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.
Excellent Satanic violin mischief tonight by @CityLdnSinfonia at Wilton's. Also lovely Appalachian works by Walsh&Webster. Soul= sold.
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.
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.
…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?)
Iain Farrington, the unsung star of CLS’s CLoSer concert with Sam Lee, made quite an appearance without actually stepping foot on stage. Perhaps when I tell you he’s a composer and arranger, that might actually make a lot more sense. He’s also got a phenomenal performing career as a pianist (check him out playing at the London Olympics with the LSO).
On Thursday 17 November, Folk song collector Sam Lee sang songs from his Mercury Prize nominated album Grounds Of Its Own, and The Fade In Time, but in a way he’s never sung them before—with an orchestra—thanks to the genius of Iain Farrington, whose busy and diverse career has led him to arrange for a wide range of styles like traditional African songs, Berlin cabaret, folk, klezmer, jazz and pop, to name just a few.
For this concert, Iain arranged 8 songs of Sam Lee’s, turning folk music for a relatively small ensemble of 6 musicians into a large scale orchestral work for 36. If you’re doing the maths, you’d think an arranger could just give sextuples of six different parts and call it a day.
But Iain didn’t.
He wants to bring live music to as wide an audience possible (CLS does too!), and whether you love classical music and don’t know much about folk, or visa versa, Iain’s arrangements of Sam’s songs take you to the ‘other side’.
How do you even start to go about arranging Sam’s folk songs with 5-6 players and then making that work for an orchestra of 36 musicians?
It’s not just the fact that Sam Lee’s band is a folk collective, but the instruments they use are not necessarily orchestral instruments (e.g. banjo, ukulele, koto, hang drums, violin, cello, trumpet, percussion, double bass). When you listen to how they play, it’s relatively free and semi-improvised. They’ve worked out a sound specific to that group.
I’ve kept the original harmony and structure and some harmonic phrases, but because of the bigger orchestra, I’ve redesigned the songs to work orchestrally whilst still retaining the sound of Sam Lee’s musicians. Some songs lend themselves to orchestra, others are lighter, and one had to be rewritten (Lovely Molly) which is choral. New harmonies and solos from several instruments will be bringing out the text. The hammer dulcimer will feature and improvise, bringing out the element of complete freedom, which is important to have when you’re crossing these worlds.
The biggest challenge for these songs is down to the fact that Sam’s is a song collector. He’s collected songs from different places and people, who often sing unaccompanied, wonderfully free, with tempos that are flexible and highly expressive and not wedded to any regular rhythmic accompaniment in quite a number of his songs. Small bands find this easier because you follow the lead singer, but in an orchestra this is more difficult. I wanted to retain the freedom that allows Sam to be flexible.
How important is the text to the songs when you’re putting an arrangement together?
I’ve taken the text as the be all and end all. The words are illustrative of nature, landscapes, birdsong, ideas of town and country, love and marriage. Sam’s versions are cutting edge, not saccharine, with an immediacy and appealing grit to the sound. It’s not lush or romantic, and likewise I wanted to avoid that sentimentality.Folk songs for larger ensembles run the risk of sounding too fattened up, too rich, leaving none of the grit left. I wanted to retain that element of raw clarity.
Why did you choose to arrange 8 of Sam’s songs?
I wanted to make sure there was enough variety. It’s easy to do one type of arrangement, but I wanted enough contrast. Orchestral arrangements can be dull when adapting pop music, for example, which uses loud guitars and drums, where a string section might only play chords, with a jab from the brass, a trill from the winds. I think if you’re going to be working with an orchestra, you have to write for the musicians properly. Be exploratory. Try and make things interesting for both the audience and the musicians themselves. The orchestra isn’t the background but in the foreground.
About Iain Farrington
Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. He has made numerous recordings, and has broadcast on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Through his multi-faceted work as a musician, he aims to bring live music to as wide an audience as possible. Iain’s concert programmes often mix popular and jazz elements into the traditional Classical repertoire. His many chamber orchestral arrangements allow large-scale works to be presented on an affordable smaller scale. His biography can be found here.
We always say we promise to surprise and move you – but last night, Thursday 17 November, was really special.
Our friend Sam Lee has toured the country finding ancient melodies and embellishing them with his own contemporary twist. We were honoroud to perform his songs in full orchestral arrangements for the first time thanks to the pheonomenal talent of arranger Iain Farrington.
Mingled with Sam’s songs were works by Britten, Delius and Butterworth that hark back to forgotten worlds and connect us to the tunes that have been hummed by countless generations.
With candles flickering, the Orchestra in the centre of the room surrounded by a sweep of chairs, and a cosy pool of cushions, it was the perfect way to be transported away by music that has travelled across centuries.
Died for Love with Sam lee is the first of four concerts exploring Folk Tunes and Tall Tales – we would be delighted if you joined us for the rest of the journey. Find full details on our website.
Relive the experience
Checkout the beautiful photos from the concert by Jo Russell along with your reactions from Twitter. Just tweet us at @CityLdnSinfonia to let us know what you thought!
On 17 November, traditional English folk singer Sam Lee joins the City of London Sinfonia for an evening featuring songs of lost love at St John at Hackney Church. Badged as a Mercury Music Prize nominated artist, Sam is also the pioneer of an ambitious movement to promote song collecting across the UK. He leads a collective of musicians, The Nest Collective, who support the sounds and voices of the Gypsy and Traveller community, the UK’s own repositories of oral history.
“Spending time with the singers is a great privilege. When I’m old, it’ll be the thing I cherish most. To be in the presence of someone who’s from another world and generation and in touch with a way of life that is so far gone. Such a slow process of change over so many hundreds and thousands of years.” – Sam Lee
One hundred years before Sam’s own adventures, the composer Frederick Delius was delving into Albion’s countryside to collect songs and stories, using them to create his own evocative, English sound world. Now, Sam Lee has accepted this important responsibility, to ensure the tradition lives on.
“Tradition is tending the flame, it’s not worshipping the ashes.” – Gustav Mahler
Sam speaks passionately about the Traveller community, gesturing—with his expressive hands and huge silver ring—their long, nomadic routes since the 10th century, originating in India, and venturing through Egypt and Africa and up to England. They are a genetically distinct ethnic community, broken into three groups in the British Isles: Scottish Travellers, Irish Travellers and English gypsies, many of whom now live in segregated areas with very poor provision.
However, their music is rich in history. Their songs capture the stories, myths, and major events of generations of people before them, and their legacy is at great risk of disappearing. Sam sings a bit of Brigg Fair, after recounting the story of Joseph Taylor, a peasant farmer in Lincolnshire who Percy Grainger discovered in his folk singing competition. Joseph, in his mid-late 70s, had an incredibly gymnastic voice with excellent technique. Grainger’s recording of him inspired Delius to arrange it for orchestra, and at the premiere of this piece at Royal Albert Hall, Taylor was in attendance, and the minute that Brigg Fair started, he stood up in his seat and started singing along.
Many of these songs live in the minds of the eldest people of the Gypsy and Traveller community, the very people whom Sam has befriended and recorded. His greatest task is to ensure that these songs which have been sung for over 1,000 years are heard, remembered, and passed on, by providing a platform that sustains this rapidly disappearing tradition.
Unfortunately, as the years pass fewer people are continuing this oral tradition, and Sam Lee can’t do it on his own. So on 26th November this year, he will be releasing an expansive online training programme to teach people how to become song collectors and do their own interviews, because in about 7 years’ time, the tradition could be completely wiped out.
Sam has recorded a huge variety of singers and documented them, but he has created much more than a sound archive. He’s also created platforms for these singers to be able to perform on stage through the Nest Collective, which features ethnically specific artists at around 70 events per year.
We do things differently here at CLS, and on Wednesday 6 April we lived up to our promise to surpise with a concert of the music of Miles Davis – CLoSer: Sketches of Miles.
For this, the final CLoSer concert in the RE:Imagine series, we were joined by the exceptional talents of Gwilym Simcock and his trio, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss and – in a last-minute addition – saxophonist Tim Garland.
Relive the experience
Checkout the highlights video below and some beautiful photos from the concert by the wonderful James Berry along with your reactions from Twitter. Just tweet us at @CityLdnSinfonia to let us know what you thought!
The sounds of Paris are reflected across the centuries in this finale of the season. Providing the centrepiece to the programme is Duruflé’s Requiem setting based on ancient plainsong melodies, preceded by Fauré’s Pavane with its ancient dance forms and Ravel’s tribute to the earlier French composer, Couperin. Composer Charlotte Bray provides the final instalment in our ‘Bach RE:Imagined’ series.
Our RE:Imagine series continued in style last night as Village Underground transformed into London’s most intimate and relaxed concert venue for CLoSer: Song of the Earth. The elegance of Johann Strauss distilled for salon orchestra and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue (arranged by up-and-coming young composer Luke Styles) set the scene. Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid enthralled the audience before we heard Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and Tenor Gwilym Bowen took centre stage as all the mastery of Mahler’s epic symphony, concentrated into an ensemble of just 15 world-class musicians.
The concert was live-streamed online – checkout the highlights below and some beautiful photos from the concert by the wonderful James Berry along with your reactions from Twitter. Just tweet us at @CityLdnSinfonia to let us know what you thought!
The next concert in our RE:Imagine series is The Great English Songbook when we will be journeying through England’s Elizabethan age and Shropshire countryside with baritone Roderick Williams on 9 March at Southwark Cathedral.
We are next back at Village Underground for CLoSer: Sketches of Miles on 6 April when we will transport you to New York as we explore the musical marriage of the legendary trumpeter Miles Davis and composer/arranger Gil Evans.
After weeks of excitement, our RE:Imagine series opened on Tuesday night with CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance at Village Underground. We were joined by the exceptionally talented dancers Katie Neal and Dani Harris-Walters who performed new choreography by Tony Adigun to Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune.
Here are some beautiful photos from the concert by the wonderful James Berry, along with some of our highlights from the evening and lovely audience feedback we received.
Don’t forget, you can watch highlights from the concert on our Youtube channel until 30 September.
The next concert in our RE:Imagine series is Venice: Darkness to Light at Southwark Cathedral on 14 October, when we will be exploring the music of this beautiful city through works by Bach, Vivaldi, Liszt, Stravinsky and more. We’re especially excited to be joined by CLS favourite Elin Manahan Thomas in Bach’s take on Pergolesi’s dark and mournful Stabat Mater. We hope to see you there!
CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance on 22 September at Village Underground marks the official start of our new RE:Imagine series, and we couldn’t be more excited. Whether you’re new to the CLoSer concerts or a CLoSer veteran, we have put together a few things you might like to know. Don’t forget you can still get your hands on some tickets from Spitalfields Music Box Office, or by calling 020 7377 1362.
About the event
This CLoSer event is a celebration of music and dance, and we’re thrilled to be joined by two fabulous dancers, who will be performing new interpretations of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune with choreography by Tony Adigun. Our CLoSer series is a wonderful way to unwind with great music and great company in an informal and intimate setting. Check out the great blog our Chief Executive penned this week that for a fantastic insight into the CLoSer atmosphere.
Food and Drink
Shoreditch is absolutely packed with great places to eat and drink, but if you’re looking for some inspiration, we’ve put together a little list of restaurants in the area. (You can, of course, always check out our previous plan your event night blogs for even more suggestions!)
Rivington Bar and GrillA contemporary British menu, using fresh, seasonal British ingredients from sustainable sources.££
Merchants TavernLots of dining options, including the chef’s tasting menu, if you want to make a night of it.£££
DishoomA beautifully evocative Bombay cafe, with a wonderful selection of traditional dishes. Reservations after 5:45pm for groups of 6 or more only.££
The Book ClubBreakfast and Lunch are the main foody features at this quirky place, but there’s a nice selection of bar food, big and small, and some lovely looking sharing platters.£
How to find the venue
The venue is less than 5 minutes walk from Shoreditch High Street Station (Overground). Alternatively, you can walk from Liverpool Street Station (Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan and Central Lines) which only takes 15 minutes. To view a map of the area click here. There are no planned engineering works on this day so your journey by tube / train should be undisrupted.
This concert will be recorded!
Fear not If you can’t make it in person! We’re filming the concert, and an edited version will appear on our website and YouTube channel for seven days, so you can enjoy all the best bits from the comfort of your home!
If you’d like to learn more about the music we’ll be performing, be sure to check out the RE:Imagine tag, where you’ll find lots of behind the scenes info on this concert and the rest of the series.
We can’t wait for the beginning of our new RE:Imagine series with CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance on 22 September, which celebrates music written for dance with works by Bach, Debussy, Rameau and Copland. Our blog series exploring the stories behind the music has looked at Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Rameau’s Pygmalion. It now concludes with Debussy’s stunning Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune…
The first CLoSer concert of our RE:Imagine series celebrates music written for dance, from Bach to Debussy and Copland. But what about the dancers? In this blog we explore the famous names behind the famous works…
Martha Graham is often called the “Mother of Modern Dance”. Born in 1894 in what is now Pittsburgh, she was the daughter of a doctor who believed that movement could benefit those suffering with nervous conditions. Despite this, her deeply religious parents forbade the young Graham to learn to dance, and it wasn’t until her father died that she finally began her formal dance training.
Graham’s style was known for its violent and jarring movements, and alteration between tension and relaxation which represented a huge shift from the traditional styles which until that point had dominated. Here is Graham presenting her 1930 piece Lamentation, a physical exploration of grief.
Graham’s and Aaron Copland’s collaboration in the early 1940s on Appalachian Spring has produced one of the most iconic American works of the 20th century, distilling into a story of the pioneers the spirit of America’s hope, optimism and aspiration.
Nijinsky was born in Kiev in 1890, the second son of two touring dancers. Unlike Martha Graham, Nijinsky began his dance education very young, performing professionally by the age of seven.
When he was 10, Nijinsky joined the Russian Imperial Ballet School, where his exceptional talent, particularly for spectacular leaps, was soon noted. It was this talent that prevented him from being expelled from the school when his academic performance didn’t match his dancing. By the time he graduated, Nijinsky’s prowess was well known, and he secured a position first with the Mariinsky Theatre, and later guest appearances at the Bolshoi Theatre.
In 1912, Nijinsky began choreographing for the Ballet Russes, for whom he created his interpretation of L’apres midi d’un faune shown above, and garnered a reputation for his outlandish and controversial style. Indeed, his choreography for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was more than partly responsible for the riots that broke out following its Paris premiere.
Come along to our next CLoSer event on 22 September and see two new urban and contemporary dance interpretations of L’apres midi d’un faune, with choreography by Tony Adigun.