Tag Archives: beethoven

Retrospect: Hero Worship at the QEH

On 8 May, we headed to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time since the Hall’s refurbishment and grand reopening in April. This was the first of many collaborations to come at the QEH and our debut working with Australian composer and violist Brett Dean.

CLS_Brett Dean_Hero Worship rehearsal
Brett Dean directs City of London Sinfonia in rehearsals.

As with many of our ‘seriously informal’ concerts, Hero Worship departed from the regular orchestral concert format, offering a narrative and images (not too dissimilar to that of a TED talk) to help us better understand Beethoven’s life and music. Cue entertaining Cambridge historian.

Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, gave our audience insight into the historical, political and social contexts that influenced Beethoven and his compositions. Intertwined with musical canapes from his early symphonies and septets, the narrative spanned from his early years to the uncovering of the Heiligenstadt Testament following Beethoven’s death (listen to Brett Dean’s explanation in our podcast).

Brett Dean was welcomed to the podium to conduct the centrepiece of the evening: his “fantastic” and “pretty tricky” (as described by Creative Director and Leader Alexandra Wood) contemporary take on Beethoven’s famous document, Testament.

Violins relaxing before Eroica
CLS violins relax before performing the ‘Eroica’ Symphony, standing up.

We’d had a taste of who Beethoven was before his Heiligenstadt trip and Napoleon’s betrayal, and now it was time to discover his reformed style in the ‘Eroica’: the Symphony that altered the course of music. With Brett Dean directing the Symphony from the viola and the majority of our musicians standing (thank goodness the violins relaxed in their break – pictured), ‘strong inner voices sprang to life, unfurling the symphony as a gigantic piece of chamber music’ (The Observer).

Despite having known each other for decades, Brett Dean and Sir Christopher Clark had never been on a stage together before. Their bows at the end of the performance showed what a joy it had been, and the simultaneous rapturous applause confirmed that it was a joy for everyone involved.

Tweets from the night


For more information about the performance and to learn about our next concert, Bach Remixed, coming up in October, be sure to search #CLSattheQEH on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sign up to our mailing list for email updates.


Your guide to Hero Worship

What’s more exciting and entertaining than a TED talk? A TED talk with a 40-piece orchestra. This is how CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann describes our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 8 May.

Join us on an exciting journey with Cambridge historian Sir Christopher Clark to learn about the significance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Beethoven’s illness and medicine’s inability to cure it, the verbose testament he wrote in Heiligenstadt but never sent, and how he elevated artists from the servant class and reinvented them as heroes.

Amongst works by Beethoven, the Orchestra performs Brett Dean’s Beethoven-inspired piece Testament. Testament was composed in an attempt “to pick Beethoven’s brain”, as Brett puts it. The piece promises to be an exciting experience for the musicians as well as the audience, as our strings play on bows without rosin (which is basically the musical equivalent of driving on ice without snow chains if you’re in the Austrian Alps), while the woodwinds produce “sounds that are hard to pin down” with effects such as ‘toneless murmuring’.

In a bold move that violist and composer Brett Dean describes as being “don’t try this as home difficult”, City of London Sinfonia performs Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony without a conductor. What is very special about this performance is that the Symphony will be directed by Brett from the viola; from within the orchestra, which highlights aspects of the piece that you might not be able to hear as clearly in a more traditional setup and gives you the chance to rediscover the Symphony in a different way.

We know that worship usually takes place in special surroundings and Hero Worship is no different in this respect. That’s why we have chosen Southbank Centre’s shiny new Queen Elizabeth Hall as the place for an evening full of beautiful music and exciting insights. It is the perfect place for a concert that gives you a chance to see and hear Beethoven the artist as well as Beethoven the hero – but most of all, Beethoven the human.

Want to book tickets and find out more?

You can purchase tickets at the CLS Box Office (until 10am on 8 May) or at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office. Tickets will also be available at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the night.

Listen to our Spring Season podcast to hear CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann elaborate on what makes the concert a TED talk.

In our Hero Worship with Brett Dean podcast, Brett Dean talks more about Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony and his own piece, Testament, shedding light on the concept and context of the work and the experimental sounds he chose to feature in the music.

Beethoven: Artist to Hero

Comment by Matthew Swann, CLS CEO

Nowadays, we’ve got a very good idea of the artist as hero: an individual who creates what he or she wants to and is very much their own manager. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, it was very much the case that artists – particularly musicians and composers – were considered part of a servant class. They were artisans; they were producer of things for the upper classes to consume and they weren’t necessarily in control of their own artistic vision.

Beethoven was the man that changed that. He looked at political, military and leadership heroes throughout his life – particularly Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of the French Revolution and later self-declared emperor. Through a series of events where Beethoven fell out of love with Napoleon, for all intents and purposes, he decided that true heroism came from the artist.

Our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall follows that journey and Beethoven’s own realisation, at the same time, of his growing deafness. It’s a journey of how Beethoven realises that the artist is becoming the hero, and all the anguish and that realisation is presented in his Third Symphony.

As well as collaborating with Brett Dean, a wonderful composer in his own right, Cambridge historian and music-lover Sir Christopher Clark will bring phenomenal insight to our performance. He’ll elaborate on the historic significance of this change: the change from an artist perceived as a servant – an artisan at the beck and call of the upper classes – to someone who drives artistic, creative and philosophical thinking themselves.

Hero Worship at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Listen to Matthew talk more about Beethoven and our performances on our Spring Season podcast (available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts).

Want to be further enlightened (pun intended) on Beethoven’s historical significance? Come to Hero Worship on Tuesday 8 May 2018 (7.30pm) at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets available at cls.co.uk (including CLS 5IVER for students and 16-25s) and southbankcentre.co.uk.

Go-to facts about Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony

Going to the pub with your music buff friend? Want to impress them with your abundance of classical music knowledge? Dying for an opportunity to show off your enormous classical-music-fact-filled brain? Recently ranked as the nation’s 8th favourite piece of classical music, it is fair to say Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony is on everyone’s lips (and in everyone’s heads too!). Because of its recent publicity (and because it’s a really great piece), we thought we’d create a list of go-to DID YOU KNOW?! facts you can use to flaunt your classical music prowess.

  1. DID YOU KNOW?! Beethoven loved the countryside and that’s why he wrote this piece. For him, there was nothing better than rambling through the great outdoors and taking in all of the beauty it had to offer. BeethovenWalkingInCountrysideThis Symphony is his most profound expression of his love of nature.
  2. DID YOU KNOW?! it was one of the first pieces of programme music ever written (music which paints a picture or tells a story) later influencing the likes of Berlioz.
  3. DID YOU KNOW?! the symphony featured in Walt Disney’s all-time classic Fantasia? During the Pastoral sequence, Disney depicted cute little winged horses learning how to fly in airy cloudscapes and handsome centaurs (half-human horses) and glamorous centaurettes (their female counterparts) playfully flirting among multi-coloured woods and serene waterways. Watch it here
  4. DID YOU KNOW?! the work is packed with musical representations of different sounds of nature? At various points in the symphony, Beethoven depicts a gurgling brook, pattering rainfall, crashing thunder, shepherd’s horn-piping and birdsong of a nightingale, quail and cuckoo.
  5. fantasia picDID YOU KNOW?! Beethoven used the symphony to poke gentle fun at (the sonic misgivings of) country band musicians? Beethoven knew the efforts of amateur country bands well and was rather amused at the way they played. In the third movement, entitled ‘peasants’ merrymaking’, he makes the oboe come in on the wrong beat and the bassoonists contributions comically mechanical.
  6. DID YOU KNOW?! the work was premiered during a humongous 4 hour concert which also included his Symphony No. 5, Choral Fantasia, Piano Concerto No. 4, the aria Ah! Perfido, a solo piano fantasia AND four excerpts from his Mass in C? Programmed during a concert of such length, it’s no surprise that his original audience weren’t too happy with it!

Listen live:

Natural / Supernatural
Thursday 1 May 2014, 7.30pm
Cadogan Hall

Mozart –  Overture from The Magic Flute
Gwilym Simcock – On a Piece of Tapestry (London premiere)

Gwilym Simcock – Cumbrian Thaw
Beethoven – ‘Pastoral’ Symphony No. 6 


Seasons Greetings!

We’d like to wish all our supporters and audiences a very Happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you at the Natural / Supernatural festival in 2014. Please note the office will close on Monday 23 December and will reopen on Thursday 2 Blog cardJanuary 2014.

Card design by Steph Ramplin stephramplin.blogspot.co.uk

The Score: Steve Stirling

Ever wondered what our players listen to in their spare time? Whether they prefer Bach or Berlioz? Which instruments they admire? What makes their mouth water?!

Find out more about our principal horn Steve Stirling favourites in our quick fire round…

Utterly impossible to answer!! I could not do without Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart or Dvorak. But I am playing Mahler right now and the last movement of Das Lied von der Erde is as good as anything written by anyone on my list. Then there is Ligeti, and Kurtag. Oh… Berg is indispensible and Puccini!

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Instrument (other than your own!)
Has to be the voice

Concert Venue
The Cologne Philharmonic concert hall is is the most inclusive concert hall in the world, a vast sea of audience in a modern amphitheatre. And they serve you a kölsch beer as you walk off the platform!

Linzer Torte

Image: James Berry

The Score: Katie Heller

Ever wondered what our players listen to in their spare time? Whether they prefer Bach or Berlioz? Which instruments they admire? What makes their mouth water?! 

Find out more about string player Katie Heller in our quick fire round…

J.S. Bach and then Robert Schumann

Beethoven’s Fidelio

If not my own, the cello

Concert venue
The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Chocolate Guinness cake introduced to me by fellow CLS viola Becky Jones!