Category Archives: Current students

Department Trip to Opera Exhibition at the V&A

On Friday 16th February 2018, a group of City Music students and staff visited the exhibition ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.

The exhibition explored the history of opera from its birth in 17th-Century Venice to the present-day through a series of key cities, dates, composers and operas – for instance Venice, 1642, Monteverdi, L’Incoronazione di Poppea; London, 1711, Handel, Rinaldo, and so on.

For each city/date/composer/opera the exhibition explored the social environment of the time and the importance of opera as an art form at different historical periods, for instance in relation to the ideas of the Enlightenment in Mozart’s time, or Italian nationalism in relation to Verdi’s work. The final section of the exhibition looked at opera post-1940.

There was also live music performed by students from the Royal College of Music.

One of the first year BMus students who came on the trip said: ‘The exhibition – its content and the way it was presented – was very inspiring. And it was very nice to be able to share the experience with other students and with the tutors’.

The trip ended in true City style with a meal in a local pizzeria!

Careers with a Music Degree Evening

On the evening of Tuesday 13th February 2018, the Music Department held its annual ‘Careers with a Music Degree’ Evening in conjunction with the City Careers Service. There were 5 speakers, including several City music alumni, as follows:

– Laura Selby, Studio Manager at Brains and Hunch;

– Marc Dooley,  Head of Digital Content Development at Edition Peters;

– Eloise Garland, Freelance Musician, Teacher and Deaf Awareness Campaigner;

– Luke Annesley, Music Therapist at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust;

– Sophie Ransby, Education Manager – Orchestras at the South Bank Centre.

The evening was led by Estanislao Bouza-Ortin, from the City Careers Service, who asked speakers about their own career paths, what their current work role entails on a day-to-day basis and what advice they would offer students to help them land their dream job.

The evening was attended by both UG and PG students who found it very useful to hear from and ask questions and careers advice from music professionals. Final year BMus student Emilie Parry-Williams commented:  “It was an incredibly informative evening. It was reassuring to hear how from their music degree, the panel had all embarked on different paths and found success in various places within the music industry. Listening to their experiences gave me peace of mind that the degree is the right choice, and will open lots of doors to me upon graduation.” 

After the formal session, the evening continued with networking with wine and nibbles.

City University Chamber Orchestra Performs at St Clement’s

The City University Chamber Orchestra gave their first concert of 2018 at St Clement’s Church, close to City, on the evening of Friday 25th January.

Conducted by Tim Hooper, the orchestra performed Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances (1917), the beautiful Pavane by Gabriel Faure (1887) and ended with Haydn’s Symphony no 101 in D Major, also known as the ‘Clock Symphony’ (1793/4).

Many thanks to Tim Hooper and to Leo Chadburn for his concert organisation, to St Clement’s for hosting the concert, and of course to everyone who played!

The orchestra’s next concert will be part of the Department’s Summer Sounds Festival in June.

City Music students visit Fabric

Students taking a new module in Electronic Dance Music had a privileged visit to Clerkenwell clubbing institution Fabric recently. They were met and shown around the building by the club manager, artistic programmer, marketing manager and chief sound engineer, who all gave unique perspectives on what it takes to run a large, iconic club in London for the last 18 years.

 

Students were able to set foot inside the famous Room 1 DJ booth, experience the unique ‘bodysonic’ sub-bass transducer dance floor, as well as hear the same music played back (at full volume!) on different systems… all to themselves!

  

 

A huge thanks to Judy, Kirsti, Luke and Pierre for taking their time to host us.

City Chamber Choir Performs in Trafalgar Square!

The City University Chamber Choir has had a busy end of term with three performances in just over a week. The first was its annual Christmas Concert at St Clement’s Church, King Square, on Wednesday 6th December, with a seasonal mix of carols and a complete performance of Bob Chilcot’s ‘A Little Jazz Mass’.

The following week, on 13th December, the choir gave a lunchtime performance of carols at the main university entrance, in conjunction with the University Chaplaincy.

The choir finished its trio of performances with singing under the christmas tree in Trafalgar Square on the evening of 13th December. Despite the damp weather and competition from the bells of St Martin the Fields (!), much fun was had by all, fuelled by plenty of mince pies! We raised £170 in aid of Mind and the Islington Law Centre.

The City Chamber Choir is conducted by Tim Hooper and is open to anyone in the university. Just email music@city.ac.uk if you’d like to find out more about singing with us.  

 

City University Chamber Orchestra Summer Term Concert

by Carlota Rodriguez Ruiz-Healy, MA Music Student

The City University Chamber Orchestra gave its final concert of the year on May 19th, kicking off the City Summer Sounds festival, a three-week music festival in the Music Department at City, University of London.

Conducted by Tim Hooper, the orchestra performed at the atmospheric St. Clements Church, close to the university. The concert featured Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie and Edward Elgar’s Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin, Op. 15, No. 1 and 2. 

These works exhibited the versatile talent of City’s Music students. The Schubert, which began the concert, was played by the entire orchestra and gave an invigorating start to the evening. This was followed by the Gounod, a lovely work which showcased the orchestra’s wind players. The evening concluded with the orchestra re-joining to play two beautiful short pieces by Elgar, featuring Andrew Losq on piano. A great way to start our Summer Sounds Festival!

Middle Eastern Music Events at City

The Department of Music recently hosted a series of events focused on the musics of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia as part of the City Summer Sounds festival.

The latest instalment of the bi-annual Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, convened by Head of Department Dr Laudan Nooshin and Dr Rachel Harris (SOAS, University of London), took place on Monday 22 May. Alongside scholars from institutions within the UK, the day included speakers from as far afield as Israel and the United States. Laudan was part of a roundtable discussion in the afternoon, with Tom Parkinson (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Abigail Wood (University of Haifa), which focussed upon ‘The Ethics and Aesthetics of Studying Music in Situations of Conflict and Violence: Perspectives from the Middle East’. Also presenting her research was City PhD student Gabrielle Messeder, whose paper explored competing political narratives from the Syrian Civil War through musical examples shared and circulated on YouTube.

PhD Music student Gabrielle Messeder

In the evening of 22 May, the Performance Space hosted a performance by Syrian Kanun player Maya Youssef and her Trio. Performing pieces from her recently-recorded debut album, the evocative Syrian Dreams was a particularly moving highlight of the evening.

Posted by Aghsan Kh on Monday, May 22, 2017

 

On Tuesday 23 May, a one-day conference convened by Visiting Lecturer and department alumnus Dr Stephen Wilford focussed upon Music, Technology and Digital Cultures in the Middle East and North Africa. The event brought together scholars, filmmakers, musicians and industry professionals to consider the role of technology and digital culture in the Middle East and North Africa, in both historical and contemporary contexts. The final session of the day included a presentation by Dr Cristina Moreno Almeida (King’s College London) and Moroccan rapper Omar Souhaili (aka Dizzy DROS), and a discussion between Nathan Comer (Masåfåt Festival, London and Cairo) and City PhD student Sam Mackay. The conference was part of the Music and Digital Cultures in the Middle East and North Africa project, and was supported by both City, University of London and the Institute of Musical Research.

Music PhD student Sam MacKay in discussion with Nathan Comer (Masåfåt Festival, London and Cairo)

Stephen Wilford, City Visiting Lecturer and PhD Music alumnus

City Summer Sounds: 2017 Festival

It’s now ten days before the start of our annual music festival, City Summer Sounds. We have three weeks of events, including jazz, world, experimental, electronic and classical chamber music, reflecting the diverse interests of the Department of Music. Everything is open to the public and free to attend.

City Summer Sounds Logo

You may wish to look over the complete listings here and sign up for tickets: http://www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

City Summer Sounds is an opportunity to showcase our students’ work, with performances by all our instrumentalists, and premieres by our composers. Immersive, multichannel electronic music is also a major part of the programme, studio work being a proud and significant part of the department’s legacy.

Maya Youssef

Maya Youssef (22nd May). Photo by Sarah Ginn

We’re also joined by internationally acclaimed guests and friends of the department, including Syrian kanun virtuoso Maya Youssef (22nd May), Australian pianist Zubin Kanga (5th June), jazz bassists Tom Herbert and Ruth Goller (7th June) and award winning Irish composer Ailís Ní Ríain (8th June).

Zubin Kanga (5th June). Photo by Richard Hedger.

On the 6th June, we launch a new group, the City Pierrot Ensemble, who will be performing Schoenberg’s expressionist masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire, Michael Finnissy’s wild, rarely-performed music theatre piece, Mr Punch, and Roger Redgate’s mercurial Pierrot On The Stage Of Desire. The vocalists will be two astonishing performers, Adam de la Cour and Alwynne Pritchard.

Alwynne Pritchard

Alwynne Pritchard (6th June)

 

Reserve tickets now – and see you there!

 

City Balkan Ensemble Lunchtime Concert, Friday 17th March 2017

The City Balkan Ensemble presented its first official concert at City on Friday 17th March. Established and led by MA Ethnomusicology student Gundula Gruen, the ensemble presented its debut performance at the department’s Christmas Cabaret in December, since when its membership has doubled!

The performance on Friday featured a selection of vocal and instrumental pieces from Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and other parts of the Balkans, as well as songs from further afield such as Georgia. Pieces ranged from lively dances (including audience participation for the song ‘Jovano Jovanke’, a 7-time dance from Macedonia) to more contemplative songs.

Ensemble members are: Gundula Gruen (violin), William Brown (voice), Nia Rees (voice), Carolina Herrera (voice), Antonis Rousounelos (bouzouki), Kaz Levell (accordion), Ruth Kay (recorder), Anna Vaughan (violin), Serena Cassini (clarinet), Laudan Nooshin (clarinet), Fotis Begkli (clarinet and percussion), Emily Eaton (flute), Jamie Turner (guitar), Robbie Josephs (electric bass), Hannah Chow (cello) and Harriet McBurnie (cello).

The ensemble is great fun to play with and we are always looking for new players. We can accommodated most instruments or voices. Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings from 7pm in the Ensemble Room. If you’re interested in joining, email Gundula: <Gundula.Gruen@city.ac.uk>

You can watch 8 of the pieces performed below:

 

British-Iranian composer and City PhD student Soosan Lolavar on her opera ID, Please, and experiences of US immigration

Composer Soosan Lolavar, who is currently studying for a PhD at City, has recently received new public attention relating to her experiences in having her opera ID, Please performed in the United States. In this blog she writes exclusively in detail about the new work and her recent trip to the country, following the announcement by the new president Donald Trump of severe restrictions on entry to the country by those of Muslim origin, lending the opera a new topicality.

A year ago, when myself and the playwright Daniel Hirsch discussed a storyline for the opera that we would write together, we had no idea how acutely world events would become entangled in our work. At the time, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania studying Iranian classical music at Carnegie Mellon University with the help of a Fulbright Scholarship. As a British-Iranian immigrant to the US (and as a human being) I was deeply disturbed by the rhetoric of the Republican primaries unfolding around us, particularly the much discussed ‘Muslim ban,’ supported in various gradations by every single Republican candidate. At the time (the halcyon days of early 2016) such a move seemed like grotesque political posturing: a racist and divisive move, but surely one that no sane candidate would ever actually enact. Against this backdrop we briefly considered writing an opera about Trump, but decided that he would likely be gone from public life by the time of the opera’s performance and so might seem like a strange choice of figure. In the end we settled on a piece about immigration, set at border control in an unnamed country and time and considering contemporary rhetoric on borders, nationalism and others.

In February 2017, five days before I was due to fly to the US to attend the rehearsals of our immigration-themed opera, ID, Please, I received the news that, due to my dual British-Iranian nationality, I was officially banned from entering a country I had called home for a year. My experience was, thankfully, incredibly short-lived, since soon enough the privilege of my British passport swung into action and dual nationals of the UK were given special dispensation to travel. This left me in a strange and ambivalent position that I continue to navigate. My situation received some media attention – ‘British-Iranian composer unable to attend rehearsals of her opera about immigration’ has a fairly nice ring to it – in which I struggled to prevent journalists from representing me as a poor, innocent victim of the order. My British privilege had already ensured that I would travel as normal while Iranian passport-holding friends of mine who lived in the US were now terrified for their immigration status. Moreover, unlike my hijab-wearing family, I am able to ‘pass’ as un-threatening at border control and avoid the ‘random’ extra checks they continually endure. This is not to say that I experienced immigration without fear. Due to my dual nationality, I carry a different visa from most British nationals which always elicits a question and the subsequent disclosure of my Iranian nationality. On landing at JFK I braced myself for extra questioning and, in an eerie echo of one of the lines from the opera, “clutched my passport so hard it made my hand hurt”. Oddly, in the end the officer asked me no questions at all. Perhaps he was just tired after a no doubt exhausting week, perhaps he forgot, or perhaps it was due to the fact that the Temporary Restraining Order on the bill had been enacted just four hours before I landed. I suppose I will never know.

Needless to say, the events of the past few months have brought the opera into terrifyingly sharp focus, with the shape of the work altering several times as a result. In reaction to world events, Daniel Hirsch added references to ‘building walls’, ‘checking their teeth’ and ‘a billionaire tyrant’, as well as an instance where a Muslim passenger is asked to visit a different queue on disclosure of her religion (eerily enough, this line was added before we could be sure the Muslim Ban was anything other than bloviating election rhetoric).

Despite these oblique contemporary references, the opera as a whole is located everywhere and nowhere, with the travellers representing everyone and nobody at all. Of a total of three singers, only the baritone border guard represents a fixed and conventional character. The other singers act as ciphers playing multiple travellers with no names, switching gender, religion and backstory dozens of times throughout the opera. Thus, while one singer proclaims themselves a refugee in one instance, they may disclose that they are a drug smuggler, a human-rights activist or a student soon after. The overlapping voice types of traveller one and two – mezzo-soprano and counter-tenor – similarly reflect the constant identity slippages that each singer engages in. Our intention was that the audience is left with a feeling of uncertainty of who anybody really is. Are any of us truly and completely honest at borders? Can the list of questions asked really enable you know someone? Is there such a thing as an innocent or a guilty person?

Moreover, as a result of such shifting characters, the work as a whole eschews a conventional narrative arc. A question I’m regularly asked is how many of the travellers make it through to the other side of the border. The answer is we have no idea. We focus on the plight of one person only briefly and, before we know the outcome, the action shifts to someone new. Here the story explores how individuality (and humanity) can be erased at borders as unique life experiences harden into case numbers. This is true both for travellers facing the power of the state, and for those that work at border control whose individualism is stripped away by a life of dull, repetitive tasks.

Against this backdrop and in terms of the music, I was keen to produce an environment with an overall feeling of instability, fear and mechanical, dehumanising repetition. I was particularly keen to ensure that repetition never felt safe or calming but always had a sense of instability or dread. One technique I used for this was shifting the rhythmic setting of particular reoccuring lines while keeping the melodic contour the same (see figure 1). This not only highlights the potentially ambivalent meaning of particular lines – for e.g. is “I do not like the way you look at me like that” a defiant statement of humanity or a fear of profiling? – but also created the feeling of a shifting foundation where the reality was never quite clear.

Fig. 1 From the mezzo-soprano aria ‘My hands are sweaty, my heart is racing’

Here the melodic contour is transposed down a fourth:

The same interrogation occuring at different points in the opera

 

The border guard questions travellers

However, the border guard repeats the phrase “anything else to declare?” several times throughout the opera with no changes made to its rhythmic setting. Moreover, he often presents questions to travellers sung entirely on one note. Both processes highlight him as a relatively powerless character, someone who is following orders and is dehumanised by their repetitiveness (see figure 2).

Fig. 2 Dehumanising the border guard

Further techniques that produce a feeling of instability include using mixed meters and syncopation to disrupt the pulse, and setting words so that the stresses fall unnaturally (see figure 3).

Fig 3.

In response to a question about their religious affiliation, traveller one (mezzo-soprano) responds, “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. In everyday speech, the stresses for this sentence might fall thus: “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. Instead, in this setting, strong beats fall on “Well, I don’t really have one”. Moreover, for “it’s kind of”, the triplet quaver is shifted by a semi-quaver so that a clear pulse is completely absent from the first few beats of the bar, and the first obvious strong beat falls in an unexpected location: “complicated”.

There are several further instances in the opera where a triplet quaver motif is shifted in order to disrupt a clear sense of pulse and stability, see figure 4.

Fig 4. Disrupting the sense of pulse by shifting a triplet quaver figure

 

A sense of uncertainty is not only produced through rhythmic instability but also through the fluctuation of pitch. There is a reoccurring theme of a low drone being interrupted by a quarter tone at several points throughout the opera (see figure 5).

Figure 5

B drone in marimba, trombone and tuba interrupted by C ¾♭ in bass clarinet, violin II, viola, cello and double bass

 

 

A drone on C disrupted by D ¾

This sense of pitch instability is further explored, particularly in a trumpet-cello duet which makes use of extreme vibrato, glissandi, ‘growling’ (a trumpet technique where the player sings into the instrument at the same time as playing, made popular particularly by big band jazz), and the use of a plunger mute to create the sense of an unstable pitch centre, see figure 6.

Figure 6

Pitch stability interrupted by various techniques

ID, Please has become a complex process through which I work through my feelings of instability in the new world order, my fears for immigrant communities across the world and my concerns for the safety of my family and friends. As a result of recent political events, I certainly feel a greater sense of responsibility to produce a piece of work that adequately represents the complexity of such positions.

The work will premier at Pittsburgh Opera on 1st April 2017 and will be live-streamed via the Carnegie Mellon University website with hopes to bring it to the UK in in the near future.