We’re looking forward to so many wonderful performances and participation projects this year. Some of which, as you’ll have seen and heard about already on Instagram, has already had a creative and positive impact on our musicians and workshop participants.
In our first 2018 podcast (available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes), you’ll hear from Alexandra Wood and our team about what they’re looking forward to this year, including working with people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School (whose music features in our podcast!), learning more about mental health, Ariadne auf Naxos at OHP, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out on DVD.
“In this world, there’s so much clutter: constant noise, texts, emails our mobile phones. We constantly need to be on our toes, ready to act. It’s wonderful to take time just to exist, to breathe, and to have space.” – Alexandra Wood
What are you looking forward to this year, or even this week? Whatever it is, take the time to just enjoy it.
The end of January saw my first visit to an Association of British Orchestras (ABO) Conference – this year, co-hosted by BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Sinfonia Cymru and Welsh National Opera Orchestra at the striking Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
Collaboration was the theme, and indeed the order of the day before the Conference had even opened; when delegates were forced to share taxis in a bid to overcome the failings of Great Western Railway and arrive on time.
There was a buzz in the air: colleagues catching up on a year’s worth of news, faces being put to names across the business, and networks expanding – all while we were taken through a thought-provoking, challenging and enjoyable series of discussions, presentations, performances and speeches.
International Collaboration was on the cards: how Brexit will affect our industry (the answer: we don’t know until it happens), and how we can still do more to address the Diversity Challenge, especially in consideration of hidden disabilities. Horace Trubridge, the newly elected General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union set his stall. The question of increasing musicians’ engagement in industry discussions was brought into focus with a bold pledge to double the number of orchestral players attending the Conference in 2019. We celebrated successes of our colleagues with the ABO Award and Rhinegold Awards, and we heard from Alan Davey (Controller of BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Performing Groups) on the BBC’s plans for classical music.
Alan Davey announces forgotten women composers to be championed by BBC Orchestras and choirs on Int Women’s Day 2018 as result of research with @ahrcpress#ABO18@BBCRadio3@bbcmusic
Collaborative performances were interspersed throughout the Conference: BBC NOW and the orchestra of WNO each took one half of the opening night’s concert; Sinfonia Cymru performed Birdsong, the result of a collaboration with Gwilym Simcock and Kizzy Crawford, and featuring visual projections by Ruby Fox; a jazz quartet from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama provided after-dinner entertainment; and Martin James Bartlett, winner of the 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year, performed at the closing session with the 2016 Finalist and Woodwind Category winner, saxophonist Jess Gillam.
For me, however, the focus was very much on 10.00 Friday morning when I was to co-present a session as part of the ABO’s Find Your Way 2017–18 cohort. The brief: fresh thinking around collaboration. The challenge: according to the Arts Index, only 37% of the UK population think that culture is a valid use of taxpayers’ money – down from 50% five years ago. How can we use collaboration to make our work more relevant to society today?
It has been a privilege to work alongside the outstanding individuals Toks Dada (Programme Co-ordinator, Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham), Helen Dunne (Orchestra Manager, Royal Opera House), Simon Fairclough (Director of Development, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), Nick Jackman (Development Director, London Philharmonic Orchestra) and Annie Lydford (Head of Communications, English National Opera). Together we’ve been examining ways that we can collaborate better with the commercial sector (Us vs All of Them), with our peers (Us vs The Others), and with each other within our own organisations (Us vs Us).
The preparation of our presentation was a collaboration in itself, but after much discussion in face-to-face meetings, skype conference calls and late night messages; many hours of research on brand partnerships, loyalty schemes, co-investment potential and knowledge sharing; two shared documents totaling 39 pages, a complex 3×3 grid cross-referencing our ideas, and the design and fine-tuning of 59 slides; several snatched meetings and rehearsals in corners during the Conference, a tense moment in which we narrowly avoided a catastrophic technological glitch, and the last few minutes of pacing and muttering to ourselves, we were finally ready.
It paid off, and we delivered.
The audience looked engaged throughout – many taking notes. They responded to our questions and laughed at the right moments. Upon finishing, we received a hearty round of applause and some challenging, but friendly questions. Our session had provoked debate and interest amongst our colleagues within the sector.
We set out with the aim of each delegate taking away maybe one or two thinking points back to their home organisation – we achieved that, and more. What a feeling!
But not to rest on our laurels, the next Find Your Way challenge is just around the corner…
The ABO’s Find Your Way programme is a nine-month leadership course offering ambitious and emerging leaders of the orchestral sector the opportunity to further develop their managerial knowledge and skills, under the guidance of an experienced coach. The programme is funded by Arts Council England and the Jerwood Foundation.
Following two live orchestral film screenings of Satyajit Ray’s King of Ghosts (Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne) at Shakespeare’s Globe inJune 2017, our recording of sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta’s new score is now available to purchase in stores and online.
Ray’s 1960s silent farce follows the adventures of the film’s two heroes, who are given superpowers – the power of musicianship – by the King of Ghosts to use for good. The film, accompanied by Soumik Datta’s live soundtrack, played in Shakespeare’s Globe’s Festival of Independence, a series of theatre, film, music and stand-up celebrating the 70th anniversary of India’s sovereignty.
The sarod, an ‘Indian electric guitar’ as conductor Bill Barclay describes in our podcast, lies at the heart of the music. But the beauty of Soumik’s reimagined score and performance lies in the fusion of music styles: his notated and improvised lines of Indian classical music converse beautifully with the Irish folk influences of Cormac Byrne’s bodhrán and percussion, and the contemporary techniques of CLS strings, brass and woodwind.
All images (c) Pete le May for Shakespeare’s Globe, 2017.
Listen to our King of Ghosts podcast
Not sure what a sarod is? Want to find out more about the musical influences in the score? We caught up with Bill Barclay, conductor of the performances and recording, who can fill you in on all this and more.
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
Thanks @SwannMatthew for inviting me to the @CityLdnSinfonia Modern Mystics launch yesterday, at the stunning West London Synagogue. The season sounds wonderful! And also very impressed by all the work you do in schools, hospitals and soon with Bethlam and Maudsley Hospital.
Summer may officially be over, but we’re still revelling in our June-August collaborations through our Summer Holidays podcast, available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes.
On our podcast, we bring you all the details of King of Ghosts with Soumik Datta at Shakespeare’s Globe (21-22 June); our Grand Organ Gala (6 July) and Masses at St Paul’s Cathedral; Opera Holland Park’s 2017 Season and the Grenfell Tower Memorial Performance (1 August), and our Reformation Day performance at the BBC Proms (20 August).
Listen on SoundCloud:
Coming up in the Autumn: our Modern Mystics trilogy at Southwark Cathedral, Village Underground and St John’s Smith Square.
Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington in June, there will be a memorial performance of Verdi’s Requiem held at Opera Holland Park on Tuesday 1 August in aid of the Rugby Portobello Trust, to raise funds for the community. Our musicians, along with the Opera Holland Park Chorus, soloists and conductors, will be donating their time to raise funds for those affected and to support our friends at Opera Holland Park.
The tragedy happened just a mile away from the venue and Opera Holland Park has been directly affected, with a member of their stage team still missing and a number of their community projects taking place in that community. On 23 June, our musicians and the cast of Opera Holland Park’s production of La rondineperformed an encore of ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’ in loving memory of their friend and colleague.
It’s not often that our musicians get to be bumblebees, chickens and horses stuck in mud, but they got to do just that in our ‘Animal Antics’ themed KS1 concerts in May 2017.
The project, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service and Harrow Music Service, saw schoolchildren engage in a series of fun, creative workshops with our fantastic Animateur in Residence, Claire Henry, before experiencing live orchestral music for the first time. The concerts introduced the children to instruments, with our musicians illustrating the story through musical excerpts, and gave them the chance to join in with rhythms, dictate changes in the music, and sing along to their own songs, created in the workshops – all to help the orchestra escape from the mud!
Our Key Stage 1 music projects this year have been made possible with generous support from the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, AM Spurgin Charitable Trust, Bernarr Rainbow Trust, Childhood Trust, Derek Hill Foundation, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and donors of the Big Give Christmas Challenge.
Listen to our Animal Antics podcast, featuring conversations with musicians, Claire Henry, children, and representatives from schools and music education hubs, available on SoundCloud.
Classical and orchestral music has long had a problem with diversity. The cliché is that it’s male, white, middle class, and often dead. And it’s a cliché because it’s often true.
City of London Sinfonia want to be part of a movement that changes that. We believe that classical music can transform people across all areas of society and in order to do that we need, and want, to present an Orchestra that better represents that society. There are many issues to tackle here, but on International Women’s Day we want to highlight the issue of gender, and make sure that any young woman who sees the Orchestra – whether in a concert hall or in schools – to look at any role in the Orchestra and think, “I can do that”.
Even today, positions of artistic leadership in many orchestras are overwhelmingly held by men, even while the majority of musicians on a concert platform are often female. This is not the message we want to send young women learning musical instruments, that you can be a professional musician, but not a leader.
We are very proud that over 60% of our principal seats are already held by female musicians. Our next challenge is to make sure that we champion female conductors and directors, alongside the hugely talented and enlightened male conductors and directors we perform with.
That is why, from this Autumn, City of London Sinfonia’s artistic leadership will be 50% female – Creative Director and violinist Alexandra Wood and Principal Conductor Michael Collins. We are also committed to ensuring that at least one female conductor or director perform at every one of our major artistic series.
City of London Sinfonia can’t change the orchestral world overnight, but we can make sure that talented young female musicians watching CLS can see a realistic, aspirational vision of what they might themselves become.