All posts by City of London Sinfonia

We create dynamic and engaging musical experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds, performing throughout London and the UK in concert halls, schools and hospitals, alternative venue spaces and diverse community settings.

Highlights: Modern Mystics Season Launch

On Thursday 5 October, we held a special event to launch our Autumn Season at West London Synagogue. The venue was all dressed up for Sukkot with its beautiful and colourful sukkah, complete with water fountains and hanging fruit, and this Jewish holiday tradition certainly set the scene for our Modern Mystics Season Launch. Here’s how the evening unfolded…

Our famous comfy cushions, used in our seriously informal concert series, took pride of place in our reception.

Our guests and team gathered under the Synagogue’s stunning structure for drinks, nibbles and chats.

John Singer, our chairman, started off proceedings in the Sanctuary by introducing the premiere of our new short film (produced by Media Trust), which is now live on YouTube.

Chief Executive Matthew Swann hosted an inspiring panel discussion with Alexandra Wood (Creative Director and Leader), Jessica Cottis (Conductor, The Book of Hours), Fiona Lambert (Director of Participation) and Claire Henry (Animateur in Residence) about our Autumn Season. Topics included our Modern Mystics trilogy (starting on 9 November) and our Autumn Participation projects, including our Lullaby Concerts with Orchestras Live and our new three-year collaboration with Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital.

Our string quartet exemplified the Synagogue’s incredible acoustics with a performance of Summa by Arvo Pärt, featured in the first concert of our Modern Mystics series – The Fruit of Silence at Southwark Cathedral.

The performance ended in that beautiful silence our panel had spoken so eloquently about, before we headed back to the reception for more delightful conversation.

What a way to launch our Autumn Season!

Tweets about the night

 


Find out more about our Modern Mystics series: The Fruit of Silence (9 November, Southwark Cathedral), The Book of Hours (22 November, Village Underground), The Protecting Veil (2 December, St John’s Smith Square).

Learn more about our Participation programme: Growth through Music (Lullaby Concerts), Wellbeing through Music (L’Chaim, Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital).

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Jack James: Visuals in The Fruit of Silence

Earlier this autumn, we caught up with Video Artist Jack James to find out more about him and what he’s got in store for our audience in The Fruit of Silence at Southwark Cathedral on Thursday 9 November.

How long have you been a video artist for?

“It must be about 10 years. I started in theatre and did a degree in Technical Theatre and Stage Management, which was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It’s quite mixed with lots of different things going on; it’s not just about theatre.”

We got to know you because of Opera Holland Park…

“Yes, Flight at Opera Holland Park. And we’re now going to do that with Scottish Opera, which is interesting – the set is very different; it’s much bigger.”

Have you worked with a lot of orchestras before?

“Not really, no – only in an opera context.”

Is this the first time you’re working with just a live orchestra?

“Yeah, it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to it.”

In The Fruit of Silence, people are going to be walking around throughout the concert and there’s a choir that will also be roaming around the Cathedral. Where are the visuals going to go?

“We’re going to operate mostly in the main part of the Cathedral, so when they promenade off, they’ll be going to places without video and coming back to those moments. We’ll do some stuff that relates to the architecture, and some stuff which is more general and abstract.”

What’s the creative process? How do you go about designing something for a gig?

“It depends. Often we’re working with other designers who have a particular initial overview, so we might take stimulus from the way they design the set. I think in this case that is the Cathedral itself, so that will be the starting point, and then listen to the music and start to get ideas of what it feels like.

“There’s a satisfaction to responding to something; being able to hear something in the space, to change the way you think about it. We try to build it like a kit of parts; get some ideas and try and assemble them into a formal thing over the process, so you can always be a little bit flexible. Sometimes you get somewhere and look at something and think, ‘ah, what this really needs is…’ So it’s not just a one-hit process.

“Different people work in different ways. Some people would map the whole plan out and set off and do it, and some people would react more. And when it comes to music, I think being able to react is quite important, because we won’t be the only people that want to change things last minute. People think about classical music as rigid sometimes, but I don’t think that’s really true. I think there’ll be a lot of changes and you want to see a performance come out as people are rehearsing, and we want to respond in the same way.”

What are your influences and inspirations?

“I’m really fascinated by abstract imagery, and how it can help be a picture that on its own doesn’t really mean much, but when it’s combined with things can represent or evoke a thought or an idea.”

Why do you think that visuals at a classical music concert might be interesting?

“I think it might help people connect with it. There are challenges with classical music, and I think anything that will help people – who haven’t necessarily been to one of those concerts before – get it, feels like it’s worth doing. And it’s such a beautiful space that we can accent parts of it; it should enrich the whole thing.

“People say that it’s very musical; the visuals are not just happening at the same time, it’s more that they are involved or reflect the music. We have to be very careful not to do something that distracts them at the most important bit. I guess we’re giving people something else to do while they’re listening, because it helps them engage the mind.”


Watch Jack James’ projections and visuals in action in our first two Modern Mystics concerts: The Fruit of Silence, Thursday 9 November (7.30pm), Southwark Cathedral and The Book of Hours, Wednesday 22 November (7.30pm), Village Underground.

Podcast: CLS’s Summer Holidays

Summer may officially be over, but we’re still revelling in our June-August collaborations through our Summer Holidays podcast, available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes.

On our podcast, we bring you all the details of King of Ghosts with Soumik Datta at Shakespeare’s Globe (21-22 June); our Grand Organ Gala (6 July) and Masses at St Paul’s Cathedral; Opera Holland Park’s 2017 Season and the Grenfell Tower Memorial Performance (1 August), and our Reformation Day performance at the BBC Proms (20 August).

Listen on SoundCloud:


Coming up in the Autumn: our Modern Mystics trilogy at Southwark Cathedral, Village Underground and St John’s Smith Square.

 

L’Chaim: Living Music

This August, we set off on another of our successful L’Chaim tours around care homes in North London, offering concerts for Jewish residential homes in partnership with Jewish Care.

The houses were originally set up to provide sheltered housing for elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors or refugees. Each home has a shared space where residents come together to socialise and our concerts help to bring people together in these spaces, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness amongst the older people.

A string quartet from CLS visited seven different homes, playing a specially programmed concert of classical favourites, lighter popular songs and arrangements of Jewish melodies. The audiences varied in size but staff told us that many residents hear and appreciate the music from their own rooms – some of the audience were so enthusiastic that they couldn’t resist the urge to get up and dance to some of the Klezmer tunes.

We were also lucky enough to hear thoughts and stories from residents in a few of the homes over a cup of tea and cake – it was a privilege to get to know the residents and we’re looking forward to our next tour in November.

Want to know more about our L’Chaim projects? Watch our L’Chaim, Living Music video.


With older people, Holocaust survivors and those who are facing bereavement, our music-making helps to keep memories alive and minds active. Learn more about our Wellbeing through Music projects…

Opera Holland Park 2017: Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà

We had an incredible 2017 Season, our fourteenth season as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park. And just like with the first two operas, and all British open-air productions, the wind, rain and thunder threatened to overthrow performances in the second half of the Season – but to no avail. Here’s what some of the critics had to say about Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà…

WhatsOnStage (★★★★★) described Kát’a Kabanová as ‘Janáček’s most richly coloured and disturbingly flavoured score’ – with which conductor Sian Edwards agreed in our Views From The Pit podcast. Edwards, in her Opera Holland Park debut, was given full credit by the media, with Seen and Heard International exclaiming that ‘it was Sian Edwards’ conducting that lit the night up, inspiring the City of London Sinfonia to unheard-of heights’, and The Stage (★★★★) adding that ‘she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence’.

Classical Source (★★★★★) loved Zazà, Leoncavallo’s ‘curious’ opera, in which ‘City of London Sinfonia and Peter Robinson was on fine form, relishing the music, and particularly well-managed were the off-stage banda and choral moments’, and the Daily Express (★★★★) thought ‘City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score’. Despite Zazà not quite hitting the mark with The Times, other papers such as The Telegraph (★★★★) and The Guardian (★★★★) had plenty good to say about the new production, giving full praise to Peter Robinson’s ‘sensitive conducting’ of ‘Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration’.

More from the press

Kát’a Kabanová

WhatsOnStage: ‘The belting City of London Sinfonia assails the ear with immaculately dosed helpings of romance and horror; and together with the OHP Chorus, whose members personify Kát’a’s paranoia in movement director Clare Whistler’s mime work, they respond rousingly to Sian Edwards’s rhapsodic conducting…’

The Stage: ‘Making her company debut in the pit, conductor Sian Edwards understands its complex style perfectly, and she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence.’

The Spectator: ‘Sian Edwards conducted, and it was baleful, headstrong, ecstatic and raw…’

The Arts Desk: ‘Conductor Sian Edwards leads a well-paced account, nuanced but with no holding back at the searing climaxes… Rather than leitmotifs for the characters, Janáček employs different moods in the music to depict each, and Edwards did an excellent job of delineating these separate styles. She deserves much credit for the success of this revival, as does the entire cast for the compelling musical drama they make of this ensemble piece.’

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards draws some powerful, idiomatic playing from the City of London Sinfonia, and she is a natural when it comes to releasing Janáček’s fleeting tenderness and realising his extraordinary powers of musical characterisation.’

Opera Today: ‘Sian Edwards drew precise, taut playing from the City of London Sinfonia…’

MusicOMH (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards’ conducting is excellent, while all of the principals succeed in filling the large tented auditorium to good effect.’

Zazà

The Telegraph: ‘Peter Robinson’s sensitive conducting honours the evanescent fragrances of Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration…’

The Guardian: ‘Conductor Peter Robinson gets the tricky mix of glitz, sadness and sensuality exactly right.’

Evening Standard (★★★): ‘Conductor Peter Robinson delivers a rousing and, when necessary, raucous orchestral commentary.’

Daily Mail (★★★★): ‘This superb Zazà readily shows off many similar magic moments… There’s some truly beautiful music here, especially for the orchestra.’

Daily Express: ‘The City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score and the Opera Holland Park Chorus supplies backstage bustle, while Louise Winter portrays dipsomaniac mother Anaide.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘Peter Robinson’s expert conducting is a reminder that Leoncavallo was a resourceful orchestrator as well as a dependable librettist.’

The Stage (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia’s authoritative playing of Leoncavallo’s appealing and impassioned score under Peter Robinson’s vital baton sets the seal on this worthwhile re-launch.’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Leoncavallo’s score is opulent, rich and melodious throughout, and Robinson conducts it with plenty of accent and a fair degree of precision.’

The Spectator: ‘The strings sweep upwards, the horns surge, and Leoncavallo’s Zaza throws itself into your arms.’

Planet Hugill: ‘…under Peter Robinson’s direction the City of London Sinfonia drew out the beauties of Leoncavallo’s rather luxuriant score.’

From Twitter

CLS to perform in Grenfell Tower memorial performance at Opera Holland Park

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington in June, there will be a memorial performance of Verdi’s Requiem held at Opera Holland Park on Tuesday 1 August in aid of the Rugby Portobello Trust, to raise funds for the community. Our musicians, along with the Opera Holland Park Chorus, soloists and conductors, will be donating their time to raise funds for those affected and to support our friends at Opera Holland Park.

The tragedy happened just a mile away from the venue and Opera Holland Park has been directly affected, with a member of their stage team still missing and a number of their community projects taking place in that community. On 23 June, our musicians and the cast of Opera Holland Park’s production of La rondine performed an encore of ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’ in loving memory of their friend and colleague.


We are pleased to say that the event is sold out and are extremely grateful for your support. Read more about the event, or just donate…

Opera Holland Park 2017: La rondine & Don Giovanni

We’re proud to be performing, as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park in their Summer Opera Season once again in 2017. The reviews for the first two operas, La rondine and Don Giovanni, have been so great that we feel a lot like we’re in a Puccini nightclub sequence. Here’s what the critics have had to say so far…

Culture Whisper (★★★★★) was elated that the season-opener, the new production of La rondine, ‘illustrates to perfection what OHP does best’, adding that ‘in many ways the night belongs to conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, spinning a sparkling City of London Sinfonia like a top’. The Guardian (★★★★) also showed admiration for ‘the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic’.

WhatsOnStage (★★★★) crowned La rondine ‘a visual and musical feast’, and gave praise to ‘the ever-splendid City of London Sinfonia, whose annual residence is one of the company’s outstanding boasts, [who] played the score for all its worth under Matthew Kofi Waldren’s elegantly energised baton’, while the Daily Mail (★★★★) didn’t ‘expect to see anything much better this summer’.

In Don Giovanni, The Times (★★★★) announced that ‘[Dane] Lam’s general approach is invigorating… and the City of London Sinfonia plays vivaciously’, and WhatsOnStage’s (★★★★) reviewer turned up on a particularly weathersome night, remarking on the cast’s and orchestra’s resilience on a particularly ‘tempest-toss’d’ cruise ship: ‘gosh what a night….Opera Holland Park’s heroic stage company – and, especially, the splendid City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam – carried on serenely while the audience adopted the brace position and clung for dear life.’

With the ‘gem-like orchestral colours’ (The Arts Desk) of La rondine, and a ‘great deal of musical panache’ (Limelight) in Don Giovanni, the Opera Holland Park 2017 Season has sailed to critical acclaim.

Photos © Stephen Thomas Smith for Opera Holland Park, 2017

More from the press

La rondine

The Guardian: ‘The chorus was on soaring form, the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic. Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren kept the tempi fluid and well paced. This was a buoyant start to a varied season.’

The Times (★★★★): ‘Everyone in Magda’s [Elizabeth Llewellyn] circle dreams of something, and the characterisation of the supporting ensemble… is a delight.’

The Arts Desk: ‘…what works here has most of the gem-like orchestral colours and vocal glamour it needs. Matthew Kofi Waldren is excellent at steering the deft mood-changes and easy lilt of the score…’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Matthew Kofi Waldren drew a first-class performance from the City of London Sinfonia, revelling in the glorious froth and whimsy of the score, occasionally threatening to overpower the singers early on in the performance, but highlighting so much of the sweeping beauty and orchestral detail of Puccini’s writing that one could sit there and wallow in that alone.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘There’s lush support from the City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren and the energetic Opera Holland Park Chorus.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘…the orchestration is magnificent and all credit to Matthew Kofi Waldren for coaxing the orchestra to its best…Dance rhythms were infectious; elsewhere, one heard a level of detail one might have considered unlikely given the quasi-outdoors setting…A special mention, too, for the leader, Martin Burgess and his various solos, all magical… In act three, Llewellyn and the orchestra conspired to provide moments of magic in her soliloquy as she reminisces.’

Daily Express (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren gives a fine performance of Puccini’s evocative score.’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘With two strong voices on the stage, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren allows the City of London Sinfonia to raise its decibel levels above the average at Holland Park, and La rondine comes across as a more full-blooded opera as a result.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘…a cast commandingly led by the charismatic Elizabeth Llewellyn, Matteo Lippi with his gorgeously Italianate bel canto, and Stephen Aviss as a flamboyantly camp and mellifluous poet. Direction by Matthew Kofi Walden is sure-footed, designs by takis are inventive.’

Don Giovanni

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Dane Lam leads a very fleet account of the score, full of light and shade, with a beguiling propulsive quality about it; and there were many moments where the transitions between the orchestra and Stuart Wild’s admirable continuo (on piano) were seamless.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘Dane Lam and the City of London Sinfonia were firing on all cylinders throughout the performance’

Limelight (★★★★): ‘Lam…demonstrated a great deal of musical panache…The City of London Sinfonia obviously enjoy working with him and respond eagerly to his musical direction.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘…it’s in Dane Lam’s vital conducting and the clean-edged playing of the City of London Sinfonia that the performance shines most brightly’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘In the title role, Ashley Riches has the elegance and swagger to make us believe in him to the bitter end, while Graeme Broadbent bellows authoritatively as the Commendatore.’

Evening Standard (★★★★): ‘In the pit, Dane Lam conducts firmly rather than elegantly, but the semi-open air acoustic allows occasional intrusions of birdsong — an effect that Mozart himself might have enjoyed.’

Culture Whisper (★★★★): ‘…this summery production of Mozart’s opera enjoys its comic potential from the outset’

Music OMH (★★★★): ‘Oliver Platt’s production for Holland Park not only succeeds in retaining the class system involved but, by being extremely innovative, delineates it to the full.’

City of London Sinfonia will be back in the Opera Holland Park pit in Kát’a Kabanová (starts 15 July) and Zazà (starts 18 July).

Podcast: Animal Antics KS1 Project

It’s not often that our musicians get to be bumblebees, chickens and horses stuck in mud, but they got to do just that in our ‘Animal Antics’ themed KS1 concerts in May 2017.

The project, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service and Harrow Music Service, saw schoolchildren engage in a series of fun, creative workshops with our fantastic Animateur in Residence, Claire Henry, before experiencing live orchestral music for the first time. The concerts introduced the children to instruments, with our musicians illustrating the story through musical excerpts, and gave them the chance to join in with rhythms, dictate changes in the music, and sing along to their own songs, created in the workshops – all to help the orchestra escape from the mud!

Our Key Stage 1 music projects this year have been made possible with generous support from the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, AM Spurgin Charitable Trust, Bernarr Rainbow Trust, Childhood Trust, Derek Hill Foundation, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and donors of the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Listen to our Animal Antics podcast, featuring conversations with musicians, Claire Henry, children, and representatives from schools and music education hubs, available on SoundCloud.

You can also watch/listen on YouTube.

We’ll be releasing a new podcast every month, giving you insight into our performances, collaborations and projects throughout the year, so follow us on SoundCloud and keep an eye out!

Retrospective on The Soldier’s Tale

On 5 April we made a devilish return to Shoreditch’s cultural converted warehouse, Village Underground, in the finale of our Folk Tunes Tall Tales series – an intimate performance of The Soldier’s Tale, starring Shakespeare aficionados Simon Russell Beale, Dame Janet Suzman and Ivanno Jeremiah.

Kicking back and relaxing on our comfy cushions, at the bar and in premium seats, as advised by CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann, we were treated to ‘an entertaining introductory talk’ (The Guardian) by Bill Barclay, Director of Music at Shakespeare’s Globe, who set the scene for a ‘pleasingly understated production’ (Evening Standard) of Stravinsky’s dramatic masterpiece.

Inspired by a collection of 17th-century Russian folk fables by Alexander Afanasyev, The Soldier’s Tale depicts the story of a deserter who has been robbed of his violin by the devil, with Alexandra Wood’s ‘sinuous violin’ (The Times) symbolising the soul of the soldier and the percussion that of the devil.

‘…with Michael Collins conducting, the playing was attractively abrasive’
Evening Standard

We revelled in seeing such talented actors up close and bringing character to Jeremy Sams’ ‘neat English version of the text’ (The Guardian), with additional modernisations from our very own Elaine Baines, and Janet Suzman sent shivers down our spines with her ‘sulphurous cackle’ (The Times).

Once the soldier’s soul had been sold and the devil had won, our all-star cast was greeted with the applause and cheer of a very happy audience, and there was nothing more to be done but to head to the Village Underground bar – and to pack the cushions away for another Season.

We’ll be back at Village Underground on Wednesday 22 November in the second concert of our autumn Modern Mystics series – an immersive Sonic Trilogy, conjuring up the past through music, light and amplification. Get closer…

John K Miles: First Time Live, Chelmsford

Over January–March, CLS in partnership with Orchestras Live worked with six secondary schools in Chelmsford. Students from Year 7 upwards worked with John K Miles over a series of workshops to devise a new piece to be performed at Chelmsford Civic Theatre on 17 March. Read on as John reflects on the project.

I chose to base the project on The Golden Ratio as it was a potential treasure trove of starting points for creativity. Looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s concept of physical perfection in portraiture versus today’s ’selfie culture’, we discussed The Nature of Beauty, particularly in terms of imperfection being beautiful. The resulting work formed the basis of our libretto. I also used The Golden Ratio as a musical starting point using the first five numbers in The Fibonacci Sequence 0,1,1,2,3 as a basis for rhythmic starting points. We gave particular focus to the ratio between 3 and 2 within a ‘1’. Ultimately all the rhythmic and melodic material referred to these numbers in some way.

The Nature of Beauty was composed in response to creative workshops with 130 open access participants from six Chelmsford secondary schools. The work was done over 3–4 sessions in each participating school. I supplied some musical and narrative starting points to the first session and from there we worked on playing rhythms, composing melodies and writing libretto. In response to these initial workshops I developed the main themes for the piece, which I then took back to workshop 2. From there I completed the piece and the later sessions were focused on rehearsal. The piece was scored for all participants to play alongside City of London Sinfonia.

First Time Live 2017, Chelmsford

The new piece formed the finale of a concert of popular orchestral music chosen by the participants. The concert was also presented by the participants, with input from myself and representatives of Essex Music Hub. The participants came from a range of informal and formal musical backgrounds. Some could read music, others could not. The level of musical experience was varied, but for many it was their first experience of playing with, and listening to a professional orchestra.

Using a creative approach allowed us to work on the balance between bespoke challenge and enjoyment and the outcome was a huge success. The participants performed brilliantly in the final concert and it felt like we’d set them up to succeed in a professional performance context. I hope the schools enjoyed working together to make music alongside a top class professional orchestra! I have personally been very inspired by the possibilities that we began to explore together in this project and I hope to develop this project further in the future.

Watch some of the final performance of The Nature of Beauty in a video filmed and edited by students involved in the project:



Find out more about our educational and community-driven projects in our Meet the Music programme on the CLS website.