Category Archives: CLS Behind the Scenes

Iain Farrington: Song Arranger

Iain Farrington, the unsung star of CLS’s CLoSer concert with Sam Lee, made quite an appearance without actually stepping foot on stage. Perhaps when I tell you he’s a composer and arranger, that might actually make a lot more sense. He’s also got a phenomenal performing career as a pianist (check him out playing at the London Olympics with the LSO).

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Iain Farrington

On Thursday 17 November, Folk song collector Sam Lee sang songs from his Mercury Prize nominated album Grounds Of Its Own, and The Fade In Time, but in a way he’s never sung them before—with an orchestra—thanks to the genius of Iain Farrington, whose busy and diverse career has led him to arrange for a wide range of styles like traditional African songs, Berlin cabaret, folk, klezmer, jazz and pop, to name just a few.

 

For this concert, Iain arranged 8 songs of Sam Lee’s, turning folk music for a relatively small ensemble of 6 musicians into a large scale orchestral work for 36. If you’re doing the maths, you’d think an arranger could just give sextuples of six different parts and call it a day.

But Iain didn’t.

He wants to bring live music to as wide an audience possible (CLS does too!), and whether you love classical music and don’t know much about folk, or visa versa, Iain’s arrangements of Sam’s songs take you to the ‘other side’.

  1. How do you even start to go about arranging Sam’s folk songs with 5-6 players and then making that work for an orchestra of 36 musicians?

It’s not just the fact that Sam Lee’s band is a folk collective, but the instruments they use are not necessarily orchestral instruments (e.g. banjo, ukulele, koto, hang drums, violin, cello, trumpet, percussion, double bass). When you listen to how they play, it’s relatively free and semi-improvised. They’ve worked out a sound specific to that group.

I’ve kept the original harmony and structure and some harmonic phrases, but because of the bigger orchestra, I’ve redesigned the songs to work orchestrally whilst still retaining the sound of Sam Lee’s musicians. Some songs lend themselves to orchestra, others are lighter, and one had to be rewritten (Lovely Molly) which is choral. New harmonies and solos from several instruments will be bringing out the text. The hammer dulcimer will feature and improvise, bringing out the element of complete freedom, which is important to have when you’re crossing these worlds.

The biggest challenge for these songs is down to the fact that Sam’s is a song collector. He’s collected songs from different places and people, who often sing unaccompanied, wonderfully free, with tempos that are flexible and highly expressive and not wedded to any regular rhythmic accompaniment in quite a number of his songs. Small bands find this easier because you follow the lead singer, but in an orchestra this is more difficult. I wanted to retain the freedom that allows Sam to be flexible.

  1. How important is the text to the songs when you’re putting an arrangement together?

I’ve taken the text as the be all and end all. The words are illustrative of nature, landscapes, birdsong, ideas of town and country, love and marriage. Sam’s versions are cutting edge, not saccharine, with an immediacy and appealing grit to the sound. It’s not lush or romantic, and likewise I wanted to avoid that sentimentality. Folk songs for larger ensembles run the risk of sounding too fattened up, too rich, leaving none of the grit left. I wanted to retain that element of raw clarity.

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Sam Lee Credit Jo Russell
  1. Why did you choose to arrange 8 of Sam’s songs?

I wanted to make sure there was enough variety. It’s easy to do one type of arrangement, but I wanted enough contrast. Orchestral arrangements can be dull when adapting pop music, for example, which uses loud guitars and drums, where a string section might only play chords, with a jab from the brass, a trill from the winds. I think if you’re going to be working with an orchestra, you have to write for the musicians properly. Be exploratory. Try and make things interesting for both the audience and the musicians themselves. The orchestra isn’t the background but in the foreground.

About Iain Farrington 

Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. He has made numerous recordings, and has broadcast on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Through his multi-faceted work as a musician, he aims to bring live music to as wide an audience as possible. Iain’s concert programmes often mix popular and jazz elements into the traditional Classical repertoire. His many chamber orchestral arrangements allow large-scale works to be presented on an affordable smaller scale. His biography can be found here.

By Zak Hulstrom

Our year in pictures – 2015

It was quite a year at CLS. We began 2015 with our Émigré series, full of music by composers who travelled the globe looking for fame and fortune, new artistic experiences, or just a safe place to call home. We did some travelling of our own when we visited Mexico in the spring, before setting up camp once again with Opera Holland Park over the summer. This autumn saw the beginning of our RE:Imagine series, which explores composers’ new interpretations and perspectives on existing works. Take a stroll with us down memory lane and see some of our highlights from 2015…

With the help of some brilliant cat gifs, we channelled our inner dancers for the tango-inspired CLoSer: To and From Buenos Aires. We also reminded ourselves just how weird cats can be!

The real dancers who joined us for the concert were brilliant, though!

 

In April, Russian-born New York composer and violist Ljova joined us for a special residency. He delighted us all with his beautiful blend of classical music, Russian folk, Klezmer and jazz, reflecting his own émigré roots. In anticipation of his arrival, we all thought up our favourite viola jokes…

Continue reading Our year in pictures – 2015

It’s Party time!

It’s our last week in the office before the Christmas break, and we’re all feeling particularly festive. We’re off on our Christmas party this afternoon, and to get ourselves fully into the party spirit, we’ve put together this (longer than anticipated) playlist of some of our Christmas favourites. We hope you enjoy it!
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Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year from all of us at City of London Sinfonia!

Classical Concert Etiquette: A Guide

In response to yet another bad news day for classical music audiences, our excellent Chief Executive Matthew Swann has been on the case, weighing up the goods and the bads of concert etiquette…

There’s been a bit of toing and froing this week (and arguably for the past few hundred years) about audience behaviour and etiquette at classical music concerts. A friend of Gillian Moore’s, Head of Music at the Southbank Centre, was poked in the shoulder and then given short shrift by a fellow concert goer at a classical concert for moving her head in time to the music. The very thought! Moving to music!

In response, the writer behind Accidento Bizarro blog penned this response, saying that classical audiences all just need to calm down and loosen up.

In all seriousness, Gillian’s berating party sounds like they were just being rude and I’m in complete sympathy with her friend who found themselves unnecessarily and unfairly humiliated by misplaced ire. I’m also glad that Gillian’s patience finally snapped and she gave the berater such an excellent response, reminding them that if she and her friend had been first-time concert-goers that was yet more people lost to classical music.

Ultimately I think that Accidento and Gillian are kind of arguing the same point, but it got me thinking about some of my more extreme audience experiences – both as a promoter/producer and as a fellow audience member, and how we might deal with the wider question, in advance of our first CLoSer of the season next week.

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been to a huge variety of performances, from the formality of Glyndebourne to the semi-organised chaos of Non-classical at La Scala, which while all falling under the loose title of classical music (and one jazz example, following Accidento’s lead) are incredibly diverse in their nature.

Continue reading Classical Concert Etiquette: A Guide

Things we’ve been listening to this week…

Our sad songs post on Tuesday got us thinking about what music we’d been playing recently. It’s been a week of headphones in the office, as everyone’s busy preparing for our new RE:Imagine season. But what’ve we all been listening to? After a very quick and entirely unscientific survey, here is this week’s somewhat eclectic CLS playlist…

PL: I’ve been listening Stan Getz – The Bossa Nova Albums (trying to prolong a holiday feeling…!)

 

AL: I’ve had Tomasz Stańko Quartet’s ‘Song for Sarah’ on repeat this week. It’s beautifully melancholy, and takes me back to fantasies of sequined gowns and smoky jazz clubs.

 

ZH: Chicago-based rapper Mick Jenkins has a new album Wave[s] and it’s very good.

PM: This week I’ve been mostly listening to ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ by Chet Baker. It’s a jazz standard that I’d never heard before until the recent John Wilson Orchestra prom, where Seth MacFarlane sung in the style of Frank Sinatra at a packed out late night concert.

 

MS: This has been a week of ‘concentrating on papers and presentations’ music on headphones, so Palestrina, Bach, Electronica, and some good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. And of course the BBC Proms…

 

GHG: I haven’t been listening to much music lately, but with a fussy baby comes a lot of walking, so I’ve been doing lots of listening to podcasts to keep me entertained. These are a few of my favourites:

This American Life: A great podcast with a different theme each week and a variety of stories on that theme.

Scummy Mummies: A comedy podcast on parenthood, co-hosted by a good friend of mine

The Moth Podcast: Storytelling podcast with fantastic real life stories

Serial/Undisclosed: I loved the popular Serial podcast about the case of Adnan Syed so much that I’ve been listening to a follow-on podcast called Undisclosed which is following the story as it continues to unfold

Month in Pictures – July and August

It’s been a busy few months at City of London Sinfonia. In July we announced our new RE:Imagine season, and preparations are in full swing for our first CLoSer event on 22 September. We had another wonderful summer with Opera Holland Park as their Orchestra-in-residence, and were very sorry to finish the season in August. Our community and education work has continued to keep us busy too, as we performed with Orchestras Live in Luton, and at Great Ormond Street Hospital. With all of that going on, it’s amazing we still found time for a trip to Brighton!

This year was our twelfth with Opera Holland Park, where we played Puccini’s Il Trittico, Verdi’s Aida, Delibes’ Lakmé, Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re, and a new production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight. You can see more of Opera Holland Park behind the scenes here, or read about horn player, Mark Paine’s experiences. We were lucky to have the wonderful Robert Workman on hand for these wonderful photos.

Our partnership with Orchestras Live took us to Luton in July for the final concert in the Aiming Higher project, which gave young musicians the opportunity to play together and improve their skills. Composer John K Miles, who was commissioned to write the music for the project, told us all about his experiences working with young musicians in Luton. Here are some fab shots of all the groups in action.

We found some pretty cryptic messages during our time at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Remember – keep frogs alive!

It wasn’t all work, work, work this July and August; there’s also been plenty of fun in the office. Our favourite little mascot gave us the seal of approval on our new season, and we even managed to escape to Brighton for a day by the sea. Well, it is summer!

A dive into the CLS Education archive…

Founded in 1988, we are proud that our education and outreach programme, Meet the Music  was one of the first to be established by a UK orchestra. This week we took a dive into our photo archive, and found some amazing pictures of some projects we were involved in back in the late 80s and early 90s. We hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we did!

Continue reading A dive into the CLS Education archive…

CLS Earworms

Here in the CLS office, there is always at least one person humming or singing a musical phrase on an endless loop, whether it’s the office phone ring tone (we’ve recently changed it one called ‘jazzy night’ and it’s lethal…) or a piece we performed in a recent project / concert.

In this blog post we’ve collected some of these brain-melting melodies that go round and round our minds on a daily basis… You may need this ‘cure for earworms’ after you’ve finished reading!

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Retrospective: Aiming Higher, First Time Live, July 2015

Last week City of London Sinfonia travelled to Luton to perform in the final culminatory concert as part of Aiming Higher, an exciting project that aimed to give young musicians in Luton the chance to progress their musical skills and ambition. Building on the success of First Time Live 2 in July 2014, the project provided the opportunity for an even wider range of young music groups to work collaboratively with the musicians at CLS and composer John K Miles as they performed Carnival Variations, a brand new piece composed especially for the project. In this blog post, John gives an overview of his favourite moments throughout the project, his thoughts on why the project was so important and what he, as a composer and animateur, gained personally from the experience.

 

Hi John! So, tell us a bit more about the project – we hear it was gargantuan…

Aiming Higher was superbly ambitious.  It was conceived as a follow up project to Carnival Suite – a piece commissioned by Orchestras Live for City of London Sinfonia and beginner instrumentalists in July last year – now published by Charanga/Music Sales. The project centred on a sequel commission, Carnival Variations, which was a set of five variations based on the original suite, for City of London Sinfonia, Luton Youth Jazz Orchestra, Luton Youth Concert Band, Cantores (Luton female youth choir), and Lady Zia Wernher (special school).  The final programme also included two movements from the original Carnival Suite with students from Foxdell Junior School in Luton.

 

We understand you were in charge of the commission… how did you go about composing it?

All the material took its starting point from the Brazilian rhythm Afoxe as taught to me by my good friend Adriano Adewale, a master Brazilian drummer living in London.

The variation for City of London Sinfonia was a straightforward commission produced in the traditional way – composer tearing hair out, drinking tea, questioning, singing, problem solving and eventually notating…

The four subsequent variations for the Youth Ensembles were written and built through a creative workshop process with the young musicians in Luton; I made several visits to each group with CLS’s wonderful Projects Coordinator, Pia Luck and up to four musicians from the orchestra, all over the space of three months.

“The variation for City of London Sinfonia [involved me] tearing my hair out, drinking tea, questioning, singing, problem solving and eventually notating…”

And what did the different creative sessions involve?

The first sessions with the different groups were mainly creative; introducing the material to the young musicians and then composing collaboratively.  I then took all the ideas the kids suggested on board went away and wrote most of the music, again in the traditional way (tea… hair…)

The second sessions consisted mainly of tweaking; playing the music I’d composed back to them and taking on any feedback.  I then took away the music and added, expanded, modified and wrote the orchestral parts for CLS.  I also, where possible, connected the groups. The choir, for example, was written into the piece for Luton Youth Jazz Orchestra.

The third session was essentially a rehearsal for everyone to play the piece.  We then had one final rehearsal ahead of the concert day with all the groups together in the same room.

And why, in your opinion, do you think the project was so successful?

The fantastic thing about this way of working, is that it allowed me to get to know the groups in an organic way – what they did well, what might challenge them, and what they might enjoy.  It facilitated a set of bespoke variations that had a connection to all the performers (including young musicians and members of CLS) and that also the groups (hopefully) felt some ownership of.

“The fantastic thing about this way of working, is that it allowed me to get to know the groups in an organic way – what they did well, what might challenge them, and what they might enjoy.”

It also allowed the participants to work alongside top professional orchestral musicians, not only in the final concert but throughout the process.  This fostered a meaningful connection between the orchestra and participants and created a rare learning context for all concerned.  The rich mix of participants, genres, ages and experience was very special (and at this point I’d like to mention the fantastic tutors at Luton Music Hub, Kerry Watson, Julia Fraser, Nick Ridout, Simon Router and Adam Cowburn who have brought these ensembles up to such a high standard!).  One of the key components of this project has been the connection to meaningful pathways to young musicians during/post project and it is inspirational to see such dedication, expertise and continuity in a music service!

 

What do you feel that you have gained on a personal level from this project?

On a personal level this was a unique opportunity to write bespoke pieces for ensembles across a variety of genres, bound together by the aesthetic of a world class classical chamber orchestra.  The resulting music drew on Classical, Jazz and World Music –  shaped by a world where information and access to global music are at the touch of a button.  Ironically the musical landscape can (at times) feel stylistically and demographically fragmented and this project was a golden opportunity to bring different genres, styles and a huge range of musicians together.

Apart from ‘traditional’ ensembles, we also worked with the students at Lady Zia Werner special school, and I learnt a lot from this experience.  Their variation ended up being programmed as the final ’showstopper’ and a great way to bring all the ensembles together.  It highlighted not only the educational value these projects have but also the deeper way music can connect and inspire people across generations, experiences and communities.

“[Our work with Lady Zia Werner special school] highlighted not only the educational value these projects have but the deeper way music can connect and inspire people across generations, experiences and communities.”

 

A huge thank you to Orchestras Live, Royal Opera House Bridge, The Mix, and The UK Centre for Carnival Arts for supporting this ambitious far-reaching project.

 

Opera Holland Park so far…

We’re nearly to the end of this year’s season at Opera Holland Park and hasn’t it been a good one! In this post we’ve collected some of our favourite photos from our stint in the pit at our favourite open-air opera festival (nope, we’re not biased at all…), press quotes and tweets. And don’t worry – there is still time to catch a show before the season is over… just check out their website at operahollandpark.com for more information on their current productions.

Pics

The productions this year have been fantastic – it’s been great to be involved. Below our some of our favourite pictures of the various shows that have been on, including Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Il Trittico.

Continue reading Opera Holland Park so far…