The Music Department at the University of Huddersfield has excellent performance and performance research facilities. There are two concert halls. Phipps Hall, in the Music Department, is an intimate space appropriate for chamber music performance and is used by a very wide variety of musical events; it includes a recent Steinway Model D piano and a replica Baroque chamber organ (pictured right). St Paul’s Hall, a converted Georgian church dating from 1829, is a larger, more resonant space. It has two resident Steinway pianos (a Model D, and Model C), an 1897 7ft 4in Broadwood, a two manual harpsichord, a portable chamber organ by Wood of Huddersfield, and a large 3-manual tracker-action concert organ.
Historical performance as a research and practice area benefits from a range of replica instruments, including several harpsichords, a Baroque string quartet, sackbuts, viols and many other instruments, housed in the Early Music Studio. We also possess a 1928 violin made by Arnold Dolmetsch, and an expanding historical piano collection. This currently comprises an 1897 Broadwood grand, fully restored by Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios (and available for recitals), and a c.1830 Clementi square piano, which will shortly be undergoing restoration. The university has piano stock of scale and quality virtually unrivalled in a university music department in the UK.
As regards twentieth-century music and contemporary music performing practice, all performers specialising in contemporary music are members of the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM), and as such enjoy regular and fruitful collaborations with staff and postgraduate composers, having opportunities to work with electronics alongside experts and student specialists, frequent guest speakers, composers and performers. They are part of a vibrant, dynamic community of new music specialists and enthusiasts, exchanging knowledge and ideas through seminars, research fora, workshops and other activities.
In 2015, the centre acquired a fully-restored 1897 Broadwood grand piano, housed permanently in St Paul’s Concert Hall. The instrument has been entirely restored by Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios, an internationally-recognised organisation which, under engineer and piano innovator, Richard Dain, is at the forefront of contemporary organological research. The instrument is maintained at A=440, which, whilst only set as a pitch standard by means of an international agreement in 1939, was the pitch most commonly encountered in England at this time. The instrument’s rugged construction and its comprehensive restoration means that sharper tunings may be possible (few if any period instrument groups attempt to approximate ‘Philharmonic Pitch’ – even though this was a reality in London in the late nineteenth century!) and it provides the centre with an excellent instrument for visiting artists, historically-interested students, and for recital and recording, by members of HuCPeR.
The piano was unveiled at a performance of Elgar’s Piano Quintet in October, 2015, performed by the historically-interested HuCPeR-linked ensemble, The Meiningen Ensemble. The performance sought to experiment with aspects of early-twentieth-century style, although all string players were using ‘modern strings’ (a decision based on pragmatic expedience on this particular occasion). The performance, which makes particular reference to the Stratton Quartet’s performance (which was the last recording to be heard and approved by the dying composer in 1934), and displays typical features of performance at this time. This includes a combination of string portamento with vibrato which, where introduced by younger-generation players up to the 1930s, tended to be even more regular and aurally noticeable than today. You will also hear some (by now) quite subtle arpeggiation of piano chords, and dislocation between melody and accompaniment – these traits, clearly documented by surviving pianists trained in the mid or early nineteenth century, continued in smaller-scale form until around World War 2. The warm sonorities of the piano are evident here, and future work will be to unify these with gut string sonorities in future performances and recordings. An extract of this live, unedited performance can be found here.
HuCPeR is always looking to broaden its collection of period instruments, to reflect the wide variety of historical applications relevant to the work of the centre’s members. Founding principles of the centre are that performance research is multi-faceted, does not inculcate set philosophical and practical outcomes, and, in as much as it is involved in historical practice, sees ‘historical performance’ as a broad cultural and chronological area for enquiry.