Category Archives: CLoSer

Your guide to The Book of Hours

Medieval period – check. Modern music – check. Electronics – check. A Mass setting – check. Lighting and projections – check. All we need now is our audience… and our musicians, of course.

We’re going in a slightly different musical direction in our next Modern Mystics concert on Wednesday 22 November at Village Underground. In The Book of Hours, the Orchestra will perform contemporary works by Julian Anderson, Howard Skempton, Richard Causton and Jonathan Harvey – all new music influenced by ancient sound worlds. Some of these compositions come with a plethora of effects made by live electronics, which Video Artist Jack James will further enhance with more incredible lighting and projections, as featured in The Fruit of Silence.

At the centre of our programme is Julian Anderson’s Book of Hours – a piece that conductor Jessica Cottis describes as “extraordinary. It really is a world of its own.

“As the piece progresses, the added element of live electronics comes to the fore, and we hear all kinds of different sounds. There are Mongolian temple bells… there’s a scratchy record player from former Eastern Bloc, and this kind of takes over and almost obliterates the acoustic sounds.”

We look forward to collaborating with Jessica in her CLS debut, and in a programme that she has no doubt “is going to be weird and wonderful”.

Jessica Cottis (c) Kaupo Kikkas
Jessica Cottis – Photo (c) Kaupo Kikkas

A City of London Sinfonia concert at Village Underground is an experience, rather than just a concert. “It’s not a traditional concert, it doesn’t have that formality – it’s warm; it invites you in,” says Alexandra Wood, our Creative Director and Leader.

In The Book of Hours, our audience members can relax on cushions, chairs, and even perch next to the bar while enjoying the music and visuals – you can stop and listen to the music in whichever way you choose.

How do I find out more?

You can find out more about our Modern Mystics: The Book of Hours concert on our website at cls.co.uk, where you can also purchase tickets.

Fast forward to 6.42 in our Modern Mystics podcast to hear more from Jessica Cottis and Alexandra Wood, in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

You can also watch as our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann, gives a one-minute video account of the music featured in our sonic trilogy, and keep up to date with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter.

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Retrospect: The Fruit of Silence

Our audience members created their own spiritual and spatial journeys through music, architecture and visuals in the first concert of our Modern Mystics series on 9 November. As someone on Twitter put it, we treated them to ‘a sonic full body massage’.

There were people exploring Southwark Cathedral as our musicians and Epiphoni Consort took up different positions to perform; meditating to the tranquil music on cushions, pews and chairs, and leaning against the architecture while admiring Jack James’ stunning projections.

Take a look at some of the fantastic photos from the night, taken by Kaupo Kikkas.

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Join us for more immersive experiences in The Book of Hours at Village Underground on 22 November, and The Protecting Veil at St John’s Smith Square on 2 December.

All images © Kaupo Kikkas.

#ModernMystics

Your guide to The Fruit of Silence

Our three-part Modern Mystics concert series – exploring mysticism in music – starts on Thursday 9 November (7.30pm), and we can’t wait!

In The Fruit of Silence, we’re inviting our audience to create their own spatial journeys through the music (works by Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks, Dobrinka Tabakova), visuals (by Video Artist Jack James) and architecture (the beautiful Southwark Cathedral). You can explore the beautiful spaces and changing acoustics throughout the building as our musicians and Epiphoni Consort perform from different spots.

There’ll also be a free pre-concert session, open to just 50 concert ticketholders, in which CLS violinist Ann Morfee will lead mindfulness techniques in a short Mindful Meditation.

Make sure you keep up to date with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter and get involved in the action on our concert days. Tickets are available at cls.co.uk.

Not sure what to expect in Modern Mystics?

Hear from our Creative Director, Alexandra Wood, about what you’ll experience in the first (9 Nov) and third (2 Dec) concerts of the series, and listen to conductor Jessica Cottis describe her plan to bring Anderson’s Book of Hours to life at Village Underground (22 Nov) in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

Watch as our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann, gives a one-minute video account of the music featured in our sonic trilogy.

 

You can also listen to some of the music we’ll perform on our Spotify playlist.

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).

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.

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…

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.

 

Iain Farrington: Song Arranger

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).

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Iain Farrington

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’.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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Sam Lee Credit Jo Russell
  1. 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.

By Zak Hulstrom

Retrospective on Died for Love with Sam Lee

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!

Photos by Jo Russell:

From Twitter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Lee, Song Collector

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.

Join us on 17 November for a concert that will feature Sam Lee performing orchestral arrangements of tunes from his albums The Fade in Time and Ground of Its Own, alongside his own rendition of Delius’s Brigg Fair.