Category Archives: CLoSer

CLoSer Interview: Holst Singers

We caught up with Will Davies from the Holst Singers, our Guest Artists at our next CLoSer concert, to find out more about this extraordinary choir.

Holst Singers, what are the origins of the choir and its name?
We were founded in 1978 under Hilary Davan Wetton, but for almost two decades have been conducted by our Musical Director Stephen Layton, who has shaped and nurtured the celebrated sound we make. I believe our name was actually taken from the Holst Room at St Paul’s Girls’ School where we originally rehearsed in the early days – so I guess we are named after the composer, but not directly!

How many singers in the choir? What’s the average profile of a Holstie? (if there is such a thing!)
We have a core of about 40 singers who are the ‘regulars’, who you’ll catch performing at most concerts. I’m not sure there is an ‘average’ Holstie! I suppose most of us are graduates with a chapel choir background, so Oxford and Cambridge feature fairly heavily in the choir’s make-up. Outside of that, we’re a very varied bunch, a whole range of ages and occupations. Without wanting to sound too cheesy, the thing that unites us all is music. I think we’re in a unique position as an institution– we’re one of the nation’s top-flight choirs, but we work entirely as a self-run amateur outfit, with no subscription fees or anything like that. It means that everyone involved is there to concentrate on the music-making; it works really well for us.

What is it like working with CLS Artistic Director Stephen Layton?
In short, truly inspiring. He’s one of the world’s greatest choral conductors, and it shows. He always seems to know exactly what he wants to achieve with the music, from the broad sweep of a piece to the subtle nuances. What’s great is that he knows how to get us to produce the performance he wants; he works us hard, but it’s always worth it for the end result.


What’s the range of the choir’s repertoire? Do you enjoy performing newly-commissioned work, or prefer more established repertoire?
We love getting our teeth into a wide range of repertoire. I suppose we have a reputation for performing works in the very loose category of ‘unjustly neglected a cappella gems’ – works by Baltic composers like Tormis and Ešenvalds for instance, or the Russian Orthodox music on our Ikon recordings. We’re also actively involved in performing new commissions, from premiering Tavener’s Veil of the Temple to working with Imogen Heap on her soundtrack to The Seashell and the Clergyman.

Talk us through the pieces you’re performing for CLoSer.
We’re performing two pieces, Stravinsky’s Mass and Immortal Bach by Knut Nystedt. The Stravinsky is a great work. It’s quite severe, almost bleak at times, but beautiful with it. It’s scored for choir and a fairly small wind ensemble, and you get these wonderful moments of sparse, dissonant instrumental writing with the choir almost chanting the text, especially in the Credo. That’s probably the most challenging movement for us – not because it’s particularly difficult musically, but because he treats the text in a really counterintuitive way. Instead of setting it in the ‘usual’ way (accented and inflected as one might speak it, with expression) he produces a sort of muttering mantra; it’s this kind of ‘march of belief’, which is surprisingly tricky to get your head around at first.

Immortal Bach is really interesting – Nystedt takes the first two lines of the chorale Komm, süßer Tod and deconstructs them. You hear the unadulterated chorale first and then you hear it transformed, by dividing the choir into separate groups who sing each phrase of the chorale at different speeds, coming together at the cadence points before continuing onwards. It’s a bit tricky to explain without a choir on hand to demonstrate, but it’s very effective – the result is this fantastic smeary collage of Bach.

What do you hope the audience take away from your performance on 29 February?
I hope they get an impression of how the human voice can speak powerfully to you, in unexpected ways. I think the thing that connects the music we’ll be performing is that neither piece uses voices conventionally, to wring emotion from words or to make you say, “Oh, what a lovely tune”. The Nystedt is in a sense just the application of a simple mathematical rubric to a Bach chorale, and the Stravinsky is ascetic, austere music; and yet both produce this captivating atmosphere.

What would the Holst Singers desert island discs be and why?
Ah, now this is going be tricky. I’d have trouble enough doing my own, letting alone trying to speak for the whole choir – I’m inevitably going to get lynched when they see this! “How could you miss out Spem in alium?!” Ah well, here goes…
I think we need something early in there. Let’s have Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, because it’s pretty damn fit, especially the way the Kyrie kicks off; I could listen to that soaring-and-descending motif go round and round all day. It would be rude not to have anything Slavic on the island, let’s cram the Rachmaninov Vespers in the bag too. Last one… we need something English in there too. This’ll be a controversial one, but let’s go for the Vaughan Williams Shakespeare Songs. The middle movement is the sexiest thing ever. Wait. We get a full set of sheet music for these on the island too, right?!

CLoSer: Spirit of the Voice
Weds 29 February, 7.30pm
Village Underground, Shoreditch

Poulenc Suite Francaise
JS Bach French Suite
Poulenc Le Bal Masque
Nystedt Immortal Bach
Stravinsky Mass


CLoSer in words and pictures

Our first CLoSer concert at Village Underground on the 22nd November was a huge success with a packed audience enjoying the venue, music and fantastic musicianship on show. We thought we’d share with you some of the best photos from the night and what the audience had to say:

 “The first CLoSer programme was like a substantial sandwich: hot crusty wholemeal bread on the outside with something sweeter in the middle.” 


“Great performance – loved the informal setting and the mixed audience!” 


 “The orchestra played on all my emotional strings.” 


“I loved the sense of excitement, the bar, the lighting, the chatter and the informal approach of the musicians and conductor. Acoustics were great too.”


 “Give us more!!”

The next concert in the series focuses on vocal music by Bach, Poulenc and Stravinsky with Guest Artists the Holst Singers and our Principal Conductor Stephen Layton.

Wednesday 29th February, 7.30pm,
Village Underground,

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/

Images: Clare Parker

CLoSer – The First Review

We asked Laura, our Marketing Intern and newest office recruit, to give us the lowdown on the launch of CLoSer on Tuesday night.

CLoSer, our brand new concert series, launched on Tuesday with a Strings Masterclass in East London’s newest venue, Village Underground.

This renovated, turn-of-the-century, warehouse offered a versatile space, acted  as an atmospheric and edgy venue. A brilliant blank canvas of old brick, hinting at its industrial past, Village Underground transformed for the evening, hosting 200 audience members, free to relax on floor cushions, unwind at the bar and get closer to the orchestra.

The informal evening of orchestral music was led by our charismatic Principal Conductor , Michael Collins and progressed through a programme of three works, and also featured Michael  as a soloist. The minimalist Shaker Loops, by John Adams, opened the evening with energetic motion and electrifying acceleration. Gathering speed over 25 minutes, the orchestra played with vigour as the music gained speed and rhythmic excitement.


This opening piece was followed by an interview with Michael himself, carried out by our principal cellist, Sue Dorey. Touching on his ability to deftly switch role from conductor to soloist, he spoke fondly of his musical education and how he came to play clarinet as a young boy. One of the leading clarinettists of his generation, Michael’s  performance of Gordon Jacob’s mini-concerto Clarinet Concertino entertained the audience through his persuasive musicianship and buoyant, light-hearted style.

After a brief introduction to the techniques employed by the musicians, the concert came to a close with Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings; a rousing finish to the evening with its gypsy character and dance-like style. The audience  were then free to enjoy the bar and mingle with musicians before offering their feedback on their departure.

Wednesday 29th February, 7.30pm,
Village Underground,

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/

Composer Focus: John Adams & Shaker Loops

Find out about the music behind the concert, with our quick guide to John Adams’ Shaker Loops, to be performed at our first CLoSer concert on Tuesday 22 November. 

Shaker Loops
Written in 1978 by American composer John Adams, hailed as one of the great composers of minimalist music, Shaker Loops is one of his most popular and performed compositions.

Formed of four movements:

I. Shaking and Trembling
II. Hymning Slews
III. Loops and Verses
IV. A Final Shaking

Adams says of the piece “the four sections, although they meld together evenly, are really quite distinct, each being characterized by a particular style of string playing. The outside movements are devoted to ’shaking,’ the fast, tightly rhythmicised motion of the bow across the strings.


image: Margaretta Mitchell

Part II is deliberately slower and languid followed by the melodic third movement, with “the celli playing long, lyrical lines (which are nevertheless loops themselves) against a background of muted violins, an activity which gradually takes speed and mass until it culminates in the wild push-pull section that is the emotional high of the piece.” 

The piece takes its name from both the distinctive ‘shaking’ of the strings as they oscillate between notes, and the image Adams’ had of ‘Shakers’ (members of the Millennial Church), dancing and worshipping to repetitive, energetic music.

John Adams occupies a unique position in American music, with his works renowned for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. His operatic works include Doctor Atomic and The Death of Klinghoffer and his composition On the Transmigration of Souls written for the New York Philharmonic to mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack, won three Grammys and the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003.

He has said of London audiences “they are my ideal listeners – sophisticated, musically literate, enthusiastic and of course a little bit insane!”

Listen to our Spotify playlist for a preview of Shaker Loops.

Tuesday 22 November, 7.30pm
Village Underground, EC2A

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/

Meet the venue – Village Underground

Our newest concert venue and home for our infomal concert series CLoSer is Village Underground on the City fringe. We asked our friends and CLoSer concert partners Spitalfields Music to tell us what make’s the venue such a treat to visit.

Village Underground is one of those places you could only really find in East London. In many ways it’s quite unassuming (to enter you have to go round the back of the building), but then there’s the fact that on the roof are four old tube carriages serving as offices and the side of the building is London’s most public art gallery, The Wall, showcasing street art in all its various guises. So it’s not without its quirk!


Image: Andy Schonfelder

The space inside is a brilliant blank canvas of old brick, hinting at the building’s industrial past. It forms an intimate venue for classical concerts, allowing performing and audience spaces to blur and letting the audience get up-close with the artists, making for an unusual and exclusive listening experience.


Image: James Berry

Of course, the other great thing about Village Underground is its absolutely fantastic location. Not only really easy to get to from Shoreditch High Street on the Overground or, further down the road, Liverpool Street on the Underground and mainline, but there is a whole host of fantastic bars, restaurants and cafes to go to before and after events. There’s everything to choose from, with fine dining at somewhere like Les Trois Garçons; something simpler at Pizza East, or the Albion cafe; or just drinks at a Rivington Street bar. In addition, a five-minute walk down Commercial Street will take you to Spitalfields Market and the surrounding streets which have even more to offer!


Image: Celine Smith

Now, all this combined with music from City of London Sinfonia has to make for an unmissable night out!

Michael Duffy
Spitalfields Music

CLoSer is CLS’ short, informal concert series starting on 22 November:

 Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/
Strings Masterclass – Tuesday 22 November 7.30pm
Spirit of the Voice – Wednesday 29 February 7.30pm
Jazz Finale – Wednesday 25 April 7.30pm

Get CLoSer to CLS

When watching a classical concert it is hard not to wonder at the intricacies of orchestral performance, not only how the sheer precision needed in timing and tempo is achieved, but how the problematic sections of a composition are conquered by a conductor, or simply how a musician prepares for such a piece. Many of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of orchestras are never shared with those who want to know the most, their audience. CLS are launching a brand new concert series called CLoSer, which will help to answer many of your queries in an informal atmosphere with a glass of wine in your hand!


CLoSer launches on 22 November in one of East London’s newest venues: Village Underground. These concerts, in partnership with Spitalfields Music, are designed to allow you to get closer to our orchestra with ‘talking’ programme notes throughout the performance, post concert music and discussion, as well as the chance to mingle with our musicians. And we have three very different concerts lined up to satisfy all curiosities:

Strings Masterclass – Tues 22 Nov 2011

John Adams Shaker Loops                                                            
TBC Clarinet Concertino
 Bartok Divertimento for Strings

Michael Collins clarinet/conductor

Spirit of the Voice – Weds 29 Feb 2012

Poulenc Suite Française                                                              
JS Bach French Suite                                                                  
Poulenc Le Bal Masque
Knut Nystedt Immortal Bach
Stravinsky Mass

Stephen Layton conductor
Holst Singers

Jazz Finale – Weds 25 April 2012

Milhaud La Creation du Monde
Mark-Anthony Turnage Eulogy
Gwilym Simcock Compositions

Clark Rundell conductor
Gwilym Simcock piano

Finally quench your thirst for orchestral knowledge and book tickets to get CLoSer to us!

Booking opens 5 September on 020 7377 1362 or

Tickets £15 (includes one free drink)
Early Bird Tickets – 20 £1 tickets available for each concert on a first come first served basis (phone booking only). Find out more here