members of the Chorus and Orchestra, who spent yesterday rehearsing Haydn’s The Creation ahead of the Cathedral concert this Saturday.

For some of the players, it was the second day of rehearsing, with a few having spent the previous day in rehearsals for the Music Theatre Society’s forthcoming production of ‘Into the Woods;’ an extra well done to them.

We were joined for the day by tenor and Kent alumnus, Andrew Macnair, who will be one of the three soloists in the Cathedral this weekend, hot-foot from his rehearsals at Covent Garden, where Andrew sings in the Chorus, for Judith Weir’s new opera, Miss Fortune(I hear it has an exploding kebab-van on-stage: should be interesting….!)

A chance for the conductor and Director of Music, Susan Wanless, to put large sections of the piece together with both chorus and orchestra for the first time, it also allowed the continuo section a chance to look at some of Andrew’s recitative sections – rehearsing before the day, a luxury!

Rehearsals continue tonight, Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning ahead of the concert on Saturday night. It’s going to be a busy week…

Concert details and tickets online here.

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Russian revels and English excellence

On Saturday, the University’s Chorus and Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of English and Russian music to a packed audience in Eliot College Hall.

Parry’s rousing  ‘I was Glad’ kicked off the evening, followed, in contrast,  by Lyadov’s evocative orchestral miniature ‘The Enchanted Lake’, complete with some  wonderfully watery sounds from the harp and celeste (ably played by Emma Murton and our very own Dan Harding). Chorus and Orchestra were then joined by tenor soloist and BBC Singer, Robert Johnston, to perform Gerald Finzi’s ‘For St Cecilia’. The Chorus has worked unbelievably hard this term to learn this challenging work, and they certainly came good on the night – even receiving a subtle ‘thumbs-up’ sign from Rob after they had sung a particularly tricky passage perfectly!

Gate of KievThe second half of the concert featured just the one work – Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. This was a very ambitious choice for the Symphony Orchestra, with some extraordinarily virtuosic passages for all the different sections to capture the drama of each of the paintings and designs. Director of Music and conductor, Susan Wanless, was bowled over by the performance;

“It never ceases to amaze me how all our student performers come so good on the night. During rehearsals I sometimes think that I might have been just a bit to bold in the programming, but invariably everyone rises amazingly  to the occasion. I don’t usually single-out individual players, but a special mention must go to saxophonist Hannah Williams, making her debut as an orchestral soloist, Euphonium player Jonathan Neagle, and especially Ben Lodge for his nerveless and faultless playing in all those scary trumpet solos!”

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Helpful, knowledgeable and inspiring…

Last Sunday, the Symphony Orchestra had its workshop day. Tuba-player, member of the brass section, third-year Architecture student and Society President Chris Gray was there, and had this to say about the day…


Chris Gray

Brass cheek: Chris Gray

It should be criminal for one to be on campus so early on a Sunday morning, but this was for a good reason; our mid-term orchestral workshop.

The University Symphony Orchestra underwent their first day of sectionals, masterclasses and rehearsals as a relatively new group of musicians. With the addition of new first-year and post-grad students and also the loss of students that had moved onto pastures new, the orchestra required a day of bonding as, not only an orchestra, but in their respective sections.

The orchestra was divided up into small sectionals which were led by an extraordinary group of tutors including staff from the university, friends from outside of the University and professional musicians. As a tuba player, and an orchestral musician, sometimes mentioned in separate sentences, it is important to feel part of a not only a large orchestra but your individual section.

Feeling part of a section means you breathe together on tutti sections, blend and play with good intonation. Our sectional began with the iconic opening of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, working on phrasing, dynamics and tuning. Such is Ravel’s orchestration, that tuning is paramount throughout, with rich harmonies and detailed phrasing. As a trumpet player, Alex Caldon, our section leader, has had experience of the opening solo and provided an insight into the correct method of phrasing and dynamic to produce the best sound.

The morning progressed with work on Pictures but also the choral piece Finzi ‘For St Cecilia;’ described as a mini Belshazzar’s Feast, the work again provides challenges for the brass. We worked on the opening 4 bars which are a fanfare of trumpets and trombone introducing this emphatic hymn to the patron saint of music.

Throughout the morning, the emphasis was on playing in a positive manner, producing a good quality sound and more importantly playing as a section. It was also interspersed with witty tales of an orchestral musician dealing with conductors, other musicians and the challenges that are faced in the professional world.

In the afternoon, the orchestra re-formed and rehearsals began; the difference being immediately noticeable. Sections became coherent bodies of musicians, in-tune with each other and playing with great diligence. The confidence from sectionals spilled over into a rehearsal that had developed further in the three hours of sectionals than the previous three weeks. The tutors are an invaluable resource and the students do appreciate them. The workshop days do provide a day away from coursework and deadlines were one can relax and enjoy the music. The confidence from the tutors inspires students and produces sounds that only they can muster, but most of all they are not only helpful but knowledgeable and inspiring. Bring on the concert!

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In the Picture: the new term gets underway with Mussorgsky

With music-making at the University now in full swing, last week it was the turn of the University Symphony Orchestra. Here’s conductor Susan Wanless’ impression of the first rehearsal…


Last Thursday saw the first rehearsal of this year’s Symphony Orchestra. Following their scarey auditions at the weekend, the successful (and relieved) woodwind and brass players joined the strings to begin learning Mussorgsky’s virtuosic orchestra work, Picture at an Exhibition.

We played through some of the movements which proved very exciting… and very loud! This year there are talented players in every single section of the orchestra,with a full complement of student brass players, double bassists, timpanist and harpist. So it bodes well for a spectacular first concert in December!

Keep up to date with Orchestra here on ‘Playing Up’ throughout the term: more soon…

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Cathedrals of sound: in rehearsal

I’ve just discovered this photo from the Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert last month, which has languished waiting to be posted. Taken from halfway up the raked choral seating behind the University Orchestra, it gives a sense of the mighty forces which assembled for the concert back in March.

Altogether now... in rehearsal

The day is especially long for all the performers involved, beginning at 9am when some of us begin to move the equipment from campus to the Cathedral; there then follows the rehearsal until 2.15pm, and then the concert in the evening.

A truly monumental occasion, and a terrific opportunity to perform in such an ancient venue.

(I should reassure readers that this was taken during a movement when there was no piano playing in the Stravinsky Firebird Suite. Honest…)

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