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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…

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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.

Japan tour day 3!

Konichiwa! Day 3 in Japan and we are very much in the spirit of all things Japanese.

First order of business was a goodwill visit to our partners on this tour, Min On. They are a company who know how to provide a welcome, on arrival, the entire staff were gathered in their reception area to applaud us into the premises (see picture). Even for a group of people who are used to receiving applause, this was a novel experience!

While a few of our number were whipped up to their formal reception room for formalities and photos, the majority of our group were treated to a tour of their keyboard instrument museum. This is one of those quirky collections that might not be as famous as a big museum, but is in many ways more fascinating. There are keyboard instruments from the 1500s to the present day, but perhaps most interesting are the eccentric curios from the 19th century, including pianos with bells and tambourine pedals, and house organs and that wheeze and squeeze their way through pre-programmed popular tunes of the day.

From there, onto our second concert, this time in Hachioji. Quirkiness continued as the orchestra were sent to the stage in a goods lift (see picture).

Hachioji, admittedly not the most well known of Japanese cities (in practice it’s a Tokyo suburb – think Croydon), has one of the warmest audiences we have ever encountered. There was a worry in the afternoon about the hall’s acoustics: we had been told that they were excellent, but without an audience in, our musicians felt that the sound wasn’t projecting from the stage. Come the evening and another full house (see picture), the sound was transformed, and we got a full, rich noise.

The audience themselves were again mouthing along to the words of the songs, and there were tears in Hana Wa Saku again, but we now realised that the audience the previous night, in Tokyo proper, were somewhat reserved in comparison.

This is was an audience who not only mouthed along, but also did actions to some songs (the chop-chopping in the Barber Shop song for example), and at the end of the concert, cheered well before the end of pieces, and at the end of concert, clapped together in time, until we gave three encores!

Tomorrow we travel to Osaka by Shinkansen (bullet train, which this little boy is VERY excited about!), and in the evening, an Izakaya (a pub / bistro / social club hybrid very popular in Japan) dinner hosted by our friends at Min On – kampai!!!

Japan tour day 2

Day 2 and our first experience of Japanese concert halls and audiences. Both amazing.

First the behind the scenes stuff. Our performances manager Patrick arrived at the hall 8 minutes before his allotted time and was not allowed on to the stage. Patrick feared the worst: a late starting rehearsal (being even a minute late for a rehearsal is very much verboten in the orchestral world), but all was well.

On the dot of his allotted time, Patrick was invited to instruct 8 stage crew exactly what he needed and 10 minutes later the entire stage was built. This was not a matter of placing a few music stands. Risers were constructed, and the walls of the stage themselves (about 50ft square) were brought in to transform the Bunkamara Orchard Hall from a full on ballet stage to a small chamber orchestra platform. Japanese efficiency may be a cliche, but in this case it was definitely true.

And the front of house experience… the like of which I have never seen before.

An hour before the concert was due to start, an orderly queue was forming outside. The doors themselves were kept shut until 30 minutes before the concert though, by which point most of the 2,000 audience members were patiently waiting.

When the doors were opened, no-one rushed in, complained about being in the cold, or barged through. Instead, two uniformed ushers addressed the queue in unison, bowed, and only then did people come in. Calmly.

We Brits like to think of ourselves as gold medal queuers, but we are definitely amateurs compared to the Japanese. I have seen enough queues for concerts and events on the UK turn into shouty frustration and barging to know that our queuing skills have their limits.

Once in the hall, the audience was one of the most simultaneously respectful and emotional I have witnessed. The Orchestra noticed that many people were mouthing the words of the Japanese songs we were performing, and most of the audience were in tears during Hana Wa Saku (flowers will bloom), a song written to commemorate the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.

After the concert, a reception with Princess Takamado, a member of the Japanese Imperial Family, and before she married, an employee of CLS director Teruko Iwanaga.

We then retired to our hotel for an early night – we have a busy few days ahead!

(Picture of the day spotted in the backstage loos. Something often in short supply on tours!)

City of London Sinfonia’s commitment to 50% female artistic leaderships

 

 

Classical and orchestral music has long had a problem with diversity. The cliché is that it’s male, white, middle class, and often dead. And it’s a cliché because it’s often true.

City of London Sinfonia want to be part of a movement that changes that. We believe that classical music can transform people across all areas of society and in order to do that we need, and want, to present an Orchestra that better represents that society. There are many issues to tackle here, but on International Women’s Day we want to highlight the issue of gender, and make sure that any young woman who sees the Orchestra – whether in a concert hall or in schools  – to look at any role in the Orchestra and think, “I can do that”.

Even today, positions of artistic leadership in many orchestras are overwhelmingly held by men, even while the majority of musicians on a concert platform are often female. This is not the message we want to send young women learning musical instruments, that you can be a professional musician, but not a leader.

We are very proud that over 60% of our principal seats are already held by female musicians. Our next challenge is to make sure that we champion female conductors and directors, alongside the hugely talented and enlightened male conductors and directors we perform with.

That is why, from this Autumn, City of London Sinfonia’s artistic leadership will be 50% female – Creative Director and violinist Alexandra Wood and Principal Conductor Michael Collins. We are also committed to ensuring that at least one female conductor or director perform at every one of our major artistic series.

City of London Sinfonia can’t change the orchestral world overnight, but we can make sure that talented young female musicians watching CLS can see a realistic, aspirational vision of what they might themselves become.