Category Archives: CLoSer

Your guide to Bach and the Cosmos

How do maths and music link together? In Bach and the Cosmos, we’ll explore the answer through music for orchestra and voice by JS Bach in concerts in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol in October 2018.

Curated in collaboration with Roderick Williams OBE, our London series and University Tour feature some of Bach’s most numerical compositions, including the Goldberg Variations, Musical Offering, Brandenburg Concerto No.3 and B Minor Mass.

Who better to delve into all the mathematical structures and patterns in Bach’s music than a Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Oxford? Professor James Sparks joins our musicians at four of the top UK universities for maths and the Queen Elizabeth Hall to do just that in performances described as “TED talks…but with a live orchestra”.

Roderick Williams
(Image: Benjamin Ealovega) Roderick Williams directs and performs in Bach and the Cosmos

Our series bears three distinctive programmes of Bach’s music. In our Goldberg Variations tour (dates and venues below), Orchestra Leader Alexandra Wood directs the title piece alongside mathematical discovery with James Sparks.

You can see James again in Bach Remixed at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with a focus on different pieces and musical-methodological revelations. Baritone Roderick Williams and the Epiphoni Consort (pictured below) also join our line-up in vocal music including Ich habe genugSinget dem Herrn and Komm, süsser Tod. You can also see Roderick’s contemporary piece Enough for solo oboe performed by our very own Dan Bates.

Following their incredible performance in Modern Mystics last November, we’re excited to perform with the Epiphoni Consort at Southwark Cathedral again on Saturday 20 October in an immersive performance of Bach’s monumental B Minor Mass, conducted by renowned conductor and Bach interpreter John Butt.

Performance dates: London series

Wednesday 10 October, 1.30pm
Goldberg Variations, Relaxed Performance: Canada Water Theatre
Tickets: CLS Box Office | Canada Water Theatre Box Office

Wednesday 10 October, 7.30pm
Goldberg Variations: The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Tuesday 16 October, 7.30pm
Bach Remixed: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
Tickets: CLS Box Office | Southbank Centre Ticket Office

Saturday 20 October, 7.30pm
B Minor Mass: Southwark Cathedral
Tickets: CLS Box Office

University Tour: Goldberg Variations

Tuesday 9 October, 7.30pm
Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford
Free admission: register by email | More info

Wednesday 10 October, 7.30pm
The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Thursday 11 October, 7.30pm
West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Monday 15 October, 7.30pm
St George’s Bristol
Tickets: St George’s Bristol Box Office

Find out more with CEO Matthew Swann

On a cloudy day in Brixton, we caught up with CEO Matthew Swann who explains all about our Bach and the Cosmos programmes and collaborations.

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CLS presents Mindful Music

City of London Sinfonia presents Mindful Music: an innovative combination of live music and mindful meditation that contributes to improved wellbeing by:

  • decreasing stress and anxiety
  • improving focus
  • boosting working memory

Violinist and mindfulness practitioner Ann Lovatt, who leads the meditations, describes mindfulness as ‘a practice that encourages you to step out of autopilot’ and explains that combining it with live music creates an incredibly powerful experience.

Meditation is a proven method of reducing stress, and music is also proven to have therapeutic effects, as well as the power to excite, to calm and to the reach the myriad of emotions in between.

Watch our new video to hear more about the initiative from Ann and Creative Director Alexandra Wood and watch footage from our CLS Minis Music and Mindfulness concert at the Albany (Deptford) in April 2018.

How can you experience Mindful Music?

We recently took Mindful Music to Soho House’s new White City House and audience members experienced it in our Modern Mystics and CLS Minis series.

If your company is considering ways to look after your employees’ mental health and wellbeing, or you would just like to learn more about Mindful Music, please get in contact.

For more information on Mindful Music, contact CEO Matthew Swann or Development Manager Zak Hulstrom. You can also find out more about CLS and our Participation work in mental health and wellbeing settings on our website.

There will be opportunities to experience music and mindfulness at City of London Sinfonia performances in the near future. Sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date.

 

Retrospect: Hero Worship at the QEH

On 8 May, we headed to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time since the Hall’s refurbishment and grand reopening in April. This was the first of many collaborations to come at the QEH and our debut working with Australian composer and violist Brett Dean.

CLS_Brett Dean_Hero Worship rehearsal
Brett Dean directs City of London Sinfonia in rehearsals.

As with many of our ‘seriously informal’ concerts, Hero Worship departed from the regular orchestral concert format, offering a narrative and images (not too dissimilar to that of a TED talk) to help us better understand Beethoven’s life and music. Cue entertaining Cambridge historian.

Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, gave our audience insight into the historical, political and social contexts that influenced Beethoven and his compositions. Intertwined with musical canapes from his early symphonies and septets, the narrative spanned from his early years to the uncovering of the Heiligenstadt Testament following Beethoven’s death (listen to Brett Dean’s explanation in our podcast).

Brett Dean was welcomed to the podium to conduct the centrepiece of the evening: his “fantastic” and “pretty tricky” (as described by Creative Director and Leader Alexandra Wood) contemporary take on Beethoven’s famous document, Testament.

Violins relaxing before Eroica
CLS violins relax before performing the ‘Eroica’ Symphony, standing up.

We’d had a taste of who Beethoven was before his Heiligenstadt trip and Napoleon’s betrayal, and now it was time to discover his reformed style in the ‘Eroica’: the Symphony that altered the course of music. With Brett Dean directing the Symphony from the viola and the majority of our musicians standing (thank goodness the violins relaxed in their break – pictured), ‘strong inner voices sprang to life, unfurling the symphony as a gigantic piece of chamber music’ (The Observer).

Despite having known each other for decades, Brett Dean and Sir Christopher Clark had never been on a stage together before. Their bows at the end of the performance showed what a joy it had been, and the simultaneous rapturous applause confirmed that it was a joy for everyone involved.

Tweets from the night

#CLSattheQEH

For more information about the performance and to learn about our next concert, Bach Remixed, coming up in October, be sure to search #CLSattheQEH on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sign up to our mailing list for email updates.

Your guide to Hero Worship

What’s more exciting and entertaining than a TED talk? A TED talk with a 40-piece orchestra. This is how CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann describes our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 8 May.

Join us on an exciting journey with Cambridge historian Sir Christopher Clark to learn about the significance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Beethoven’s illness and medicine’s inability to cure it, the verbose testament he wrote in Heiligenstadt but never sent, and how he elevated artists from the servant class and reinvented them as heroes.

Amongst works by Beethoven, the Orchestra performs Brett Dean’s Beethoven-inspired piece Testament. Testament was composed in an attempt “to pick Beethoven’s brain”, as Brett puts it. The piece promises to be an exciting experience for the musicians as well as the audience, as our strings play on bows without rosin (which is basically the musical equivalent of driving on ice without snow chains if you’re in the Austrian Alps), while the woodwinds produce “sounds that are hard to pin down” with effects such as ‘toneless murmuring’.

In a bold move that violist and composer Brett Dean describes as being “don’t try this as home difficult”, City of London Sinfonia performs Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony without a conductor. What is very special about this performance is that the Symphony will be directed by Brett from the viola; from within the orchestra, which highlights aspects of the piece that you might not be able to hear as clearly in a more traditional setup and gives you the chance to rediscover the Symphony in a different way.

We know that worship usually takes place in special surroundings and Hero Worship is no different in this respect. That’s why we have chosen Southbank Centre’s shiny new Queen Elizabeth Hall as the place for an evening full of beautiful music and exciting insights. It is the perfect place for a concert that gives you a chance to see and hear Beethoven the artist as well as Beethoven the hero – but most of all, Beethoven the human.

Want to book tickets and find out more?

You can purchase tickets at the CLS Box Office (until 10am on 8 May) or at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office. Tickets will also be available at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the night.

Listen to our Spring Season podcast to hear CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann elaborate on what makes the concert a TED talk.

In our Hero Worship with Brett Dean podcast, Brett Dean talks more about Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony and his own piece, Testament, shedding light on the concept and context of the work and the experimental sounds he chose to feature in the music.

The Inclusive Orchestra: relaxed performances

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

CLS prides itself on having a ‘seriously informal’ approach, which means we play high-quality music, but we think people should have the freedom to enjoy the concert as they please: grab a drink, use their phones, cough, or clap between movements. Our approach works and has grown in popularity. Young people (aged 16-25) made up a surprising proportion of our audience at our Modern Mystics concerts in autumn 2017 (25%).

We’re beginning to realise that this approach works well for anyone, including people living with dementia, who would enjoy having the freedom to get up, talk, clap, or enjoy a break in the quiet space outside the concert hall.

What makes a concert ‘dementia-friendly’?

I often get asked this question, and it’s not a complicated answer: it’s no different to a regular concert. When we are putting together a dementia-friendly concert, we are primarily focused on accessibility around the venue. Can audience members find the toilet, the café and the concert hall with relative ease? Is there a volunteer nearby who can answer questions?

In December 2017, we presented our first ‘dementia-friendly’ concert at St John’s Smith Square. In preparation for the performance, we sought answers from other like-minded organisations who already have experience engaging people living with dementia: The Alzheimer’s Society, Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Dementia Friends, Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Academy of Art and The Young Vic.

One of the important steps was having The Alzheimer’s Society audit the concert venue. They showed us all the many ways we could improve access to St John’s Smith Square, and we were delighted by the sheer number of considerations. We were “delighted” because addressing the issues meant we could be more confident about promoting this concert as dementia-friendly. For example, some of the issues they discovered were dark patches on the floor, which, to some people, can appear as holes in the ground or wet patches. Likewise, colours on signs, the chairs and tables must be carefully selected so that the contrast is highest and objects can be differentiated more easily. Signs must also be clear in content and within line of sight as you navigate the venue.

Our team in the office and many of our musicians are trained as Dementia Friends. We’ve participated in a taster course to better understand the many kinds of dementias and how they can affect people in different ways. From losing memory, which is what most people associate with dementia, to visuo-spatial difficulties and emotional changes, there is no such thing as one dementia. We can’t recommend it highly enough to become a Dementia Friend, so that you can learn small ways to help other people.

How are we putting our learning into practice?

Our concerts should be as welcoming as possible. Our first dementia-friendly concert could have been better, as it was held in December, on a dark, windy and rainy evening. We have already considered some solutions, and so our next round of relaxed concerts will be held in CLS Minis in April 2018 – in a much warmer month, and during the day.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

You can read more about our Relaxed Lunchtime Performances on Facebook and Twitter, or by visiting our website.


Following our first dementia-friendly concert in December 2017, Zak was given the opportunity to speak more about this and represent CLS at a British Council conference in South Korea. You can read more about his time there in our The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea blog post.

Zak on dementia-friendly concerts

Music and mindfulness in a busy world

In today’s world, we need time to stop and focus. We need time that doesn’t involve being bombarded with the deafening noise of work and noise pollution; to have a break from social media and other things that are supposed to make our lives better, but quite often make our minds overly busy and stressed and tired.

In our Music and Mindfulness concerts, CLS violinist and mindfulness practitioner Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) and the musicians of City of London Sinfonia are there to give you a “magic hour” of peace and calm.

Previously, audience members at Modern Mystics: The Fruit of Silence experienced a mindful meditation with Ann before listening to the beautiful music of Arvo Pärt and Peteris Vasks performed in Southwark Cathedral. We also took Music and Mindfulness to a place of work, to help city workers start their day with positive and focused minds.

Ann Lovatt
CLS violinist Ann Lovatt in a King of Ghosts recording session (c) Pete le May.

How do live music and mindfulness work together?

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to step out of autopilot. It allows you to reconnect with your body and your breath; to become more aware of stresses and to enable you to step back from stress and its causes. Meditation is a proven method of reducing stress, and music is also proven to have therapeutic effects, as well as the power to excite, to calm and to the reach the myriad of emotions in between.

When preparing for a mindful music session, Ann looks in depth at the music – for example, the structure, context and how the instruments might be used. In each session, she hopes to highlight aspects of the music which allow some insight or reflection appropriate to the practice of meditation. Throughout the mindfulness session, Ann bears all the musical factors in mind and references the chosen piece of music before it is performed live by CLS musicians.

The inclusion of a short mindful meditation within a live performance aims to enhance the listeners’ experiences of the music being performed, bringing an immediate sense of wellbeing to complement that which comes through the music alone.

Where can I experience Music and Mindfulness?

In April 2018, our strings, brass and woodwind sections will take it in turns to perform lunchtime and evening miniatures at various venues in our CLS Minis series. These include three Music and Mindfulness concerts in Deptford, Mile End and Marble Arch.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Want to know more before you try it out? Ann Lovatt talks more about the benefits of music and mindfulness in our Spring Season podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Your guide to CLS Minis

Lots of good things come in mini packages: cars, ice creams, iPads (to name a few). CLS Minis is our version in orchestral music, featuring six short chamber concerts with programmes focusing of different sections of the Orchestra: strings, brass and percussion, and woodwind.

The series of miniatures focuses on mental health and wellbeing and features three programmes curated and performed by CLS musicians. For each programme, there will be a relaxed performance during the day (1.30-2.15pm) and an evening performance with an additional mindful meditation (7-8pm).

Relaxed Lunchtime Performances

The Relaxed Lunchtime Performances are for everyone and aim to provide comfortable environments for people who are perhaps living with dementia, their carers or another invisible disability associated with age. These 45-minute concerts are great opportunities for those who may not be able to attend evening concerts to visit some great venues and watch some fantastic live music in the middle of the day. In these performances, there is no judgement; you can come and go if you need to do so, and you can be confident that the performers are aware of people with those conditions attending the concerts. It is a wonderful way for people to enjoy music that they perhaps loved when they were younger, but don’t get the opportunity to now.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only), and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Music and Mindfulness

In the early evening, our orchestra sections will perform the same programme as they did earlier in the day but with an added dimension: with a mindfulness meditation integrated into the concert. During the mindful music sessions, CLS violinist Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) gives audience members something to focus on, or to watch or listen out for in the performance of the music. Experiencing live music alongside a meditation is so powerful and helps bring an immediate sense of calm and wellbeing at the end of a working day. It enables you to tune out of the outside world and just listen to the music; to just be in the moment.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Find out more about our CLS Minis series with CEO Matthew Swann and Ann Lovatt on our podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Beethoven: Artist to Hero

Comment by Matthew Swann, CLS CEO

Nowadays, we’ve got a very good idea of the artist as hero: an individual who creates what he or she wants to and is very much their own manager. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, it was very much the case that artists – particularly musicians and composers – were considered part of a servant class. They were artisans; they were producer of things for the upper classes to consume and they weren’t necessarily in control of their own artistic vision.

Beethoven was the man that changed that. He looked at political, military and leadership heroes throughout his life – particularly Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of the French Revolution and later self-declared emperor. Through a series of events where Beethoven fell out of love with Napoleon, for all intents and purposes, he decided that true heroism came from the artist.

Our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall follows that journey and Beethoven’s own realisation, at the same time, of his growing deafness. It’s a journey of how Beethoven realises that the artist is becoming the hero, and all the anguish and that realisation is presented in his Third Symphony.

As well as collaborating with Brett Dean, a wonderful composer in his own right, Cambridge historian and music-lover Sir Christopher Clark will bring phenomenal insight to our performance. He’ll elaborate on the historic significance of this change: the change from an artist perceived as a servant – an artisan at the beck and call of the upper classes – to someone who drives artistic, creative and philosophical thinking themselves.

Hero Worship at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Listen to Matthew talk more about Beethoven and our performances on our Spring Season podcast (available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts).

Want to be further enlightened (pun intended) on Beethoven’s historical significance? Come to Hero Worship on Tuesday 8 May 2018 (7.30pm) at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets available at cls.co.uk (including CLS 5IVER for students and 16-25s) and southbankcentre.co.uk.

Retrospect: The Protecting Veil

St John’s Smith Square was lit up with Christmas decorations and filled with festive cheer on Saturday 2 December, all ready for an exploration of Sir John Tavener’s musical vision of Mary, the Mother of God – a work of ‘such overt mysticism’ (Bachtrack). What an end to our Modern Mystics trilogy!

Our series finale saw world-renowned cellist Matthew Barley present fun, thought-provoking and educational living programme notes in the first half, and bring ‘to life the depths and contrasts of this deceptively simple piece’ (Bachtrack) – Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil – in an entrancing second-half performance.

December 02, 2017_ProtectingVeil_046
Matthew Barley: living programme notes (image © James Berry)

In Barley’s living programme notes, our musicians were directed to get into groups – spread among our audience and onstage – to play parts of the music in different styles and forms, to show how Tavener used musical devices and techniques to ‘create intensely moving music’ (Bachtrack). Barley also demonstrated how Tavener was influenced by Indian music, performing a solo excerpt of the music over a recording of Indian soundscapes. In the spirit of Christmas, the Orchestra applied compositional techniques such as retrograde, inversion, augmentation and canon to well-known Christmas tunes – and you could hear the cheerful humming and recognition from our audience throughout.

‘[Living programme notes are] a great way to help more casual listeners appreciate the hidden depths of the music.’ – Bachtrack

In the second half, the talking had come to an end, but the education continued as our audience were able to hear those techniques in action in a full performance of The Protecting Veil. Matthew Barley’s solo cello represented the Mother of God, which ‘never stops singing throughout’ (Sir John Tavener), with our magnificent strings responding in ‘sensitive ways in which they complemented the solo instrument’ (Bachtrack).

‘City of London Sinfonia seemed alive to the composer’s sense of the spiritual significance of each of the work’s sections.’ – Bachtrack

The music moved seamlessly between movements, and between moments of emotional power and meditative calm – a calm that prolonged in a consensus of zen throughout the Hall, before Barley’s dropping of the bow cued a rapturous applause.

The standing ovation that followed prompted an encore from Matthew Barley, who demonstrated even more charisma and astonishing technique in Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio.

Relive some of the concert in photos from the night, taken by James Berry.

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All images © James Berry Photography.

Tell us about your Modern Mystics experience

If you’ve been to any or all of our Modern Mystics concerts, we would love to hear about how much you enjoyed them! You can write a review on our Facebook page or on Google, tweet us @CityLDNsinfonia, or send us an audio recording to info@cls.co.uk which we can feature in one of our podcasts.

#ModernMystics

 

Your guide to The Protecting Veil

As with The Fruit of Silence and The Book of Hours, there is a spiritual aspect to the music in our Modern Mystics finale at the weekend, as we perform The Protecting Veil at St John’s Smith Square (Saturday 2 December, 7.30pm). We’re also inviting our audience to interact with our musicians and soloist in living programme notes.

Not only is it the last concert in our sonic trilogy, but it is also the next concert in Southbank Centre’s year-round Belief and Beyond Belief festival, which explores what it means it be human, and the music, art and culture that have risen out of religion.

The Protecting Veil, for cello and string orchestra, is considered by many to be Sir John Tavener’s finest instrumental work. Sir John said the following:

“In The Protecting Veil, I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. The cello represents The Mother of God and never stops singing throughout. One can think of the strings as a gigantic extension of her unending song.”

We’re looking forward to collaborating with cellist Matthew Barley again, who will perform the work with our string sections on Saturday and present living programme notes as part of the performance.

Matthew Barley FB
Matthew Barley – Photo (c) Madeleine Farley

What are living programme notes?

Matthew Barley has developed a captivating way of educating audiences about a piece as part of the performance, called living programme notes – a concept more engaging and interactive than simply reading about the music in a written programme in a dark concert hall. Our audience will be able to interact with our musicians and learn more about Tavener’s music. Matthew Barley explains more:

“[We’ll be] uncovering some of the fantastic stories about how The Protecting Veil refers to the Protecting Veil of Mary, the Mother of God, that she laid out over the land in Constantinople about a thousand years ago, saving the Greeks from an invasion after a visitation in the night to Andrew, The Holy Fool, [and] looking at a concept of Tavener’s called the Eternal Feminine, that he felt underpinned the work very much.

“[We’ll be] looking at how Indian classical music influenced the work – something Tavener was listening to a great deal when he wrote it – and also looking at the structure of the piece. There are many, many fascinating things about the work. There’ll be played examples and various contributions from different sections of the Orchestra.”

Watch the full video on Twitter:

How do I book tickets?

You can book ‘standard’ or ‘gallery’ tickets (all unreserved seating) for our Modern Mystics: The Protecting Veil concert on our website at cls.co.uk, or on  Southbank Centre’s and St John’s Smith’s Square’s websites.

This concert is a relaxed performance, and friendly to people living with dementia. For more details on this, and if you have access needs, you can contact our box office on 020 7621 2800 or email boxoffice@cls.co.uk.

How do I find out more?

Fast forward to 5.38 in our Modern Mystics podcast to hear more about our performance from Matthew Swann 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 remind yourself of what our Modern Mystics trilogy is about in our Chief Exec’s one-minute video account, and get involved with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter.