Tag Archives: Bach

Bach Remixed in pictures

On 16 October 2018, we presented our second performance in Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall. This time, in Bach Remixed, we turned our attention to JS Bach and his love of maths and numbers – the language of the cosmos. Take a look at our performance in pictures, captured beautifully by James Berry Photography.

From Komm, süßer Tod, Epiphoni Consort broke into Knut Nystedt’s contemporary reworking of the piece, Immortal Bach, in surround sound.

Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Epiphoni Consort in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Following four performances exploring notions of beauty and creativity in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Professor James Sparks from the University of Oxford shared his knowledge on geometry, topology and symmetry in relation to Bach’s Musical Offering and Brandenburg Concerto No.3. We also learnt that cup = doughnut.

James Sparks Bach Remixed
James Berry Photography. James Sparks in in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Baritone Roderick Williams opened the second half by directing Singet dem Herrn, one of Bach’s most famous motets, from within the choir.

Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consortin Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Our audience enjoyed some unexpected and welcomed comedy from our Principal Oboe, Dan Bates, who starred in Roderick Williams’ modern interpretation of Ich habe genug for solo oboe. The end of the piece dovetailed effortlessly into the full cantata – a piece that Roderick champions and which we all delighted in watching.

City of London Sinfonia.
James Berry Photography. Ich habe genug with Roderick Williams and City of London Sinfonia in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

All images in this blog post are © James Berry Photography for City of London Sinfonia, 2018. You can view more photos of this concert below and learn more about how our Bach and the Cosmos series unfolding on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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The only way is up: Bach, Singet and B Minor Mass

Written by Andrew Dickson (Bass, The Epiphoni Consort)

Singing Bach is a little like mountaineering, I sometimes think. Not only is Johann Sebastien Bach (JSB) the greatest musician of all time (sorry, Mozart), but no other composer requires so much energy and concentration to rehearse, or so much balance and nerve to perform. The arcing lines and dancing rhythms, the switches from darkest tragedy to wild joy, the sheer muscular athleticism and dexterity required… you can ascend to dizzying heights, but only if you use all your muscles, including some you didn’t know you had. It’s upwards, always upwards.

To make things even more challenging, we in the Epiphoni Consort are scaling two pinnacles of the repertoire in CLS’s Bach and the Cosmos series. The first is the 1727 double-choir motet Singet dem Herrn (Sing Unto the Lord), with its delicate balance between exuberance and pathos, which we sing with the superb baritone Roderick Williams. The second is the real biggie – the mightiest, meatiest choral piece of them all: the Mass in B Minor, sometimes described as the summation of JSB’s career, in which we’re conducted by one of the greatest Bach interpreters alive, John Butt. As one of my fellow singers commented at a rehearsal the other night, “there really are a lot of notes”. Not so much mountaineering as marathon mountaineering, if that’s a thing.

Of course, it’s also a pleasure, and none of us would be doing it if it weren’t. Singet I first sang at university, and it’s a delight to reencounter it (though it’s more fiendish than I remember: apparently I’m not as athletic as I was). As well as drilling those notes, we’ve spent a long time focusing on the Lutheran text, which is deeply poignant, especially during the chorale section in the middle of the work: “Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub. Gleich wie das Gras vom Rechen, Ein Blum und fallendes Laub…” (“God knows we are but dust. Just as the grass that is mown, a flower or falling leaf…”). Singing it is a powerful experience.

The B Minor Mass I first heard in my teens (in that legendary John Eliot Gardiner recording), but I’ve never actually sung it before – more reason our concert on Saturday feels special. This work, which Bach assembled from a collage of cantata movements he’d composed in Leipzig, was intended to show off his skills and catch the attention of a new employer across in Saxony. In that way, I suppose, it’s the greatest job application of all time. (Not that it worked: Bach spent the rest of his life grinding away in Leipzig.)

The Mass is utterly encyclopedic: from elaborate fugues and dizzying double-choir counterpoint to the simplest, slenderest solo arias and plainchant. Singing it, you feel like you’re exploring the furthest reaches of Bach’s architectural imagination. The way he builds the opening cries of “Kyrie”, like placing the great foundation stones of a cathedral, to the filigree of the Sanctus, where we in the bass section sing a joyous, swaying melody that descends through the octaves while the higher voices make shimmering patterns up in the heavens. Encyclopedic though it is, after a while you don’t see the individual textures or effects: you just feel the heft of the whole structure, its solidity and profundity. That, too, is rather moving.

As I hope is clear, it’s tricky, learning to keep your head at these altitudes, but it’s also hugely rewarding. Hopefully we’ll make it all the way to the top.

Bach and the Cosmos: B Minor Mass

The Epiphoni Consort perform Bach’s B Minor Mass with City of London Sinfonia, John Butt, Roderick Williams, Joanne Lunn, Rowan Pierce, Robin Blaze and Charles Daniels at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 20 October 2018, 7.30pm. Tickets available via the CLS Box Office online, on the phone (020 7621 2800; M-F, 10-6) or on the door.

Charlotte Bray on Bach RE:Imagined

Ahead of the première of her arrangement of Bach’s Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor

How did you go about choosing a work by Bach you wanted to arrange, and how did you settle on the piece you picked?

I considered arranging various works before settling on Bach’s Sarabande from Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor. As a cellist, my first instinct was to look to the cello suites. Knowing the works so intimately already, however, in a sense restricted my freedom, I felt.

The Sarabande – a work that was quite new to me – appears to hold an elaborate and intimate conversation with the listener, which attracted me to the work in view of making an arrangement. Encompassing a whole range of emotions, the darkness is interrupted with glimpses of light and hopeful, joyous twists.

What are the challenges involved in transforming a solo work into a work for ensemble, and how do you incorporate your 21st century voice as a composer with Bach’s 18th century voice?

In making an arrangement of something so immaculately beautiful, I tried to change it as little as possible. Staying true to the original in terms of pitch, I super-imposed my own expression of the piece on to Bach’s composition, as if the ensemble were soloist. The partita is beautiful but relatively unknown. I felt that this gave me more freedom to arrange the work, as the audience is less likely to be familiar with it. Other, more well known works did feel a bit daunting to tackle.

Is this an ‘arrangement’ or something slightly different?

I toyed with writing a ‘composition by Charlotte Bray, based on a work by J.S. Bach’ but the approach didn’t feel genuine somehow. I would consider my piece to be an arrangement of Bach’s and therefore still fundamentally his work.

You can hear the City of London Sinfonia perform Charlotte’s arrangement of Bach’s Sarabande from Piano Partita No. 6 in E minor on 20 April at Southwark Cathedral. Tickets are available from £5.

Pick of the Week: 18 March

Instagramming your food makes it yummier
It’s probably the same for concerts, right?

Chinese theatres are shining LASERS at people who use their phones in concerts.
Don’t worry, you can always use your phone at CLS concerts without fearing the laser eye – in fact we encourage it! #concert #nofilter #livetweet #greatsolo #intervaldrinks

Even more research that taking part in music is super healthy
Don’t cancel your gym membership just yet but if you’re looking to boost your happy thoughts music is one of the best ways of doing so.

..and finally this is a forest xylophone and it’s very relaxing:

Roderick Williams: The Great English Songbook

On Wednesday 9 March, renowned baritone Roderick Williams joins us at Southwark Cathedral for a very special concert of English song and string music – including Roderick’s own arrangements of Bach and Butterworth. We caught up with him about what he thinks ‘The Great English Songbook’ is, the early 20th Century folk song revival and how arranging works has shaped his performances.

What do you think ‘The Great English Songbook’ is?

I guess we’re all used to the phrase ‘American Songbook’ and have a vague notion of what does and doesn’t belong in that category.  I’ve only recently become aware of the idea of an ‘English songbook’ and I suppose it to mean the flowering of song-writing in the UK that spans the end of the nineteenth century from Stanford, Parry and Elgar through to the regressive composers still writing tonal music during the second half of the twentieth century.  So that would obviously include the songs of Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Gurney and Finzi who are represented in the CLS programme, but also John Ireland, Peter Warlock, Roger Quilter, E J Moeran and Benjamin Britten.  I’m not so sure that the Manchester Group for example, (i.e. Maxwell Davies, Goehr and Birtwistle) would fit the bill, although there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.  But I think the term alludes to a certain pastoral, tonal tradition of song setting that inspired amateur and professional singers alike to rejoice once again in singing English repertoire rather than necessarily being in thrall to the German Lied or opera arias.

How important was the collection of English folk melody in developing an English voice in the early part of the twentieth century?

To my mind,the most important aspect of this work was the nurturing of a sense of cultural identity.  The end of the nineteenth century saw this in music from all across Europe and beyond; what composers such as Grieg, Dvořák, Nielsen, Smetana and Sibelius were creating in their own countries was being copied in the UK.  Serious musicologists such as Kodály and Bartók were placing folk traditions centre stage and so those English musicians who followed the lead of Cecil Sharp and his colleagues were no longer seen as eccentric enthusiasts but as a necessary and important part of the mainstream.

I’m sure that in, for example, Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad settings, the template of English folksong is fundamental.  Butterworth matched the outwardly simple nature of Housman’s poems with deliberately simple melody; the profundity is in the subtext in both words and music but the restraint derives from folksong.

We will be performing your arrangement of Butterworth’s Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad. Has arranging them changed the way you think about, and perform, them?

If anything, arranging the songs for strings has been an exercise in making the chamber music experience as close as possible to performing with a pianist.  For example, I was keen that each player should have the vocal line in the instrumental part, as a pianist would, so that they can each take responsibility for accompanying the voice.  I hoped this might also foster a connection with the poetry, so that everyone knows what Butterworth’s accompaniment is designed to illustrate.  In essence, I try to perform the piece exactly as I would with a pianist, wherever practical.

Do you have a favourite out of the Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad? If so, why?

I enjoy them all for different reasons.  I’m sure the final song is a favourite for many people but I also note that this is the song in which I’ve suffered most lapses of concentration in past performances, perhaps because it is the last song, with several, very similar verses.  So I’ve learned to give this song special respect in performance.

Gurney’s and Finzi’s cycles hark back to a bygone age – but they are unmistakably from the twentieth century. How ‘Elizabethan’ are they, how ‘20th Century’ are they?

As in architecture, with the fashion for Elizabethan cladding, so many twentieth century composers liked to re-invent a concept of Elizabethan song.  In a sense it is an attempt to connect one golden age of song with another and there is everything to be gained from learning from past masters.  In the last fifty years or so the whole concept of ‘period performance’ has made some of this faux renaissance feel a little mannered but, on the other hand, it has inspired composers to write some beautiful melodies too.

The concert on 9 March features CLS’s strings in works like Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus. Is there any parallel between vocal music and string music?

I’m sure many instrumental players will tell how they have been coached to play more ‘vocally’ and, in some cases, singers have been asked to think a little more instrumentally.  Fundamentally the difference is, of course, in the conveying of text.  An instrument can copy articulation in imitation of vocal inflection but it can’t deliver actual text; its language is more abstract.  Then the whole question of breathing in music becomes an issue when comparing vocal to instrumental music, especially for strings as opposed to brass and woodwind.  So parallels may be drawn in order from one to learn from another but those parallels are, essentially, artificial.

We will also be hearing the world première of your arrangement of the Bourée from Bach’s Cello Suite in C, as part of our ‘Bach RE:Imagined’ series. Why did you pick the Bourée – what is it like to rework a piece by a composer such as Bach?

This particular Bourée is one that I remember especially clearly from my cello-playing days as a schoolboy; it is one that I found myself scat singing from time to time, in the knowledge that I could most likely sing it far better than I could ever play it.  It is daunting to be asked to expand on music by Bach as his music is so complete; there is hardly room for any further work by a composer.  In treating the Bourée as I have, I am only really paying homage to an iconic piece for me and adding layers to the original in a personal flight of fancy.

Tickets for The Great English Songbook are available online at cls.co.uk

Retrospective on CLoSer: Song of the Earth

Our RE:Imagine series continued in style last night as Village Underground transformed into London’s most intimate and relaxed concert venue for CLoSer: Song of the Earth. The elegance of Johann Strauss distilled for salon orchestra and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue (arranged by up-and-coming young composer Luke Styles) set the scene. Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid enthralled the audience before we heard Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and Tenor Gwilym Bowen took centre stage as all the mastery of Mahler’s epic symphony, concentrated into an ensemble of just 15 world-class musicians.

The concert was live-streamed online – checkout the highlights below and some beautiful photos from the concert by the wonderful James Berry along with your reactions from Twitter. Just tweet us at @CityLdnSinfonia to let us know what you thought!

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Forthcoming concerts

We hope you can join us at a concert soon – for full listings visit cls.co.uk/whats-on

The next concert in our RE:Imagine series is The Great English Songbook  when we will be journeying through England’s Elizabethan age and Shropshire countryside with baritone Roderick Williams on 9 March at Southwark Cathedral.

We are next back at Village Underground for CLoSer: Sketches of Miles on 6 April when  we will transport you to New York as we explore the musical marriage of the legendary trumpeter Miles Davis and composer/arranger Gil Evans.

The Great English Songbook
Wednesday 9 March 2016, 7:30pm
Southwark Cathedral, London, SE1 9DA
Tickets £25, £15, £5* (*restricted view)
cls.co.uk / 020 7621 2800

CLoSer: Sketches of Miles
Wednesday 6 April 2016, 7.30pm
Village Underground, London, EC2A 3PQ
TICKETS: £15 (includes a free drink)
cls.co.uk / 020 7621 2800

Pick of the Week – 5 February

What’s been happening in the arts this week? As part of our blog series, Pick of the Week, we’ve picked our favourite stories, interesting exhibitions and most thought-provoking debates we’ve seen and heard this week.

Courting the “lay” listener

A couple of weeks ago we shared this article about whether classical music should be re-named ‘composed music’. We thought it probably shouldn’t. After all, isn’t all music composed? Adding to the wider debate is this blog by composer Mari Valverde. She asks whether it’s not the name that needs to change, but the way we listen and the way we learn to listen?

Scientists have found a way to help you learn new skills twice as fast

It seems there’s a better way to learn new things than simply repeating them over and over again. Scientists have been testing theories around ‘reconsolidation’ – that is, repeating tasks with slight modifications – and the results look promising. Handy to bear in mind during practise sessions!

This Huge Cat’s Cradle Embodies the Great Fugues of Bach

How can you portray music in architecture? Architect Gabriel Calatrava was asked to do just that, to design a set to complement a performance of Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. The result is quite amazing!


Month in pictures – September and October

We’ve had two very busy months at CLS. Our RE:Imagine concert series got off to a flying start in September with CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance at Village Underground, and continued at Southwark Cathedral with an atmospheric celebration of the music of one of the most romantic cities in the world, in Venice: Darkness to Light. But that’s not all we’ve been up to so far this autumn. Take a look at some of our highlights of the last two months…

CLoSer: Debussy, Copland and Dance saw us return to the intimate setting of Village Underground with a programme exploring music written for dance from Rameau’s 18th century take on the classical Pygmalion myth to Copland’s evocative Appalachian Spring. The concert opened and closed with two brand new dance interpretations of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by choreographer Tony Adigun, one contemporary classical, one urban. Photographer James Berry was on hand to capture the concert as it happened. Take a look at some of his stunning pictures…

Whether you missed the concert, or would just like to relive the evening, you can still watch short highlights on our website.

Our second RE:Imagine concert took us to the magnificent Southwark Cathedral to celebrate one of the world’s most wonderful cities, with Venice: Darkness to Light. Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and countertenor Alex Potter joined us for JS Bach’s re-imagining of Pergolesi’s Stabat MaterTilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, and Latvian composer Ugis Praulins continued our theme of re-imagining the works of Bach, with his arrangement of movements from the Mass in B minor. Here are some lovely photos of rehearsals by James Berry.

On top of all that, it’s been very busy in the education department, as we returned to Suffolk and Essex for our annual Lullaby Concert tour and workshops with Orchestras Live. We also brought a Very Special Bear’s first concert to Warwick, Basingstoke and Saffron Walden with the help of the excellent Simon Callow, who was an absolute natural at conducting! Take a look behind the scenes to see us wrestling with balloons, and a lovely Paddington Bear card made by one of our younger audience members in Basingstoke!

Our RE:Imagine series continues in the new year with The Viennese Salon in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, and our next Crash Bang Wallop! family concert will take place on 12 December. We hope to see you there!

Crash Bang Wallop! Let it Snow
Saturday 12 December 2015, 11.00am
Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London
Tickets: £8 Children, £10 Adults, £30 Family (four tickets)
Box Office: 020 7730 4500 / cadoganhall.com

The Viennese Salon
Sunday 24 January 2016, 2.00pm
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Tickets: £62 (premium), £15 – 48, £10 (standing)
Box Office: 020 7401 9919 / shakespearesglobe.com

Elin Manahan Thomas on BBC In Tune

We loved listening to the wonderful Elin Manahan Thomas and Stephen Farr on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune yesterday evening, performing music from Bach’s re-imagining of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and talking about our forthcoming RE:Imagine concert, Venice: Darkness to Light. You can listen again for 30 days on catch up (their interview and performances start at around 1:01:30).

And because we can never hear enough of Elin Manahan Thomas’ beautiful voice, we’ve put together a short playlist of some of our favourite recordings.


Join us on 14 October in the stunning Southwark Cathedral for a musical celebration of Venice, with Bach’s re-imagining of Pergolesi’s haunting Stabat Mater by Elin Manahan Thomas and Alex Potter.

Venice: Darkness to Light
Wednesday 14 October 2015, 7.30pm
Southwark Cathedral, London
Tickets £25, £15, £5* (*restricted view)
£5 tickets available for students and 16-25s (pre-register at www.cls.co.uk/cls-fiver) Box Office / 020 7377 1362

Venice: Darkness to Light

Our RE:Imagine season continues this Wednesday with Venice: Darkness to Light at Southwark Cathedral. We’ve put together this playlist as a little guide to the re-imagined sounds of the concert along with the pieces that inspired them.

Following the journey of the concert, first off, we have Bach’s take on two of Italy’s finest 18th Century composers: the first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and Bach’s version of it as the cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden; and the first movement of Vivaldi’s violin concerto from L’estro Armonico that Bach re-imagined as a keyboard concerto.

Sticking with Bach, we have the movements from Bach’s Mass in B Minor that Ugis Praulins has re-imagined (you’ll have to come to the concert if you want to hear what Ugis has done with it!). Following the Bach, are John Adams’ orchestral re-imaginings of Liszt’s The Black Gondola and Busoni’s Berceuse Elegiaque, and their piano version originals.

The most intriguing of the re-imaginings, however, is the overture to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Stravinsky based his piece on music by Pergolesi… except that it wasn’t by Pergolesi at all. Most of it was by a little known Venetian composer by the name of Domenico Gallo, who was little known because his publishers passed off most of his music as being by Pergolesi, because that way they knew it would sell more copies! Gallo is restored to his rightful place here, next to Stravinsky’s re-imagining.


Venice: Darkness to Light
Wednesday 14 October 2015, 7.30pm
Southwark Cathedral, London
Tickets £25, £15, £5* (*restricted view)
£5 tickets available for students and 16-25s (pre-register at www.cls.co.uk/cls-fiver) Box Office / 020 7377 1362