Category Archives: CLoSer

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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

Retrospect: The Book of Hours

The Book of Hours (on 22 November) brought something slightly different to our Modern Mystics trilogy, showcasing our outstanding musicians in music evoking both medieval and modern sound worlds. Our audience could shift between the Orchestra onstage and Jack James’ imaginative visual interpretations of the music on the red-bricked wall of Village Underground.

In her first outing with our musicians, Jessica Cottis led a programme of contemporary classical repertoire with a vast variety of textures and effects, and with instrumentation ranging from solo viola (Fiona Bonds starring in Skempton’s Only the Sound Remains) to synthesizer and sampler. We even fitted in some Thai Tuned Gongs, and experimented with aluminium foil on our string instruments!

We were also honoured to be joined by the three living composers, Howard Skempton, Richard Causton and Julian Anderson, who spoke about their pieces with Jessica Cottis and Alexandra Wood in between performances.

Take a look at some of James Berry’s brilliant photos below.

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Join us for the finale our Modern Mystics trilogy on Saturday 2 December at St John’s Smith Square. We’ll be joined by cellist Matthew Barley who performs John Tavener’s ecstatic vision of devotion for cello and orchestra, The Protecting Veil, and presents an interactive exploration of the music as part of Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival.

All images © James Berry Photography.

Tell us about you 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 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.

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.

Tell us about you 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 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.

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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.

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…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.