Category Archives: CLoSer

What can you experience in Absolute Bird?

Absolute Bird is a London concert series like no other. Sure, we want our audiences to experience incredible live performances of exciting, inspiring and thought-provoking music by our musicians and guest artists, but we also want them to be part of the performances; to help us create sweeping soundscapes of birdsong and nature.

We’re creating a soundscape together—a way of experiencing the music that you wouldn’t normally get.

What’s unique about our concert series?

We’re making the concerts in Absolute Bird unique in a number of ways: there are three very different formats, we’re playing with the space in each of the halls; there’ll be musicians dotted around the place, there’ll be live broadcasts in, and we’re playing very different music right from early medieval music right up to the present day.

At Southwark Cathedral, we’re offering ‘Free as a bird’ tickets that encourage our audience to join in and have fun; to experience live classical music in a nontraditional way. It’s something a bit different; a bit unusual.

Just as we do in the work we might do in a school or a hospital or a care home, where we’re inviting people in those environments to create music with us, we’re inviting the audience to create the experience with us.

How can audiences be part of the performances?

When you turn up on Friday 3 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for Sounds of the Outback, one of the first things we’re going to ask you to do is help us create an Australian soundscape. Then, when you turn up to Southwark Cathedral a couple of weeks later for Flocks of Europe, we’re going to ask everyone – audience, musicians, artists, but perhaps not the Cathedral cat – to be flocks of birds.

But “how?”, we hear you wonder. We’ll do all this using recordings of birdsong and calls related to the music we perform in each concert. For Sounds of the Outback, it’s Australian birds from all over the country such as pied butcherbirds, common blackbirds, laughing kookaburras and eastern whipbirds. For Flocks of Europe, it’s flocking birds from the British Isles, including cuckoos, nightingales and hens.

Translating Nature (Friday 24 May) is completely different, and full of variety through its three events. There is a chance to learn, a chance to sit back and relax to a mixed-tape programme, and there’s a chance to do some late-night fun with nightingales. It’s a three-part mini-festival of nature and music.

When are the concerts and where can you book tickets?

You can book your tickets for our Absolute Bird concerts on our website at cls.co.uk or by phone at 020 7621 2800 (Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm). Tickets for Queen Elizabeth Hall performances are also available at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office via their website at southbankcentre.co.uk or on 020 3879 9555.

  • Sounds of the Outback: Friday 3 May 2019, 7.30pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Flocks of Europe: Wednesday 15 May 2019, 7.30pm, Southwark Cathedral
  • Translating Nature: Friday 24 May 2019, 8pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall
    • Pre-concert Talk with Miranda Krestovnikoff: 7.00-7.40pm
    • (Late night!) Singing with Nightingales Live with Sam Lee: 10.00-11.15pm

CLS presents Absolute Bird

For more information on our May series, you can listen to our podcast on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast providers. You can also keep up to date at #AbsoluteBird on Twitter or by joining our Facebook events.


Absolute Bird is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and by David and Molly Lowell Borthwick, The John S Cohen Foundation, Derek Hill Foundation, John Ellerman Foundation and Kirby Laing Foundation.

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City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

In partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff, City of London Sinfonia (CLS) joins the call to celebrate birdsong in music. In their Absolute Bird spring concert series and wider social programme, CLS explores the wondrous sounds of nature at a time of growing environmental threats.

Featuring diverse artists including vocalist and violinist Alice Zawadzki, recorder player Genevieve Lacey, folksinger Sam Lee, and conductors Jessica Cottis and Sian Edwards, the Absolute Bird series culminates in three concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral in May 2019 celebrating 800 years of awe-inspiring music.

The Orchestra’s London series supports the release of the RSPB’s Let Nature Sing recording, a specially created track of pure birdsong highlighting the loss of 40 million wild birds and their calls from our skies. The charity is calling on the public to download, stream and share the single to indicate that they are passionate about nature’s recovery, with the aspiration of entering the Charts. The track, to be released on 26 April, was directed by Sam Lee who performs with CLS on 24 May, and co-composed by Bill Barclay, who is currently touring King of Ghosts with CLS and Soumik Datta following their 2017 recording on Globe Music. Continue reading City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

The influence of Absolute Bird

Our three Absolute Bird programmes in the spring are influencing the majority of the work we’re doing in 2019, challenging and marvelling audiences and project participants alike. As our chairman, John Singer explains in our participation brochure, our artistic programmes – such as Absolute Bird and, previously, Bach and the Cosmos – are not limited to our concert series. We also explore the relative themes, music techniques and pieces from these programmes to enthuse participants’ enjoyment in our daily activities in hospitals, hospices, specialist care centres, care homes and schools.

In Absolute Bird, we’re performing a vast range of birdsong- and nature-inspired repertoire, from medieval rounds and canons such as Summer is icumen in to modern-day naturalistic sounds of the Outback by Hollis Taylor – some of the music being used to inspire multiple age groups in our wellbeing and education projects.

Here is just a taster of how we are using nature, namely birdsong, to inspire creative music-making beyond our concert series this year.

How birdsong is inspiring our projects

In our music-making workshops at St Christopher’s Hospice, patients are drawing inspiration from bird-related classical repertoire such as Couperin’s Le Rossignol en amour (featured in Absolute Bird: Flocks of Europe) and Les coucous benevoles, and excerpts of Stravinsky and Vivaldi to from their own creations of music and word with CLS musicians and workshop leader Sam Glazer.

St Christopher's Hospice visit January 2019
CLS musicians at St Christopher’s Hospice, Jan 2019

The young people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School get to create something a bit special with Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt and CLS musicians this term: they’ll leave a legacy of birdsong-inspired sounds in the form of an interactive sonic tree sculpture. “How?” we hear you gasp. Well, the plan is to create a tree as large as six feet tall to house 24 interactive birds that, when touched, play back music composed during the sessions. “Naturific!” And audience members at our Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral concerts in May will get to see this in action.

The “nature-niche” continues with members of Headway East London, a centre for survivors of brain injuries, who will create and perform music composed in response to Absolute Bird repertoire during their five-week project in March. Imagine a sonic flotilla of these recorded creations, shaped as river birds, floating down the canal – this is what Gawain is aiming to construct for a Headway EATS event.

Recently, our participation dream-team met with vocal leader and workshop facilitator Jessie Maryon Davies to get the creative juices flowing for our summer term Creative Primaries projects in Tower Hamlets and Harrow. There are lots of possibilities for bird-related stories and repertoire for pupils and our musicians to collaborate on in Key Stage One classrooms, so watch this space for their new music.

Creative Primaries Dec 2018 Suzi Corker
Primary schools engaged in Bach and the Cosmos in Dec 2018 (image: Suzi Corker)

We’re in the thick of creative music sessions at University College London Hospital (UCLH). In the first session this term, guitarist Jack Ross led the session with clarinettist Mel Henry and CLS Violin Clare Hayes, trying out some trios with bass clarinet, violin and guitar. They based the session on the story of a little chick, about which, with the help of our musicians, the young people created an original piece in response. Staff were loving it and people were passing by the classroom often – hopefully it brightened up their Monday morning!

Where else are we using birdsong?

The subjects of nature and birdsong are also at the centre of our Comfortable Classical concerts in February and March at the Albany, Deptford, and Canada Water Theatre. Our wind and string ensembles are going to be playing and introducing the music in three relaxed lunchtime performances for anyone and everyone, from young children to older adults. Audience members are also encouraged to take up other relaxing activities (such as drawing, colouring or knitting!) while listening to the music.


Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on our wellbeing and education projects, and our upcoming performances.

WWI Centenary concert in pictures

On Saturday 10 November 2018, we held a performance of words and music at Southwark Cathedral​ in commemoration of 100 years since the end of World War I. City of London Sinfonia also gave this performance in memory of their founder Richard Hickox CBE, who died 10 years ago in November.

Bill Barclay, narrator
Bill Barclay in WW1 Centenary: Fauré Requiem. (c) James Berry Photography

All the words narrated by Bill Barclay and Emma Pallant were collaged specifically for our concert, by Bill, from hundreds of memoirs and letters written by survivors of the Great War, including soldiers, officers, doctors, factory workers and family members. These documents can be found in the Imperial War Museum.

Baritone Stephen Whitford delivered expressive solo lines in the Offertoire and Libera me, and Southwark Cathedral Girls’ Choir sang the Pie Jesu prayer, originally written for solo soprano. Combined with Fauré’s orchestration and chamber textures, realised in this instance by conductor Paul Brough, these passages produce the special atmosphere of the Fauré Requiem, which enables the music to serve as a prayer for the dead to receive eternal rest.

Also featured in this commemorative performance were All Saints Kingston and St John the Divine Kennington choirs.

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All images © James Berry Photography for City of London Sinfonia, 2018.

WWI Centenary: Fauré Requiem

On Saturday 10 November (7pm), we’re holding a WWI Centenary performance of Fauré’s Requiem at Southwark Cathedral, in which the beautiful and consoling music will be interspersed with original readings, written by the Globe’s Director of Music, Bill Barclay. These texts, written to commemorate the end of the Great War 100 years ago, have been drawn from testaments of both people fighting and awaiting the return of loved ones at home.

Joining City of London Sinfonia in this special performance of words and music are narrators Bill Barclay (pictured middle) and Emma Pallant (pictured left), baritone Stephen Whitford (pictured right), conductor Paul Brough, and the choirs of Southwark Cathedral (Girls), All Saints Kingston and St John the Divine Kennington.

Tickets are available via the CLS Box Office online at cls.co.uk and by phone (020 7621 2800; Mon-Fri, 10-6). Tickets are also available on the door on the night of the concert from 6.15pm – subject to availability.

WWI Centenary Faure Requiem

Bach Remixed in pictures

On 16 October 2018, we presented our second performance in Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall. This time, in Bach Remixed, we turned our attention to JS Bach and his love of maths and numbers – the language of the cosmos. Take a look at our performance in pictures, captured beautifully by James Berry Photography.

From Komm, süßer Tod, Epiphoni Consort broke into Knut Nystedt’s contemporary reworking of the piece, Immortal Bach, in surround sound.

Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Epiphoni Consort in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Following four performances exploring notions of beauty and creativity in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Professor James Sparks from the University of Oxford shared his knowledge on geometry, topology and symmetry in relation to Bach’s Musical Offering and Brandenburg Concerto No.3. We also learnt that cup = doughnut.

James Sparks Bach Remixed
James Berry Photography. James Sparks in in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Baritone Roderick Williams opened the second half by directing Singet dem Herrn, one of Bach’s most famous motets, from within the choir.

Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consortin Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Our audience enjoyed some unexpected and welcomed comedy from our Principal Oboe, Dan Bates, who starred in Roderick Williams’ modern interpretation of Ich habe genug for solo oboe. The end of the piece dovetailed effortlessly into the full cantata – a piece that Roderick champions and which we all delighted in watching.

City of London Sinfonia.
James Berry Photography. Ich habe genug with Roderick Williams and City of London Sinfonia in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

All images in this blog post are © James Berry Photography for City of London Sinfonia, 2018. You can view more photos of this concert below and learn more about how our Bach and the Cosmos series unfolding on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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The only way is up: Bach, Singet and B Minor Mass

Written by Andrew Dickson (Bass, The Epiphoni Consort)

Singing Bach is a little like mountaineering, I sometimes think. Not only is Johann Sebastien Bach (JSB) the greatest musician of all time (sorry, Mozart), but no other composer requires so much energy and concentration to rehearse, or so much balance and nerve to perform. The arcing lines and dancing rhythms, the switches from darkest tragedy to wild joy, the sheer muscular athleticism and dexterity required… you can ascend to dizzying heights, but only if you use all your muscles, including some you didn’t know you had. It’s upwards, always upwards.

To make things even more challenging, we in the Epiphoni Consort are scaling two pinnacles of the repertoire in CLS’s Bach and the Cosmos series. The first is the 1727 double-choir motet Singet dem Herrn (Sing Unto the Lord), with its delicate balance between exuberance and pathos, which we sing with the superb baritone Roderick Williams. The second is the real biggie – the mightiest, meatiest choral piece of them all: the Mass in B Minor, sometimes described as the summation of JSB’s career, in which we’re conducted by one of the greatest Bach interpreters alive, John Butt. As one of my fellow singers commented at a rehearsal the other night, “there really are a lot of notes”. Not so much mountaineering as marathon mountaineering, if that’s a thing.

Of course, it’s also a pleasure, and none of us would be doing it if it weren’t. Singet I first sang at university, and it’s a delight to reencounter it (though it’s more fiendish than I remember: apparently I’m not as athletic as I was). As well as drilling those notes, we’ve spent a long time focusing on the Lutheran text, which is deeply poignant, especially during the chorale section in the middle of the work: “Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub. Gleich wie das Gras vom Rechen, Ein Blum und fallendes Laub…” (“God knows we are but dust. Just as the grass that is mown, a flower or falling leaf…”). Singing it is a powerful experience.

The B Minor Mass I first heard in my teens (in that legendary John Eliot Gardiner recording), but I’ve never actually sung it before – more reason our concert on Saturday feels special. This work, which Bach assembled from a collage of cantata movements he’d composed in Leipzig, was intended to show off his skills and catch the attention of a new employer across in Saxony. In that way, I suppose, it’s the greatest job application of all time. (Not that it worked: Bach spent the rest of his life grinding away in Leipzig.)

The Mass is utterly encyclopedic: from elaborate fugues and dizzying double-choir counterpoint to the simplest, slenderest solo arias and plainchant. Singing it, you feel like you’re exploring the furthest reaches of Bach’s architectural imagination. The way he builds the opening cries of “Kyrie”, like placing the great foundation stones of a cathedral, to the filigree of the Sanctus, where we in the bass section sing a joyous, swaying melody that descends through the octaves while the higher voices make shimmering patterns up in the heavens. Encyclopedic though it is, after a while you don’t see the individual textures or effects: you just feel the heft of the whole structure, its solidity and profundity. That, too, is rather moving.

As I hope is clear, it’s tricky, learning to keep your head at these altitudes, but it’s also hugely rewarding. Hopefully we’ll make it all the way to the top.

Bach and the Cosmos: B Minor Mass

The Epiphoni Consort perform Bach’s B Minor Mass with City of London Sinfonia, John Butt, Roderick Williams, Joanne Lunn, Rowan Pierce, Robin Blaze and Charles Daniels at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 20 October 2018, 7.30pm. Tickets available via the CLS Box Office online, on the phone (020 7621 2800; M-F, 10-6) or on the door.

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.