Category Archives: All Posts

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 nearly sold out and are extremely grateful for your support. Read more about the event, book tickets, 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.

Japan tour day 1!

Day 1 of the CLS japan tour is actually a bit of misnomer. The “day” cruelly started at 5am on Tuesday morning (UK time) when alarms went off and the orchestra began its journey by collecting at Heathrow Terminal 5 for check-in. It’s now gone 10pm on , half round the world. I’ve had more British Airways g&ts in that time than I’ve had hours sleep.

No thoughts of moaning about our lot: the general feeling at Heathrow in the Orchestra was one of excitement and anticipation as three years of planning came to fruition for CLS’s first ever tour to Japan.

An incredibly stress free flight to Japan (many thanks to the ever fantastic BA cabin crew who were their usual helpful, patient and generous-with-the-gin-miniatures selves) which arrived on time, and importantly with Ben Russel’s double bass intact, saw us arrive to be greeted by our wonderful friends at Min On, our hosts for this tour.

For a number of our group, it was either the first time in Japan, or the first time in decades, soit was great to spend much of our first day on a coach and boat tour of Tokyo, organised by the excellent Teruko Iwanaga, one of our directors.

Bringing CLS is the fulfilment of a long held ambition for Teruko, and it was a great pleasure for her to show us all her City, even to an orchestra of half-asleep people who had survived a long haul flight on next to no sleep, gin (are you sensing a theme here?) and adrenaline.

The work definitely begins tomorrow: full rehearsal, a sold-out concert at one of Tokyo’s premier concert halls, with the British Ambassador and Princess Takamado (Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado to be exact) in the audience, and a post concert reception with all the formalities. Then a further concert in Tokyo (Hachioji), then Osaka, then Nagoya, then back to Tokyo for Meet the Music projects and forums at the British Council, then Yokohama… but today was a chance to get to know Tokyo, rest, relax and EAT.

Despite lack of sleep and time difference body clock confusion, there was no way that a bit of tiredness was going to get in the way of many of us indulging in a food culture which is undoubtedly one of the best in the world.

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For or those readers who know Japan, the intense pleasure of meals remembered is no doubt flooding back. For those that don’t, food is beyond culture or pride in Japan. It is woven into the fabric of the country’s identity, with thousands of tiny restaurants, chefs who have spend decades agonising over nigh-on imperceptible improvements in something seemingly simple like the exact thickness of noodles or stickiness of their rice, never mind the meat and fish that go with it. Read a tome like Rice Noodle Fish (google it), and you will perhaps understand 1% of what makes food here so amazing. (And do read it, but make sure you’re not hungry when you do.)

So tonight, various parties went to hunt different specialities in Roppingi, Steve Stirling (horn) took Karen Jones (flute), Fran Barritt (violin) and CLS management off for an eight course tuna feast (different cuts, cut in different ways, cooked, or not, differently, and so on).

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I will admit to hitting the jackpot though: an exquisite sushi dinner in Ginza (a cross breed Mayfair / soho / regent street area) with Chairman John Singer and Teruko by our great friend (and special adviser on Japan) Mr Munetsugu Miyawaki (see pictures). Seaweed marinaded sea bream, devil fish pate (think foie grois minus the ethical dilemma, and with added seaside salinity) and squid that was super tender and crunchy *at the same time*, we’re just a few of the highlights. Mr Miyawaki has been our advocate and catalyst behind the scenes in japan for this tour, and it was a joy to have a meal ‘conducted’ by a great sushi aficionado.

Tomorow, the inevitable post flight early wake up will see some of us head to Tsukiji fish market for tuna auctions and sushi breakfast, and then the work begins.

So far though (and Elaine Baines, our operational supremo, will curse me for tempting fate like this), great food, great company,  good times and no hiccups. Orchestral touring is such a burden…!

Retrospective on CLoSer: The Devil’s Violin & Burns Night Ceilidh

Wilton’s Music Hall drips with history – and on 24 & 25 January, it was the setting for our Devil’s Violin concert with Burns Night Ceilidh. We danced with the Devil from the world of Scots fiddling to the Appalachian Mountains of the American South all in one of London’s most intimate venues.

The first half was City of London Sinfonia’s string section’s chance to show their prowess – under the incredible direction of CLS Leader Alexandra Wood.

City of London Sinfonia

 

Alex also took centre stage to perform solo in Locatelli’s ‘The Harmonic Labyrinth’ – a dastardly difficult suite that combined the power of the Orchestra with awesome feats of fingerwork in the solo violin part.

January 25, 2017_CLoSer_Wiltons_012.jpg

Then we were joined by Henry Webster on folk fiddle and Dan Walsh on banjo for tunes from the American South, including Bonaparte’s Retreat as heard in Copland’s Hoe Down from Rodeo. After hearing Henry and Dan’s own take on the famous tune, the whole orchestra joined in.

January 25, 2017_CLoSer_Wiltons_019.jpg

…and of course there was the completely unplanned encore – Charlie Daniel’s Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia, featuring baroque guitar (is that a world first for baroque guitar performing bluegrass?)

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A swift changeover (involving clearing over 200 chairs and 100 cushions away in less than half an hour!), Licence to Ceilidh took to the stage to lead a Burns Night Ceilidh.

 

At the end of the night all that was left was to sing Auld Land Syne – we hope you enjoyed the concert and that you will be able to join us on 5 April for the next CLoSer concert, The Soldier’s Tale.

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All photographs (not tweets) credit James Berry.