Tag Archives: chamber orchestra

“They don’t know where to put it…”

It was kind of satisfying to read Harriet Moss’s comments in the Independent earlier this week about the (not so) unusual situation that faced Nils Frahm’s Barbican concert in the summer. The event sold out, and had lots of support from eclectically minded DJs like Gilles Peterson and Mary Ann Hobbs, but not one classical reviewer came.

No problem, you might think. In a sense, you would be right. The concert sold out. Broadsheet classical reviewers not showing up is just another sign of the changing media landscape.

I should also say that the lack of reviews surrounding the world of contemporary crossover classical is not the fault of the reviewers. They are fighting for column inches, print and online just as orchestras and venues are. As readerships fall, arts editors are increasingly pushed for space, and if something doesn’t have an immediate genre fit it doesn’t go in.

Again, perhaps no problem. There are so many other channels to market available that not having broadsheet coverage isn’t the issue that it was maybe 20 years ago.

The article does highlight a wider issue though: many people in classical music are increasingly looking to break out of perceived genre shackles, and there are plenty of artists from other genres who are keen to help them to do this.

But classical music in the main remains risk averse. I remember that when we invited Ljova to work with CLS a couple of years back. Audiences loved him, our musicians were inspired. Success. Except that no reviewers turned up to see him either, and one promoter friend, who is a fan of Ljova, congratulated me on being so ‘brave’ in promoting him. It was meant as a supportive but I remember feeling terrified when they said it!

 

CLoSer: Sketches of Miles. 6 April 2016. Village Underground.
Gwilym Simcock performing with CLS in April 2016 Credit: James Berry

When the Jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock joins us, it’s perhaps less of a problem as jazz audiences are keen to hear the expanded tonal palette an orchestra gives someone like Gwilym (although the world of jazz can be as reactionary as some corners of classical music). Gwilym is happy to explore the flexible hinterland between two genres, and has created some memorable concerts with us.

sam-lee-tfit1-by-frederic-aranda-lo-res
Sam Lee joins CLS on 17 November. Image credit Frederic Aranda

 

When Sam Lee joins us in November, I imagine that we will face the same problem. Sam is a folk artist, we are an orchestra. Never the twain, etc. Except that classical music has borrowed from folk music for centuries (L’Homme arme anyone?). I think part of what makes CLS what it is is that we can find artists who are prepared to give this tradition of cross genre collaboration some contemporary relevance. It would be too easy with both folk and jazz, and Ljova’s hybrid mix of classical and klezmer to look backwards – we want to create something new in those experimental hinterlands.

Sam’s music is every bit as contemporary as Nils Frahm’s in its own way. Sam borrows ancient Travellers’ songs, but the surrounds he gives them, while definitely folk could not be from any time other than our own. It will be incredible to hear them on an even bigger scale than his albums and usual live shows allow.

We’ll get good audiences – Sam has a great following – but will we get any reviewers? Perhaps if their editors work out where to put it….

Matthew Swann, CLS Chief Executive

Sam Lee joins City of London Sinfonia for CLoSer: Died for Love on 17 November at St John at Hackney. 

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Let’s keep creativity close-by

By Matthew Swann, CLS Chief Executive

MatthewheadshotThere has been a lot of talk in recent years and months about musicians and artists of all hues finding it more and more difficult to survive in London. This has prompted the Deputy Mayor for Culture to announce dedicated “Artist Zones”, where artists and organisations would be given help to purchase unused spaces. A great idea, but I think we can go further…

Some context. Music venues are closing across the country, but especially in the capital, where a conservative estimate suggests that a third of London’s gig venues have closed in the last 10 years. The low earnings that afflict many artists and musicians, especially those starting out, are incompatible with London rents, let alone mortgages. Conversely, part of what has made London a magnet for so many people and so much investment is the incredibly diverse cultural offerings available. We see this in microcosm as bold, risk-taking artists establish themselves somewhere cheap and forgotten like Shoreditch was 20 years ago, only to be priced out as those who want a slice of vicarious ‘cool’ follow them. The artists get chased north up the Kingsland Road into Dalston, then east into Hackney, now south into Peckham. Even in Peckham, young artists and local populations are being squeezed out as more vicarious cool is sought. Decades ago the same happened to Soho and Notting Hill – once down at heel but culturally vibrant, now beyond the means of artists beyond a handful of outlier megastars.

Classical music is by no means immune. The CLS office is in Brixton, having moved from (a very grotty and cheap) office in the City five years ago because Central London was beyond our reach. Now Brixton is becoming too expensive – in Autumn 2018 we will likely have to look further afield for office space. Our landlords have seen what is happening in the centre of London, have invested in the building’s infrastructure and are attracting bigger companies who can pay higher rents.

Just as bands and visual artists are losing performance spaces, so is classical music. Already, one of our favourite venues has had to hike its hire fees in a bid to keep up with rents. One church we would love to perform in more, close to one of the ‘cool’ areas above, has seen its commercial potential and priced itself beyond what we think is reasonable. Affordable venues are all oversubscribed. Rehearsal venues are a particular issue, in that London simply does not have enough of them of a big enough size, and they are very expensive. It is even becoming an issue for our Meet the Music programme. Our education team have spent the last few days desperately trying to find a suitable, and importantly, available and affordable, East London venue for a schools project later in the Autumn. At a time when so many London orchestras, including our own CLoSer series, are attracting new, young and cross cultural audiences, we are in danger of becoming victims of our own success as the venues we champion fall to encroaching speculative development.

If all this sounds like a moan, it’s not meant to be. One of London’s joys is its ever shifting cultural tectonic plates. When I first moved to Camberwell in South East London a dozen years or so ago, telling people I lived there usually elicited a sharp intake of breath. Neighbouring Peckham was a no go zone after dark. Brixton a generation ago was a by-word for inner-city violence. Now, I can drink cocktails on top of the multi-story car park in Peckham, and take my kids to the cinema on its ground floor. Brixton is a by-word for outstanding food (and home to CLS towers!). Camberwell is the epicentre of scruffy artistic chic. Problems and poverty still remain in those areas and in many ways are more entrenched, but there are opportunities which did not exist 10 years ago.

But like the Mayor’s office I do think that we need to guard against London gaining investment but losing its creative soul. The Deputy Mayor’s “Artist Zones” are a great idea, but require capital investment and a long term leveraged commitment which doesn’t suit everyone. I think we can go further, and help both artists and businesses at the same time.

It’s been mooted before, but why don’t we create an English Heritage style Grade system for cultural venues, preventing them from change of use and unsustainable rent hikes. The business of development and investment could continue around them, still benefitting from having creativity nearby  that would otherwise up sticks for the next cheap and forgotten area of London. But let’s extend this to rehearsal rooms, artists workshops, independent theatres, the lot. Any venue that has been in continuous use for creating music, art, etc for five years is protected. That way artists and musicians are not constantly pushed around, and eventually out, of London.

Second, any new office development in much widened “artist zones” has to provide at least 5% of its space to non-profit creative organisations either free of charge or well under market rates. Then the music, performing arts and visual arts organisations (and Orchestras!) that fuel London’s creative infrastructure, and in turn fuel investment, can concentrate on empowering artists, rather than spending exponentially increasing portions of their budgets on rent

I think that businesses and investors stand to benefit as much from these ideas as artists and the organisations that support them. Some businesses already understand the benefits of keeping creative organisations in their developments, but unilateral altruism isn’t going to solve the problem.

“Artist Zones” are a great idea, but let’s go further and benefit everyone by keeping creativity close.

Matthew Swan: Great British Choral Anthems

Matthew Swann, CLS Chief Executive, looks ahead to our National Cathedrals Tour – from Truro on 30 September to Chester on 21 October via Hereford, Lichfield, Southwell and York.

 City of London Sinfonia’s most recent Cathedrals Tour in 2013 was a reminder to us, and our Artistic Director Stephen Layton, of the incredible music making that our cathedrals produce, day after day, across the length and breadth of the country. You might argue (and I would agree with you!) that an orchestra that regularly performs at services and concerts in St Paul’s and Southwark Cathedrals in London should need no reminder of this astonishing music-making. Nonetheless it was a delight to perform all around the country with organists and choirs who were producing world-class music, often on scant resources. As soon as this first tour was finished, our thoughts turned to something bigger and better for next time.

City of London Sinfonia.
The finale of the CLS RE:Imagine season at Southwark Catherdral. 20 April 2016.

This autumn’s tour – Great British Choral Anthems – will journey from Truro all the way up to York. We will visit some friends from last time, as well as making new ones who were inspired to get involved with the tour after hearing about the success of 2013. All of them are relishing the opportunity for their boys and girls to have the life-shaping experience of performing with a world-class professional orchestra, under the baton of one of our outstanding choral conductors. The Directors of Music, those inspirational stalwarts of cathedral music making, will get the chance to conduct CLS, and each cathedral’s organist will perform one of Handel’s concertos with us too.

I’m pleased to say that as well as the invaluable partnership we have with Friends of Cathedral Music, who support so much church and cathedral music making up and down the country, we have the financial support and encouragement of Arts Council England to make the tour possible (and keep ticket prices down). For all the political and economic turmoil we face (not least ever-decreasing funding for the arts), it is pleasing that Arts Council England still consider music-making in our cathedrals to be relevant and vibrant, as well as valuing the contribution they make to the nation’s musical heritage.

cathedral-across-river
Hereford Cathedral, where we will perform on 1 October

This is all good and worthy, but we should not forget that cathedral music-making should lift the spirit, and when it comes to concerts, entertain! Our Great British Choral Anthems programme is sure to do both. In each cathedral we have the resounding pomp of Handel’s Coronation Anthems, and a thrilling new anthem by James MacMillan (I have seen a sneak preview of the score, and it promises to be a tour de force for choir and organist alike). Each cathedral will also present its own choice of music, with Byrd and Tallis, Elgar and Walton, and the present day equally represented.

I, for one, am thrilled to be travelling around the country to experience fine singing and playing this September and October, and hope that as many of you as possible will join us on our journey.

Click here to buy tickets

Ruth Rosales: Secrets of the Garden

As we prepare for our Crash Bang Wallop! Secrets of the Garden family concert on 18 June, we caught up with CLS animateur Ruth Rosales.

Ruth has also been leading workshops with CLS musicians for Key Stage 1 children in Tower Hamlets around the theme of Secrets of the Garden – writing songs to perform with the Orchestra in June.

What is an animateur?

An animateur is someone who helps people to appreciate music in new ways; so it could be someone who does workshops and projects, or someone who introduces pieces in a concert. For me, an animateur is someone who bridges the gap between the orchestra and the audience.

What’s the best part of working on a project like Secrets of the Garden?

I love working on projects that require imagination, both from me and the children. Some of the creative comments and responses that I get in workshops are simply fantastic.  It’s so exciting to see the project develop and where it ends up, as it can change from the initial idea to something completely different.

It’s also amazing to see the children singing all together enthusiastically and being excited about orchestras and the instruments.

How do you come up with the ideas for a concert?

I like the projects to have an educational message for the children; Secrets of the Garden is focusing on bees and how important they are for the environment.

You always wear amazing costumes – how important is costume to you to make your stories come alive?

I have presented concerts without costume before, but what I particularly love about wearing costumes is that it helps a character to develop and a story to be told. I think by asking the children to make costumes or props, it also helps them to feel more involved.

Why do you think music is so important to children as they grow and learn?

There is so much pressure on children today to be doing tests and exams and fewer chances for them to be creative and to just have fun. Music provides an opportunity for creativity.

There are also countless studies that show music helps social and emotional development and communication skills. Music is a huge part of my life and I love sharing something that’s been so instrumental to me.

Crash Bang Wallop! Secrets of the Garden is on 18 June at Cadogan Hall – free activities from 10am, concert 11am-12pm. Book now.

Plan your event night – Sketches of Miles

Our next CLoSer event, Sketches of Miles, 6 April at Village Underground is here, and we are so excited! Whether you’re new to CLoSer or a veteran, we have put together a few things you might like to know. 

About the event

This CLoSer event features the music of Miles Davis, re-imagined for chamber orchestra as the City of London Sinfonia is joined by the legendary jazz-classical crossover artist Gwilym Simcock and the virtuosic vocals of Cleveland Watkiss. Alongside Miles’ music, we’ll also hear an arrangement by Gwilym of a work by Bach, the latest in our Bach RE:Imagined series.

Our CLoSer series is a wonderful way to unwind with great music and great company in an informal and intimate setting. Check out the great blog our Chief Executive penned for a fantastic insight into the CLoSer atmosphere.

Continue reading Plan your event night – Sketches of Miles

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:

Wine, Song and Music with Amelia Singer

Amelia Singer writes about why she thinks wine is an art, ahead of her wine tasting event before our concert, The Great English Songbook, on 9 March.

Amelia will next join us for an evening of wine tasting at Bedales of Borough paired to our Paris Reflected concert programme – the finale of our RE:Imagine series.

Amelia Singer
Amelia Singer is a TV Presenter on The Wine Show, Jamie Oliver Vlogger and Blogger and Founder of Amelia’s Wine – a fun, authentic wine tasting service Amelias-wine.com

Next week I will be doing a wine tasting in conjunction with the CLS’ Re:Imagine series. I was super excited to be included in this programme as not only do I love wine,  the CLS and Southwark Cathedral as a concert venue, I also strongly believe that wine and music complement each other and help create new visions and re imaginations of both art forms.

And yes, I do think it is possible to consider wine as an art form. Both wine and music are experimental, both are creative, both can be extremely technical but ultimately they are meant to be fun and enhance the world around us.  There have been experiments which have proven that music can actually  influence the way we taste wine, and I hope that next Wednesday evening I can demonstrate how wine can absolutely add new nuances and an extra depth of appreciation to musical pieces that you may already know and love.

The wine-cup is the little silver well,
Where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Amelia Singer at a Wine Tasting Event

Next week’s music programme will be looking at ‘The Great English Song book’. All of the featured music has been written or adapted in the last century. However, the inspiration, lyrics and musical form  of these pieces have been mostly based on an enthralling collection of English songs, poems and plays from the 16th century. A particularly apt period of time for this concert due to it being  in the midst of the Renaissance, that pivotal era of re-birth, re-vision and re-imagining  of  Man’s place in the world.

Amelia Singer - Wine Tasting Group

Pairing wines to specific pieces, I hope will add an extra appreciation to this collection of Song. There will be British bubbles to start which will open our minds to the English songs and to the notion of what it means to be ‘English’. This idea will then be further explored by comparing wines from around the world to three of the pieces. The variety of wines will be used to explore the different nuances and influences behind the Songs as well as to explore this idea of ‘Englishness’.  Is it something that is innate and untouchable or something that evolves with the time? Is there an ideal we can aspire to or is that just a fanciful idyll? And just as  importantly, through these Re:Imagined works and their wine pairing, what new visions, if any, of ‘Englishness’ can transpire and resonate.

We may not come to any conclusions, but wine and music combined will definitely ensure an entertaining, engaging and effusive evening!

Read Amelia’s blog on how music can actually influence the way we taste wine.

Tickets for Amelia’s next Wine Tasting event are just £22 – book now at cls.co.uk 

 

Pick of the Week – 26 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.

Proms composer Anna Meredith has formed a band and is playing in clubs

Exasperated at working for months on a work only to have it seldom performed, Meredith has formed a band, saying  “I don’t want to write music that people are enduring just to get to the Elgar in the second half”. Her first album, Varmints is released on 4 March on Moshi Moshi.

Scientists have created three-armed cyborg percussionists (yes, really).

It’s a brave new world as scientists have unveiled a robotic third arm that percussionists can attach to their shoulder that plays along – allowing them to perform rhythms that are totally beyond plain old two-armed humans. What’s more is that they’re now working on a version that can READ YOUR MIND.

People are reading their teen diaries in public for fun

Americans have been doing it for years, and now it’s coming to the UK. Art? Self-indulgence? Therapy? ‘Mortified’ is certainly how we’d feel!

China has banned “weird” architecture 

After a spate of fake White Houses, Eiffel Towers and ‘strangely shaped’ buildings that make the Walkie Talkie look positively bland, the Chinese government has banned ‘weird’ architecture.

And finally… Is this the happiest conductor on the planet?

Maestro Joseph Olefirowicz radiates energy in this performance of  Bob Wright and Chet Forrest’s Opera ‘Kismet’.

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

Mahler, Schoenberg and superstitions

The world of classical music has seen quite a few characters in its time. From composers prone to violent tantrums (Beethoven, Lully) to singers seemingly out of touch with reality (Florence Foster Jenkins), eccentricities abound. Mahler and Schoenberg, who come together in CLoSer: Song of the Earth, were both fervently superstitious…

Mahler and the Curse of the Ninth

The Curse of the Ninth referred to the ill-fated composers who died after writing their ninth symphonies, before completing a tenth. For Mahler, it was Beethoven who embodied this, though he did not refer to it as a ‘curse’. To say that Mahler was spooked by the idea is an understatement; he so feared dying after composing a ninth symphony, he forwent numbering what would have been his ninth, naming it Das Lied von der Erde and subtitling it instead Symphony for Tenor, Alto and large Orchestra. But Mahler’s preoccupation with his own mortality as he was writing Das Lied von der Erde is understandable – his life had descended into turmoil. Just one year earlier he suffered three great traumas: he lost his position as Director of the Vienna State Opera; his eldest daughter, Maria, contracted scarlet fever and died; and a doctor diagnosed him with a fatal heart condition.

In a twist of irony though, believing that he had cheated fate, he numbered his next symphony his ‘ninth’ and died leaving his ‘tenth’ incomplete.

Gustav-Mahler-Kohut

Schoenberg and 13

Like Mahler’s, Schoenberg’s great superstition was also numbers-based. A life-long triskaidekaphobe, Schoenberg went out of his way to avoid the number 13. It has been suggested that he even went as far as deliberately misspelling his opera Moses un Aron as the correct spelling resulted in the title being 13 letters long. His fear came to a head on Friday 13 July 1951, when Schoenberg was 76 years old. Not only was the date Friday 13, but the digits in his age also added up to 13. Schoenberg spent the day in bed, fearing the worst was to happen, and just before midnight it did. His wife, Gertrud, recalled  “about a quarter to twelve I looked at the clock and said to myself: another quarter of an hour and then the worst is over. Then the doctor called me. Arnold’s throat rattled twice, his heart gave a powerful beat and that was the end”.

Arnold_schönberg_credit_man_ray
Schoenberg, by Man Ray

 

Delve deeper into Mahler’s mind on 17 February and explore his life and emotions as he was writing Das Lied von der Erde. Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid joins us for a new commission based on Mahler’s turbulent relationship with his wife, Alma.

CLoSer: Song of the Earth
Wednesday 17 February 2016, 7.30pm
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ
Tickets £15 (includes a free drink), £5 students / 16-25s
Box Office cls.co.uk / 020 7621 2800