Madness descends upon Welsh National Opera for its autumn season

WNO insider and recent BMus graduate Patrick Reardon-Morgan talks about their upcoming season and why you’d be mad to miss it

PrintIn 2015-16 Welsh National Opera are celebrating their 70th anniversary with seven brand new productions, and it’s all kicking off this autumn with some of the finest musical expressions of madness in the repertoire.

Stephen Sondheim’s ground-breaking musical Sweeney Todd closes the season, exploring not only the madness of the protagonist but also of society as a whole. Orlando comes before this – one of Handel’s greatest operas which uses musical virtuosity as a metaphor for insanity.  And opening the autumn season is a new production of Bellini’s I puritani; the composer’s final opera and widely regarded as a bel canto masterpiece.

WNO-WMC Sweeney Todd

If you haven’t been to WNO before, it should be at the top of your things to do while you’re still a student. Their productions are engaging and always artistically daring, and their world class chorus is one of the best in the UK. Free tickets to some of the dress rehearsals will be available to students in the School of Music (on the first floor landing), but if you miss out on these you can still see most WNO performances for £5.

Here are the dates you need to know:

Wed     9 Sep               I Puritani                     Dress rehearsal                      3.00pm

Fri        11 Sep             I Puritani                     Opening night                         7.00pm

Sat       19 Sep             I Puritani                                                                       7.00pm

Fri        25 Sep             Orlando                       Dress rehearsal                      6.00pm

Sun      27 Sep             Orlando                       Opening night                        4.00pm

Sat       3 Oct               Orlando                                                                         7.15pm

Sun      4 Oct               I Puritani                                                                       4.00pm

Wed     7 Oct               Orlando                                                                        7.15pm

Thu      8 Oct               Sweeney Todd             Opening night                      7:30pm

Fri        9 Oct               Sweeney Todd                                                            7:30pm

All performances take place at the Wales Millennium Centre, which is accessible on foot (about 20 minutes from the city centre) or by train (Queen Street to Cardiff Bay, £1.60 return with a railcard). Ticket availability is limited so book as early as you can – contact Dr Clair Rowden for dress rehearsals ( or the WMC box office for mainscale performances (029 2063 6464). For those thinking about going to their first opera: leave any preconceptions at the door. There’s no dress code, and you won’t have to bring your binoculars.

WNO run a number of schemes aimed at students and recent graduates. As well as £5 tickets for under-30s, WNO Youth Opera is open to all singers aged 16-30. WNO also run an internship scheme covering four administrative departments, which can be a great next step for recent graduates.

Hesse Student Scheme at Aldeburgh Festival

BMus student Patrick Reardon-Morgan on the Hesse Student Scheme, an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in arts admin or composition…

aldeburgh2“In 1948, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears set up an ambitious music festival in what today would be considered a frankly absurd location – Aldeburgh, a tiny fishing village on the Suffolk coast. Not only was Aldeburgh hard to get to (and still is), but without a concert venue and in a community of just 3000 people, how could a radical new festival such as this sustain its audience?

“Well, it did. And today Aldeburgh Music employs over 200 people, running year round events including both the Aldeburgh Festival and a series of proms each night in August. They own a portfolio of businesses in nearby Snape, including restaurants, retail outlets and a world-class concert hall in a converted barn.

aldeburgh“They support new music, community work, and the development of young people from every musical discipline imaginable. That is where the Hesse scheme comes in, because as well as courses for composers and performers, Aldeburgh reaches out to young people with an interest in the administrative side of the arts too. As with everything at Aldeburgh, the Hesse scheme oozes history, with alumni including Thomas Adès, Steven Isserlis, Jane Glover, Michael Chance and Iain Burnside.

“I was lucky enough to be selected for this scheme – the Hesse Studentship, as it is officially known – and therefore spent a week going behind the scenes to help organise what must be one of the UK’s most remarkable musical events. All this came at zero cost to me, as accommodation, breakfast and dinner was paid for by Aldeburgh Music.

“In return, the other Hesse students and I did various tasks including stage-managing the Bandstand Beach Stage (new in 2015), serving drinks at exclusive receptions, and the odd bit of photocopying. When we were off duty we attended world-class concerts or rehearsed for our own (composers: this is a great chance to get your first world premiere at Aldeburgh Festival).

“Most mornings we had meetings with the senior heads of department, which gave us the opportunity to network with some of the most influential arts administrators in the business. This included Roger Wright CBE, who became the Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music in 2014 after running the BBC Proms for seven years.

“The Hesse scheme is a superb opportunity for anyone considering a career in arts admin, and I would encourage any recent graduates or current students to consider doing it next summer. Find out more at and set a reminder to apply in early 2016.

“Thanks go to Gerald and Judith Gowland for supporting the Hesse scheme.”

Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra heads off on tour

Undergraduate student Bronwen Maggs is about to head off to Germany with Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra will be performing in a range of venues and Bronwen will be there to help document everything…

cusotourposter“With just one more day to go until the Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra set off on their first ever trip to Europe, it seems like it is about time for our first tour update.

“The Cardiff University School of Music is buzzing with activity and has been all week. Third years have been giving the performances of their lives to audiences in the department’s concert hall, performing half an hour’s worth of repertoire each, in their last ever undergraduate university examinations. It has been a terrifying, exciting and all round emotional week for most, even for the audience members: Teary eyes have been spotted on many occasions.

“Now, the musicians turn to their orchestral scores; getting ready for what are set to be three spectacular concerts, while the tour management busy themselves double and triple checking everything is ready and set to go.

Meanwhile, none of us can contain our excitement. It is going to be a truly incredible week. Keep an eye on this website for more updates as we go along.”

There’ll be more updates from Bronwen during the tour over at the Symphony Orchestra’s new website. You can also follow the Symphony Orchestra on Facebook and Twitter.

Creating new music

2nd-year BMus student Lucy McPhee writes about her exciting year as a young composer…

“As my second year at Cardiff draws to a close I can reflect on what has been a very exciting year for me so far.

“I have continued to enjoy every aspect of my course but I feel this year I have developed as a performer but especially a composer.

Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra at St David's Hall this year

Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra at St David’s Hall this year

“I was very fortunate to be given the solo saxophone part for the UK Premiere of Jolivet’s Poemes Intimes, performed by the Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra (CUSO) as part of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s City of Light Festival. This was an amazing opportunity, in addition to being able to record it for CUSO’s next CD.

“I was also very excited to be chosen again to have my composition performed in the Second Year Composition Performance Showcase. This was the second consecutive year I have been selected, I was very excited to go through the process again.

“As a result of this I was approached by Dogpole Drama Company who wish to use my composition ‘The Argument’ in their production of ‘Yvette’ in Autumn 2015. I have been sent one of the trailers being used to promote the production which includes my composition.

I have also recently heard that I have been accepted for the National Youth Arts Wales Young Composers Residency this summer. I will be joining other young composers on the National Youth Orchestra of Wales course this summer composing a piece of music for a small ensemble made up of players from the orchestra.

“The piece I compose on the course will then be performed at various venues when the orchestra go on their tour. I am very excited to take part in this amazing opportunity after returning from the upcoming CUSO Tour to Germany and Belgium.

A very busy but very exciting summer ahead for me!”

Fringe Music Showcase wins Best Society Collaboration


Patrick Reardon-Morgan, President of the Music Society and a 3rd-year music student, on a recent awards success…

“Triumph for seven of Cardiff’s music societies, who last Friday (8 May 2015) took home the Students’ Union’s prize for Best Society Collaboration.

“The Music, Operatic, Jazz, Brass Band, Blank Verse, City of Cardiff Concert Band and Healthcare Music Societies were awarded the trophy for their showcase concert in March, which took place in the SU’s nightclub Y Plas as part of Cardiff Fringe 2015. This festival, now in its second year, celebrates society activity with a week-long programme of events, including everything from baking to stand-up.

“The four-hour Music Showcase was designed as an exposition of the fantastic work done by musical societies throughout the University and beyond. The Healthcare Music Society ensured students from the Heath Park campus were represented, and the City of Cardiff Concert Band even boasts some non-student members.

“The other five societies are based in the School of Music, supporting fifteen ensembles between them. Twelve of these were represented at the Showcase, with sets varying in length from ten minutes to half an hour.

PhD student Martin Humphries conducts the Wind Ensemble

“Brass Band brought the house down with a crowd-pleasing arrangement of the Ghostbusters theme, while Operatic Society reprised favourite items from both their March production of The Fairy Queen and their gala concert last November. Having secured partial funding for Wind Ensemble’s (now Wind Orchestra) trip to the finals of the National Concert Band Festival in Manchester, the Music Society was proud to present a programme of highest quality wind band music.

“The Jazz Society both opened and closed the show, which was finally concluded with Big Band’s performance of ‘Reach’ by S Club 7.

“With two stages – one on the ground floor and one on the balcony – the music never ceased. Blank Verse, the female voice choir who seek to create a ‘relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere’ in rehearsals, performed on the latter, and this description is apt to describe the evening itself.

“Though the music was consistently excellent, the Music Showcase had none of the formality of a traditional concert. By doing this, the seven societies involved were able to entice students who would not normally hear many of the musical styles on show. This kind of outreach must certainly have played its part in the Students’ Union’s decision to name it Best Society Collaboration.”

MuSoc in Paris

2nd-year BMus student Victoria Thomas tells us about the Cardiff University Music Society’s recent trip to Paris…

MuSoc logo“This Easter, the Music Society held its first trip abroad, spending 4 days in Paris.  It was a great break from the busy-ness of last semester and was an opportunity to leave the impending deadlines behind us for a few days!

“A small group of us got a mini bus from Cardiff to London St. Pancras, – which was kindly provided by the department – leaving Cardiff at the early time of 5:30am before getting the Eurostar to Paris.

DSC00661“Once in Paris we managed to see the Parisian skyline from the steps of La Basilisque du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, before wandering around the market-stalls of Montmartre itself.

“The second day was planned with the guidance of Dr Caroline Rae, drawing on her expertise as department lecturer and Series Adviser for the Philharmonia’s City of Light concert series, which explores music composed in Paris 1900-1950.  With Dr Rae’s help, we were able to visit some of the places discussed in modules, or those thought highly of in the world of classical music, including the Musée de la Musique; Palais Garnier; and the Philharmonie de Paris.

“First up was a tour of the Palais Garnier; a nineteenth-century opera house, home to the Opèra Nationale de Paris. The building itself looks magnificent from the outside, complete with busts of famous composers lining the columns around the building; but this had nothing on the majesty of the interior– it’s certainly worth visiting if you ever find yourself passing!10408100_10205596150610497_4476800027931874204_n

“This was followed by a visit to the Musée de la Musique, part of the Cité de la musique, the area of Paris dedicated to music.  The Musée de la Musique contains a vast array of instruments from across the world from the seventeenth-century to the present day, all of which have been collected by the Conservatoire de Paris. The collection includes many unusual and rare instruments such as a theramin, an electric instrument which you do not touch to play, and an Octobass, standing at around 3.48m and one of only a few in existence.

“The musical day ended with a visit to the newly opened Philharmonie de Paris to see the Russian National Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and 2nd Piano Concerto with Nikolai Lugansky, conducted by Dmitri Liss. This is yet another striking building which was only opened in January of this year.


“After seeing some of the locations related to our course, the next day was all about being tourists, visiting the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris; Musée D’Orsay; and the Eiffel Tower.  This was my first visit to the Notre-Dame Cathedral and I felt so lucky to see just how spectacular the cathedral’s design truly is, both in the nave and after climbing the 385 steps to the top of the bell tower to be greeted by gargoyles and a breath-taking view of the city.

“Jelly-legged after climbing and descending the many stairs, we made our way to the Musée D’Orsay to view works by the likes of Van Gogh, Monet and Manet. Following a lovely meal at Le Petit Cler, the trip was brought to a close watching the Eiffel Tower lights display as the sun set, before making our way back to the UK the following morning, ready to tackle the final few weeks of the year.”

Busy year for Cardiff University Wind Ensemble

Composer and conductor Martin Humphries studied here for his BMus and his MMus in Composition. He is currently undertaking PhD research in composition. He’s also been conductor of the successful Cardiff University Wind Ensemble for the past two years and he’s here to tell us about the Ensemble’s recent activities…

“Following two very enjoyable days in Manchester, I am pleased to announce that the Cardiff University Wind Ensemble were awarded the joint highest mark in the hardest difficulty category at the National Concert Band Festival Finals at the Royal Northern College of Music.

11150584_10155383756020394_6794866141611291151_n“The festival is the largest wind band competition in the UK and we chose to enter at the professional level category, a challenge which the band has really risen to. The judges praised our programme which was made up entirely of music by current and former students of Cardiff University, including a piece we commissioned for the festival by current PhD candidate Joseph Hillyard.

“I began conducting the band two years ago and during that time we have focussed on programming music of young, British composers from within and outside of the wind band movement. This academic year we took this ethos even further and began looking at music by current and former Cardiff students. The band really responded to the repertoire we found (Cardiff University having a reputation for producing a good pedigree of band composers), and we realised we had enough music to record a CD.

10881520_10152719130452353_4102058855033266906_n“With the support of the School of Music, the Students’ Union, and the Music Society, we were able to make this a reality and just days before competing in the festival we embarked on a hugely ambitious recording project. The band returned to Cardiff and spent two days in the University Concert Hall which became our studio. The recordings went off (virtually) without a hitch and we’re all very excited to share the results with everybody later this year.

“The CD is made up entirely of music by current and former students and the track listing will be:

1) Activate – Matthew Hall

2) On The Edge – Daniel Bickerton

3) Crotalus Cerestes – Richard McReynolds (winner of our 2015 call for scores)

4) Welsh Airs and Dances – Alun Hoddinott

5) Put A Tiger In Your Tank – Martin Humphries

6) The Smile – Matthew Hall

7) Unexpected Reincarnation – Joseph Hillyard

8) Looking In – Tom Davoren

9“Thank you to everybody in the band for making both the CD and the festival such enormous successes!

“We have lots of exciting plans lined up for next year including projects collaborating with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force and the University of Saskatchewan (Canada). Watch this space…”

Performing Debussy premieres

Later this month Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra will perform world premieres of works by Debussy at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. Sam Warner, a 3rd-year student and Principal Cellist, looks ahead to the concert…

cuso“During my seven years playing in an orchestra, the only French orchestral repertoire from the turn of the 20th-century I’ve had the opportunity to play is Ravel’s Boléro. I was thrilled to learn that as part of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘City of Light’ concert series happening over the country, the University Symphony Orchestra will, once again, be broadening my orchestral experience.

We will be ending the Cardiff festival with the well-loved Debussy Nocturnes and Ravel’s La Valse. In addition to this, we will be playing world premieres of two of Debussy’s works he left unfinished (No-Ja-Li and L’Histoire de Tristan), as well as the UK premiere of ‘Poèmes intimes’ by André Jolivet.

This will be a huge learning curve for me as a cellist and a musician. Not only will we be performing these works in St. David’s Hall but this weekend the Orchestra will also be recording these three premieres, along with a piece by one of our own composition lecturers, Dr Robert Fokkens.

This will be the second CD the Orchestra has released, hopefully there will be many more in years to come! 

Our concerts website has more information on the St David’s Hall concert. You can also visit the School’s website to learn more about our involvement in the Philharmonia Orchestra’s City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 festival. 

Celebrating Welsh Music

The Palestrina Singers of Cardiff University, one of the many student-run ensembles at Cardiff, will be celebrating St David’s Day on 2 March with a lunchtime concert of Welsh music. Musical Director Kieran Jones, a 3rd-year BMus student, tells us about this upcoming event…

palestrinas logoAs I embark on my final year of studying music at Cardiff University’s School of Music, it is a great honour and a privilege for me to be conductor of The Palestrina Singers of Cardiff University. This is a choir that holds great stature in the choral scene of Cardiff and it is important to me to keep the reputation of this choir alive.

I’m originally from North Wales and a first language Welsh speaker so St David’s Day has always been a special date in my calendar each year. Throughout my years at school this day would be celebrated with an eisteddfod and an annual walk made by the whole school across Flintshire. It became increasingly important to express the Welsh language and what it means to be Welsh on this day.

rehearsalIn Cardiff, this day is even more special as the city is thriving with parades, concerts and other various events throughout the day. I look forward to these celebrations each year and am fortunate to be able to contribute this year through organising this concert to celebrate St David and the long standing tradition of Welsh music.

Music has always been an important part of Wales’ culture and Wales is often regarded as the ‘land of song’. This concert is a celebration of all things musical and Welsh. The Cardiff University Male Voice Choir, of which I am also musical director, will be involved in this concert singing modern arrangements of classic Welsh folk melodies.

3Alongside this will be a combination of choral spectaculars from the Palestrina Singers of Cardiff University with music ranging from Mathias, Paul Maelor and Geraint Lewis. In addition to this, we are so lucky to share the stage with two prolific talents. International Soprano Gail Pearson, who will be singing a variety of songs written by Welsh composers, and Jeffrey Howard who will be accompanying both choirs and Gail Pearson.

5Not only are these guests special to me personally but they are also alumni of the School of Music and it is an enormous pleasure for me to welcome them back to perform in this special concert.

This concert is taking place on St David’s Day in the heart of Wales’ capital city with two outstanding Welsh musicians joining the Cardiff University Male Voice Choir and the Palestrina Singers of Cardiff University. I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate St David’s Day and expose the most wonderful music that really proves Wales to be the “land of song”. ​

MuSoc in Paris

MuSoc logo“For the first time in its recent history the Music Society is going abroad – to Paris, the City of Light. Travelling by Eurostar, students will have the opportunity to visit such iconic musical venues as the Palais Garnier and Théâtre des Champs Élysées, as well as Parisian landmarks the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral. The trip will also include a visit to the brand new Philharmonie de Paris, where the Russian National Orchestra will be performing Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony and Second Piano Concerto.

“No trip to Paris would be complete without seeing the nineteenth century opera house, the Palais Garnier, whose auditorium is considered one of the most opulent in the world. The chandelier, made of bronze and crystal, weighs seven tonnes and dominates the ceiling of the theatre (at the expense of many of the cheaper seat’s view of the stage!) academieThe Théâtre des Champs Élysées could scarcely be more different; designed to be shockingly plain in appearance it is perhaps most famous for hosting the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in the year of its construction. Today its orchestra in residence is the Orchestra National de Franc, and it also acts as a home from home for the Wiener Philharmoniker.

“Inaugurated in January this year, the Philharmonie de Paris completes the Cité de la Musique, a dedicated music centre which also features a musical instrument museum and education centre. Part of a major 1990s redevelopment project, the Cité de la Musique is an international institution which has been at the centre of multiple filming and recording projects by Cardiff University lecturers Prof Kenneth Hamilton and Dr Caroline Rae.

Eiffel1“On the final day of the trip, MuSoc will be taking a walking tour of the city from Notre-Dame cathedral to the Eiffel Tower (via the Musée d’Orsay). Completed in 1345, Notre Dame is a gothic architectural marvel and one of the most famous churches in the world. The Musée d’Orsay is Paris’s top-rated attraction on acclaimed travel website Trip Advisor, and houses many of the world’s finest pieces of impressionist art. To end the trip, Music Society members will be treated to the very grandest of photo opportunities – the Eiffel Tower at dusk.

“Join the Music Society on their trip for as little as £210 (payable in three deposits). To buy tickets and for more information, please visit

Patrick Reardon-Morgan, President of the Music Society and a 3rd-year music student.

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