Tag Archives: City of London Sinfonia

Highlights: Modern Mystics Season Launch

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

 


Find out more about our Modern Mystics series: The Fruit of Silence (9 November, Southwark Cathedral), The Book of Hours (22 November, Village Underground), The Protecting Veil (2 December, St John’s Smith Square).

Learn more about our Participation programme: Growth through Music (Lullaby Concerts), Wellbeing through Music (L’Chaim, Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital).

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Opera Holland Park 2017: Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà

We had an incredible 2017 Season, our fourteenth season as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park. And just like with the first two operas, and all British open-air productions, the wind, rain and thunder threatened to overthrow performances in the second half of the Season – but to no avail. Here’s what some of the critics had to say about Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà…

WhatsOnStage (★★★★★) described Kát’a Kabanová as ‘Janáček’s most richly coloured and disturbingly flavoured score’ – with which conductor Sian Edwards agreed in our Views From The Pit podcast. Edwards, in her Opera Holland Park debut, was given full credit by the media, with Seen and Heard International exclaiming that ‘it was Sian Edwards’ conducting that lit the night up, inspiring the City of London Sinfonia to unheard-of heights’, and The Stage (★★★★) adding that ‘she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence’.

Classical Source (★★★★★) loved Zazà, Leoncavallo’s ‘curious’ opera, in which ‘City of London Sinfonia and Peter Robinson was on fine form, relishing the music, and particularly well-managed were the off-stage banda and choral moments’, and the Daily Express (★★★★) thought ‘City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score’. Despite Zazà not quite hitting the mark with The Times, other papers such as The Telegraph (★★★★) and The Guardian (★★★★) had plenty good to say about the new production, giving full praise to Peter Robinson’s ‘sensitive conducting’ of ‘Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration’.

More from the press

Kát’a Kabanová

WhatsOnStage: ‘The belting City of London Sinfonia assails the ear with immaculately dosed helpings of romance and horror; and together with the OHP Chorus, whose members personify Kát’a’s paranoia in movement director Clare Whistler’s mime work, they respond rousingly to Sian Edwards’s rhapsodic conducting…’

The Stage: ‘Making her company debut in the pit, conductor Sian Edwards understands its complex style perfectly, and she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence.’

The Spectator: ‘Sian Edwards conducted, and it was baleful, headstrong, ecstatic and raw…’

The Arts Desk: ‘Conductor Sian Edwards leads a well-paced account, nuanced but with no holding back at the searing climaxes… Rather than leitmotifs for the characters, Janáček employs different moods in the music to depict each, and Edwards did an excellent job of delineating these separate styles. She deserves much credit for the success of this revival, as does the entire cast for the compelling musical drama they make of this ensemble piece.’

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards draws some powerful, idiomatic playing from the City of London Sinfonia, and she is a natural when it comes to releasing Janáček’s fleeting tenderness and realising his extraordinary powers of musical characterisation.’

Opera Today: ‘Sian Edwards drew precise, taut playing from the City of London Sinfonia…’

MusicOMH (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards’ conducting is excellent, while all of the principals succeed in filling the large tented auditorium to good effect.’

Zazà

The Telegraph: ‘Peter Robinson’s sensitive conducting honours the evanescent fragrances of Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration…’

The Guardian: ‘Conductor Peter Robinson gets the tricky mix of glitz, sadness and sensuality exactly right.’

Evening Standard (★★★): ‘Conductor Peter Robinson delivers a rousing and, when necessary, raucous orchestral commentary.’

Daily Mail (★★★★): ‘This superb Zazà readily shows off many similar magic moments… There’s some truly beautiful music here, especially for the orchestra.’

Daily Express: ‘The City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score and the Opera Holland Park Chorus supplies backstage bustle, while Louise Winter portrays dipsomaniac mother Anaide.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘Peter Robinson’s expert conducting is a reminder that Leoncavallo was a resourceful orchestrator as well as a dependable librettist.’

The Stage (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia’s authoritative playing of Leoncavallo’s appealing and impassioned score under Peter Robinson’s vital baton sets the seal on this worthwhile re-launch.’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Leoncavallo’s score is opulent, rich and melodious throughout, and Robinson conducts it with plenty of accent and a fair degree of precision.’

The Spectator: ‘The strings sweep upwards, the horns surge, and Leoncavallo’s Zaza throws itself into your arms.’

Planet Hugill: ‘…under Peter Robinson’s direction the City of London Sinfonia drew out the beauties of Leoncavallo’s rather luxuriant score.’

From Twitter

CLS to perform in Grenfell Tower memorial performance at Opera Holland Park

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 rondine performed an encore of ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’ in loving memory of their friend and colleague.


We are pleased to say that the event is sold out and are extremely grateful for your support. Read more about the event, or just donate…

Opera Holland Park 2017: La rondine & Don Giovanni

We’re proud to be performing, as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park in their Summer Opera Season once again in 2017. The reviews for the first two operas, La rondine and Don Giovanni, have been so great that we feel a lot like we’re in a Puccini nightclub sequence. Here’s what the critics have had to say so far…

Culture Whisper (★★★★★) was elated that the season-opener, the new production of La rondine, ‘illustrates to perfection what OHP does best’, adding that ‘in many ways the night belongs to conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, spinning a sparkling City of London Sinfonia like a top’. The Guardian (★★★★) also showed admiration for ‘the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic’.

WhatsOnStage (★★★★) crowned La rondine ‘a visual and musical feast’, and gave praise to ‘the ever-splendid City of London Sinfonia, whose annual residence is one of the company’s outstanding boasts, [who] played the score for all its worth under Matthew Kofi Waldren’s elegantly energised baton’, while the Daily Mail (★★★★) didn’t ‘expect to see anything much better this summer’.

In Don Giovanni, The Times (★★★★) announced that ‘[Dane] Lam’s general approach is invigorating… and the City of London Sinfonia plays vivaciously’, and WhatsOnStage’s (★★★★) reviewer turned up on a particularly weathersome night, remarking on the cast’s and orchestra’s resilience on a particularly ‘tempest-toss’d’ cruise ship: ‘gosh what a night….Opera Holland Park’s heroic stage company – and, especially, the splendid City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam – carried on serenely while the audience adopted the brace position and clung for dear life.’

With the ‘gem-like orchestral colours’ (The Arts Desk) of La rondine, and a ‘great deal of musical panache’ (Limelight) in Don Giovanni, the Opera Holland Park 2017 Season has sailed to critical acclaim.

Photos © Stephen Thomas Smith for Opera Holland Park, 2017

More from the press

La rondine

The Guardian: ‘The chorus was on soaring form, the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic. Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren kept the tempi fluid and well paced. This was a buoyant start to a varied season.’

The Times (★★★★): ‘Everyone in Magda’s [Elizabeth Llewellyn] circle dreams of something, and the characterisation of the supporting ensemble… is a delight.’

The Arts Desk: ‘…what works here has most of the gem-like orchestral colours and vocal glamour it needs. Matthew Kofi Waldren is excellent at steering the deft mood-changes and easy lilt of the score…’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Matthew Kofi Waldren drew a first-class performance from the City of London Sinfonia, revelling in the glorious froth and whimsy of the score, occasionally threatening to overpower the singers early on in the performance, but highlighting so much of the sweeping beauty and orchestral detail of Puccini’s writing that one could sit there and wallow in that alone.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘There’s lush support from the City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren and the energetic Opera Holland Park Chorus.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘…the orchestration is magnificent and all credit to Matthew Kofi Waldren for coaxing the orchestra to its best…Dance rhythms were infectious; elsewhere, one heard a level of detail one might have considered unlikely given the quasi-outdoors setting…A special mention, too, for the leader, Martin Burgess and his various solos, all magical… In act three, Llewellyn and the orchestra conspired to provide moments of magic in her soliloquy as she reminisces.’

Daily Express (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren gives a fine performance of Puccini’s evocative score.’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘With two strong voices on the stage, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren allows the City of London Sinfonia to raise its decibel levels above the average at Holland Park, and La rondine comes across as a more full-blooded opera as a result.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘…a cast commandingly led by the charismatic Elizabeth Llewellyn, Matteo Lippi with his gorgeously Italianate bel canto, and Stephen Aviss as a flamboyantly camp and mellifluous poet. Direction by Matthew Kofi Walden is sure-footed, designs by takis are inventive.’

Don Giovanni

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Dane Lam leads a very fleet account of the score, full of light and shade, with a beguiling propulsive quality about it; and there were many moments where the transitions between the orchestra and Stuart Wild’s admirable continuo (on piano) were seamless.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘Dane Lam and the City of London Sinfonia were firing on all cylinders throughout the performance’

Limelight (★★★★): ‘Lam…demonstrated a great deal of musical panache…The City of London Sinfonia obviously enjoy working with him and respond eagerly to his musical direction.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘…it’s in Dane Lam’s vital conducting and the clean-edged playing of the City of London Sinfonia that the performance shines most brightly’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘In the title role, Ashley Riches has the elegance and swagger to make us believe in him to the bitter end, while Graeme Broadbent bellows authoritatively as the Commendatore.’

Evening Standard (★★★★): ‘In the pit, Dane Lam conducts firmly rather than elegantly, but the semi-open air acoustic allows occasional intrusions of birdsong — an effect that Mozart himself might have enjoyed.’

Culture Whisper (★★★★): ‘…this summery production of Mozart’s opera enjoys its comic potential from the outset’

Music OMH (★★★★): ‘Oliver Platt’s production for Holland Park not only succeeds in retaining the class system involved but, by being extremely innovative, delineates it to the full.’

City of London Sinfonia will be back in the Opera Holland Park pit in Kát’a Kabanová (starts 15 July) and Zazà (starts 18 July).

Podcast: Animal Antics KS1 Project

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.

You can also watch/listen on YouTube.

We’ll be releasing a new podcast every month, giving you insight into our performances, collaborations and projects throughout the year, so follow us on SoundCloud and keep an eye out!

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!

 

Japan tour day 3!

Konichiwa! Day 3 in Japan and we are very much in the spirit of all things Japanese.

First order of business was a goodwill visit to our partners on this tour, Min On. They are a company who know how to provide a welcome, on arrival, the entire staff were gathered in their reception area to applaud us into the premises (see picture). Even for a group of people who are used to receiving applause, this was a novel experience!

While a few of our number were whipped up to their formal reception room for formalities and photos, the majority of our group were treated to a tour of their keyboard instrument museum. This is one of those quirky collections that might not be as famous as a big museum, but is in many ways more fascinating. There are keyboard instruments from the 1500s to the present day, but perhaps most interesting are the eccentric curios from the 19th century, including pianos with bells and tambourine pedals, and house organs and that wheeze and squeeze their way through pre-programmed popular tunes of the day.

From there, onto our second concert, this time in Hachioji. Quirkiness continued as the orchestra were sent to the stage in a goods lift (see picture).

Hachioji, admittedly not the most well known of Japanese cities (in practice it’s a Tokyo suburb – think Croydon), has one of the warmest audiences we have ever encountered. There was a worry in the afternoon about the hall’s acoustics: we had been told that they were excellent, but without an audience in, our musicians felt that the sound wasn’t projecting from the stage. Come the evening and another full house (see picture), the sound was transformed, and we got a full, rich noise.

The audience themselves were again mouthing along to the words of the songs, and there were tears in Hana Wa Saku again, but we now realised that the audience the previous night, in Tokyo proper, were somewhat reserved in comparison.

This is was an audience who not only mouthed along, but also did actions to some songs (the chop-chopping in the Barber Shop song for example), and at the end of the concert, cheered well before the end of pieces, and at the end of concert, clapped together in time, until we gave three encores!

Tomorrow we travel to Osaka by Shinkansen (bullet train, which this little boy is VERY excited about!), and in the evening, an Izakaya (a pub / bistro / social club hybrid very popular in Japan) dinner hosted by our friends at Min On – kampai!!!

Japan tour day 2

Day 2 and our first experience of Japanese concert halls and audiences. Both amazing.

First the behind the scenes stuff. Our performances manager Patrick arrived at the hall 8 minutes before his allotted time and was not allowed on to the stage. Patrick feared the worst: a late starting rehearsal (being even a minute late for a rehearsal is very much verboten in the orchestral world), but all was well.

On the dot of his allotted time, Patrick was invited to instruct 8 stage crew exactly what he needed and 10 minutes later the entire stage was built. This was not a matter of placing a few music stands. Risers were constructed, and the walls of the stage themselves (about 50ft square) were brought in to transform the Bunkamara Orchard Hall from a full on ballet stage to a small chamber orchestra platform. Japanese efficiency may be a cliche, but in this case it was definitely true.

And the front of house experience… the like of which I have never seen before.

An hour before the concert was due to start, an orderly queue was forming outside. The doors themselves were kept shut until 30 minutes before the concert though, by which point most of the 2,000 audience members were patiently waiting.

When the doors were opened, no-one rushed in, complained about being in the cold, or barged through. Instead, two uniformed ushers addressed the queue in unison, bowed, and only then did people come in. Calmly.

We Brits like to think of ourselves as gold medal queuers, but we are definitely amateurs compared to the Japanese. I have seen enough queues for concerts and events on the UK turn into shouty frustration and barging to know that our queuing skills have their limits.

Once in the hall, the audience was one of the most simultaneously respectful and emotional I have witnessed. The Orchestra noticed that many people were mouthing the words of the Japanese songs we were performing, and most of the audience were in tears during Hana Wa Saku (flowers will bloom), a song written to commemorate the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.

After the concert, a reception with Princess Takamado, a member of the Japanese Imperial Family, and before she married, an employee of CLS director Teruko Iwanaga.

We then retired to our hotel for an early night – we have a busy few days ahead!

(Picture of the day spotted in the backstage loos. Something often in short supply on tours!)