Category Archives: CLS Behind the Scenes

Japan Tour Day 7!

After a well earned rest day, which many of our group spent in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto (see pictures), it was back to work today.

Concert four saw us in Nagoya, one of Japan’s industrial nerve centres and the home of Toyota. The hall, the NTK Forest Hall, was a vast, hangar like space – Michael Collins joked that his pilot son could probably park a 737 in it. And we were warned that only 850 of its 2,200 seats had been sold. Well, four out of five concerts being sold out is ok we reasoned, and we’ll play our socks off for the 850 who have bought a ticket. (And being frank, most UK chamber orchestras – ourselves included – would kill to be disappointed with an 850 audience for most of their concerts.)

(Prior to the concert, my first conveyer belt sushi experience in Japan – see picture. Their UK counterparts pale in comparison…)

We need not have feared. Whether our hosts were managing our expectations by giving us a pessimistically low number, or there were many last minute sales, what we were greeted with was an audience of at least 1,700, brimming with enthusiasm.

We have now got used to the audience mouthing along to the words, and joining in with the actions to the chop-chop-chopping of the Barbershop Song, but at the end of the concert we got our first standing ovation. A rare occurrence in Japan I understand, and many of those standing were in tears, with one man constantly bowing to us.

After the concert, a quick turnaround to Nagoya Station to catch the last Shinkansen to Tokyo. Orchestral musicians are a resourceful lot, and refreshing beverages were purchased ahead of the journey (see picture), supplemented by CLS management. Our Shinkansen party caused a minor diplomatic incident, however. The guard had to come and remind us that as this was the late night train, many passengers were trying to sleep. We were all high from the audience reaction, and consequently conversation was ‘animated’.

Tomorrow we are being sent all across the Tokyo Metropolitan Area to perform Meet the Music projects and concerts in a care home, kindergarten and children’s hospice. Meet the Music is central to what we do in the UK and we integrate it into all of our projects, including international touring. At the kindergarten we are performing in, 12 young Japanese professional musicians and education producers are coming to observe our wonderful animateur Claire Henry, and our musicians. Four of us then go to the Brtish Council offices in Tokyo to share how we work with a wider group of Japanese musicians and producers.

We then have our authentic Japanese Karaoke party to look forward to / approach with embarrassed fear…

 

Japan tour day 5

Day 5, and back to work, after yesterday’s day of travels and goodwill with our hosts at Min On.

Another sold out concert at Osaka Symphony Hall, probably the finest acoustic we have experienced on tour so far, then outside the concert hall, another great example of Japanese respect and consideration for guests: the entire front of house team lined up to send us on our way (here joined by Performances Manager Patrick), and as the coach left they all bowed in unison*.

Both we and the hall team then waved to each other until our catch was out of sight. More etiquette here, as it is considered rude to walk away before your guests are out of sight in case the guests think you do not care about them!

Earlier, we perfected some more of our own Japanese etiquette on stage. The orchestra now walks on together, waits until everyone is in position and then bows in unison. The applause immediately grows louder in appreciation of this gesture – our way of respecting Japanese customs and formality.

Post concert, travel to our next stop in Nagoya by Shinkansen, with all of 39 seconds to unload an entire orchestra at our destination, such is the punctuality of this amazing service!

Tomorrow is our rest day proper, with many of us taking the chance to visit Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, and this blog also takes a rest. More to report from Tuesday’s concert in Nagoya, then Wednesday’s Meet the Music and British Council projects around Tokyo, before our final concert in Yokohama on Thursday. Sayonara!

*A note on how to bow correctly in Japan from our violinist Takane Funatsu. Bend waist and neck, thinking (and the phrase is a good indicator of length of bow as well), “oh my shoes are so dirty!”.

Japan tour day 4!

No concert today, but a day of travel to Osaka, octopus balls (!), and later sharing food and good company with our hosts Min On. And the travel means….

Shinkansen!!!! (Bullet train)

If you find the subject of trains boring, scroll down to the bit about food in Osaka. If, however, you know Sinkansen to be the most fascinating and seriously cool mode of transport, then feast your eyes on the picture attached.

I’ll spare you the technical details (that’s what Wikipedia is for), save to say that for those interested, we travelled on the Nozami Express on an N700 class train.

More interestingly, Shinkansen are super quick (think 200mph plus), super smooth, super punctual (to the second) and VERY EXCITING. I admit to turning into the ten year old boy who first watched a documentary about them and has long wanted to go on one. Tick.

Osaka itself is an amazing city, very much Manchester/Glasgow to Tokyo’s London: impenetrable accent, industrial work hard / play hard ethic, great shopping, handsome rather than beautiful architecture, and an obsession with snow crab and octopus. Perhaps the last bit is unique to Osaka…

The food here really is amazing, from super high end to street stalls knocking out their one brilliantly cooked speciality. Osakan’s have a phrase: eat til you drop (very loosely translated). A few of us attempted just that at the Kuromon Ichiban Food Market where aisles upon aisles of stalls feature everything from 100 yen shops (=75p) to counters selling wagyu beef or tuna costing £100+ per kilo. Our own menu focused around an Osaka obsession: octopus.

takoyaki – octopus balls, crisp on the outside, gooey inside

Grilled baby octopus on a stick, with a quail egg stuffed inside its head

okonomiyaki – thick pancakes with cabbage, octopus and pork, topped with mayo, bonito flakes and a kind of brown sauce.

The evening was devoted to more food with our friends at Min On, at a traditional Japanese joint (kimono clad waiting staff, shoes off at the door) for a multi course feast, much sake, many toasts, and a few songs from our very own Joely Koos and her “air cello”. Put on the spot, Joely had to improvise and cajole colleagues to create an impromptu cabaret for our Japanese friends!

Tomorrow is concert three. Back to the grindstone!

 

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…