Tag Archives: classical music

What can you experience in Absolute Bird?

Absolute Bird is a London concert series like no other. Sure, we want our audiences to experience incredible live performances of exciting, inspiring and thought-provoking music by our musicians and guest artists, but we also want them to be part of the performances; to help us create sweeping soundscapes of birdsong and nature.

We’re creating a soundscape together—a way of experiencing the music that you wouldn’t normally get.

What’s unique about our concert series?

We’re making the concerts in Absolute Bird unique in a number of ways: there are three very different formats, we’re playing with the space in each of the halls; there’ll be musicians dotted around the place, there’ll be live broadcasts in, and we’re playing very different music right from early medieval music right up to the present day.

At Southwark Cathedral, we’re offering ‘Free as a bird’ tickets that encourage our audience to join in and have fun; to experience live classical music in a nontraditional way. It’s something a bit different; a bit unusual.

Just as we do in the work we might do in a school or a hospital or a care home, where we’re inviting people in those environments to create music with us, we’re inviting the audience to create the experience with us.

How can audiences be part of the performances?

When you turn up on Friday 3 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for Sounds of the Outback, one of the first things we’re going to ask you to do is help us create an Australian soundscape. Then, when you turn up to Southwark Cathedral a couple of weeks later for Flocks of Europe, we’re going to ask everyone – audience, musicians, artists, but perhaps not the Cathedral cat – to be flocks of birds.

But “how?”, we hear you wonder. We’ll do all this using recordings of birdsong and calls related to the music we perform in each concert. For Sounds of the Outback, it’s Australian birds from all over the country such as pied butcherbirds, common blackbirds, laughing kookaburras and eastern whipbirds. For Flocks of Europe, it’s flocking birds from the British Isles, including cuckoos, nightingales and hens.

Translating Nature (Friday 24 May) is completely different, and full of variety through its three events. There is a chance to learn, a chance to sit back and relax to a mixed-tape programme, and there’s a chance to do some late-night fun with nightingales. It’s a three-part mini-festival of nature and music.

When are the concerts and where can you book tickets?

You can book your tickets for our Absolute Bird concerts on our website at cls.co.uk or by phone at 020 7621 2800 (Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm). Tickets for Queen Elizabeth Hall performances are also available at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office via their website at southbankcentre.co.uk or on 020 3879 9555.

  • Sounds of the Outback: Friday 3 May 2019, 7.30pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Flocks of Europe: Wednesday 15 May 2019, 7.30pm, Southwark Cathedral
  • Translating Nature: Friday 24 May 2019, 8pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall
    • Pre-concert Talk with Miranda Krestovnikoff: 7.00-7.40pm
    • (Late night!) Singing with Nightingales Live with Sam Lee: 10.00-11.15pm

CLS presents Absolute Bird

For more information on our May series, you can listen to our podcast on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast providers. You can also keep up to date at #AbsoluteBird on Twitter or by joining our Facebook events.


Absolute Bird is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and by David and Molly Lowell Borthwick, The John S Cohen Foundation, Derek Hill Foundation, John Ellerman Foundation and Kirby Laing Foundation.

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City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

In partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff, City of London Sinfonia (CLS) joins the call to celebrate birdsong in music. In their Absolute Bird spring concert series and wider social programme, CLS explores the wondrous sounds of nature at a time of growing environmental threats.

Featuring diverse artists including vocalist and violinist Alice Zawadzki, recorder player Genevieve Lacey, folksinger Sam Lee, and conductors Jessica Cottis and Sian Edwards, the Absolute Bird series culminates in three concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral in May 2019 celebrating 800 years of awe-inspiring music.

The Orchestra’s London series supports the release of the RSPB’s Let Nature Sing recording, a specially created track of pure birdsong highlighting the loss of 40 million wild birds and their calls from our skies. The charity is calling on the public to download, stream and share the single to indicate that they are passionate about nature’s recovery, with the aspiration of entering the Charts. The track, to be released on 26 April, was directed by Sam Lee who performs with CLS on 24 May, and co-composed by Bill Barclay, who is currently touring King of Ghosts with CLS and Soumik Datta following their 2017 recording on Globe Music. Continue reading City of London Sinfonia joins the RSPB’s campaign to celebrate birdsong through music in concert venues, hospitals, schools and day centres

Comfortable Classical in pictures

On 12 February 2019, we brought Comfortable Classical to the Albany, Deptford, the first in a series of relaxed lunchtime concerts with our wind and string ensembles. These performances welcome anyone and everyone, and aim to bring you joy and relaxation through classical music and interaction with our musicians. Photographer Suzi Corker captured some beautiful moments in our first concert, presented below.

Our wind section – made up of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn – took it in turns to introduce their instruments. Here’s Dan Bates (Principal Oboe) familiarising our audience with the sound of an oboe reed—you’d be surprised how many tunes you could make with just that!

Dan Bates

Some chose to draw what the music sounded like to them and to colour in while they listened. All the music played was based on nature and birdsong.

Colouring

Everyone joined in in some sing-song, and we learnt some great moves from Waffy (Principal Clarinet) to do while singing rounds of a sea shanty.

Audience front row singing

Our audience was free to join our musicians in conversation throughout the performance and to move about when they needed to.

The Albany audience and musicians

Enjoy more of Suzi’s wonderful photos below!

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Our next Comfortable Classical relaxed concerts take place at Canada Water Theatre on Monday 11 and Wednesday 20 March 2019, 1.30-2.30pm. Learn more >>


From Bingo to BartokOn 25 January 2019, we published From Bingo to Bartok, a free online publication with Orchestras Live and commissioned by the Baring Foundation. The publication details how orchestras are approaching relaxed performances and intergenerational concerts, along with case studies of projects that aim to improve older people’s live with classical music. Read more >>


Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on our wellbeing and education projects, and our upcoming performances.

The influence of Absolute Bird

Our three Absolute Bird programmes in the spring are influencing the majority of the work we’re doing in 2019, challenging and marvelling audiences and project participants alike. As our chairman, John Singer explains in our participation brochure, our artistic programmes – such as Absolute Bird and, previously, Bach and the Cosmos – are not limited to our concert series. We also explore the relative themes, music techniques and pieces from these programmes to enthuse participants’ enjoyment in our daily activities in hospitals, hospices, specialist care centres, care homes and schools.

In Absolute Bird, we’re performing a vast range of birdsong- and nature-inspired repertoire, from medieval rounds and canons such as Summer is icumen in to modern-day naturalistic sounds of the Outback by Hollis Taylor – some of the music being used to inspire multiple age groups in our wellbeing and education projects.

Here is just a taster of how we are using nature, namely birdsong, to inspire creative music-making beyond our concert series this year.

How birdsong is inspiring our projects

In our music-making workshops at St Christopher’s Hospice, patients are drawing inspiration from bird-related classical repertoire such as Couperin’s Le Rossignol en amour (featured in Absolute Bird: Flocks of Europe) and Les coucous benevoles, and excerpts of Stravinsky and Vivaldi to from their own creations of music and word with CLS musicians and workshop leader Sam Glazer.

St Christopher's Hospice visit January 2019
CLS musicians at St Christopher’s Hospice, Jan 2019

The young people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School get to create something a bit special with Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt and CLS musicians this term: they’ll leave a legacy of birdsong-inspired sounds in the form of an interactive sonic tree sculpture. “How?” we hear you gasp. Well, the plan is to create a tree as large as six feet tall to house 24 interactive birds that, when touched, play back music composed during the sessions. “Naturific!” And audience members at our Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral concerts in May will get to see this in action.

The “nature-niche” continues with members of Headway East London, a centre for survivors of brain injuries, who will create and perform music composed in response to Absolute Bird repertoire during their five-week project in March. Imagine a sonic flotilla of these recorded creations, shaped as river birds, floating down the canal – this is what Gawain is aiming to construct for a Headway EATS event.

Recently, our participation dream-team met with vocal leader and workshop facilitator Jessie Maryon Davies to get the creative juices flowing for our summer term Creative Primaries projects in Tower Hamlets and Harrow. There are lots of possibilities for bird-related stories and repertoire for pupils and our musicians to collaborate on in Key Stage One classrooms, so watch this space for their new music.

Creative Primaries Dec 2018 Suzi Corker
Primary schools engaged in Bach and the Cosmos in Dec 2018 (image: Suzi Corker)

We’re in the thick of creative music sessions at University College London Hospital (UCLH). In the first session this term, guitarist Jack Ross led the session with clarinettist Mel Henry and CLS Violin Clare Hayes, trying out some trios with bass clarinet, violin and guitar. They based the session on the story of a little chick, about which, with the help of our musicians, the young people created an original piece in response. Staff were loving it and people were passing by the classroom often – hopefully it brightened up their Monday morning!

Where else are we using birdsong?

The subjects of nature and birdsong are also at the centre of our Comfortable Classical concerts in February and March at the Albany, Deptford, and Canada Water Theatre. Our wind and string ensembles are going to be playing and introducing the music in three relaxed lunchtime performances for anyone and everyone, from young children to older adults. Audience members are also encouraged to take up other relaxing activities (such as drawing, colouring or knitting!) while listening to the music.


Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on our wellbeing and education projects, and our upcoming performances.

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

#CLSattheQEH

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.

Retrospect: The Protecting Veil

St John’s Smith Square was lit up with Christmas decorations and filled with festive cheer on Saturday 2 December, all ready for an exploration of Sir John Tavener’s musical vision of Mary, the Mother of God – a work of ‘such overt mysticism’ (Bachtrack). What an end to our Modern Mystics trilogy!

Our series finale saw world-renowned cellist Matthew Barley present fun, thought-provoking and educational living programme notes in the first half, and bring ‘to life the depths and contrasts of this deceptively simple piece’ (Bachtrack) – Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil – in an entrancing second-half performance.

December 02, 2017_ProtectingVeil_046
Matthew Barley: living programme notes (image © James Berry)

In Barley’s living programme notes, our musicians were directed to get into groups – spread among our audience and onstage – to play parts of the music in different styles and forms, to show how Tavener used musical devices and techniques to ‘create intensely moving music’ (Bachtrack). Barley also demonstrated how Tavener was influenced by Indian music, performing a solo excerpt of the music over a recording of Indian soundscapes. In the spirit of Christmas, the Orchestra applied compositional techniques such as retrograde, inversion, augmentation and canon to well-known Christmas tunes – and you could hear the cheerful humming and recognition from our audience throughout.

‘[Living programme notes are] a great way to help more casual listeners appreciate the hidden depths of the music.’ – Bachtrack

In the second half, the talking had come to an end, but the education continued as our audience were able to hear those techniques in action in a full performance of The Protecting Veil. Matthew Barley’s solo cello represented the Mother of God, which ‘never stops singing throughout’ (Sir John Tavener), with our magnificent strings responding in ‘sensitive ways in which they complemented the solo instrument’ (Bachtrack).

‘City of London Sinfonia seemed alive to the composer’s sense of the spiritual significance of each of the work’s sections.’ – Bachtrack

The music moved seamlessly between movements, and between moments of emotional power and meditative calm – a calm that prolonged in a consensus of zen throughout the Hall, before Barley’s dropping of the bow cued a rapturous applause.

The standing ovation that followed prompted an encore from Matthew Barley, who demonstrated even more charisma and astonishing technique in Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio.

Relive some of the concert in photos from the night, taken by James Berry.

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All images © James Berry Photography.

Tell us about your Modern Mystics experience

If you’ve been to any or all of our Modern Mystics concerts, we would love to hear about how much you enjoyed them! You can write a review on our Facebook page or on Google, tweet us @CityLDNsinfonia, or send us an audio recording to info@cls.co.uk which we can feature in one of our podcasts.

#ModernMystics

 

Your guide to The Protecting Veil

As with The Fruit of Silence and The Book of Hours, there is a spiritual aspect to the music in our Modern Mystics finale at the weekend, as we perform The Protecting Veil at St John’s Smith Square (Saturday 2 December, 7.30pm). We’re also inviting our audience to interact with our musicians and soloist in living programme notes.

Not only is it the last concert in our sonic trilogy, but it is also the next concert in Southbank Centre’s year-round Belief and Beyond Belief festival, which explores what it means it be human, and the music, art and culture that have risen out of religion.

The Protecting Veil, for cello and string orchestra, is considered by many to be Sir John Tavener’s finest instrumental work. Sir John said the following:

“In The Protecting Veil, I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. The cello represents The Mother of God and never stops singing throughout. One can think of the strings as a gigantic extension of her unending song.”

We’re looking forward to collaborating with cellist Matthew Barley again, who will perform the work with our string sections on Saturday and present living programme notes as part of the performance.

Matthew Barley FB
Matthew Barley – Photo (c) Madeleine Farley

What are living programme notes?

Matthew Barley has developed a captivating way of educating audiences about a piece as part of the performance, called living programme notes – a concept more engaging and interactive than simply reading about the music in a written programme in a dark concert hall. Our audience will be able to interact with our musicians and learn more about Tavener’s music. Matthew Barley explains more:

“[We’ll be] uncovering some of the fantastic stories about how The Protecting Veil refers to the Protecting Veil of Mary, the Mother of God, that she laid out over the land in Constantinople about a thousand years ago, saving the Greeks from an invasion after a visitation in the night to Andrew, The Holy Fool, [and] looking at a concept of Tavener’s called the Eternal Feminine, that he felt underpinned the work very much.

“[We’ll be] looking at how Indian classical music influenced the work – something Tavener was listening to a great deal when he wrote it – and also looking at the structure of the piece. There are many, many fascinating things about the work. There’ll be played examples and various contributions from different sections of the Orchestra.”

Watch the full video on Twitter:

How do I book tickets?

You can book ‘standard’ or ‘gallery’ tickets (all unreserved seating) for our Modern Mystics: The Protecting Veil concert on our website at cls.co.uk, or on  Southbank Centre’s and St John’s Smith’s Square’s websites.

This concert is a relaxed performance, and friendly to people living with dementia. For more details on this, and if you have access needs, you can contact our box office on 020 7621 2800 or email boxoffice@cls.co.uk.

How do I find out more?

Fast forward to 5.38 in our Modern Mystics podcast to hear more about our performance from Matthew Swann and Alexandra Wood, in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

You can also remind yourself of what our Modern Mystics trilogy is about in our Chief Exec’s one-minute video account, and get involved with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter.

Your guide to The Book of Hours

Medieval period – check. Modern music – check. Electronics – check. A Mass setting – check. Lighting and projections – check. All we need now is our audience… and our musicians, of course.

We’re going in a slightly different musical direction in our next Modern Mystics concert on Wednesday 22 November at Village Underground. In The Book of Hours, the Orchestra will perform contemporary works by Julian Anderson, Howard Skempton, Richard Causton and Jonathan Harvey – all new music influenced by ancient sound worlds. Some of these compositions come with a plethora of effects made by live electronics, which Video Artist Jack James will further enhance with more incredible lighting and projections, as featured in The Fruit of Silence.

At the centre of our programme is Julian Anderson’s Book of Hours – a piece that conductor Jessica Cottis describes as “extraordinary. It really is a world of its own.

“As the piece progresses, the added element of live electronics comes to the fore, and we hear all kinds of different sounds. There are Mongolian temple bells… there’s a scratchy record player from former Eastern Bloc, and this kind of takes over and almost obliterates the acoustic sounds.”

We look forward to collaborating with Jessica in her CLS debut, and in a programme that she has no doubt “is going to be weird and wonderful”.

Jessica Cottis (c) Kaupo Kikkas
Jessica Cottis – Photo (c) Kaupo Kikkas

A City of London Sinfonia concert at Village Underground is an experience, rather than just a concert. “It’s not a traditional concert, it doesn’t have that formality – it’s warm; it invites you in,” says Alexandra Wood, our Creative Director and Leader.

In The Book of Hours, our audience members can relax on cushions, chairs, and even perch next to the bar while enjoying the music and visuals – you can stop and listen to the music in whichever way you choose.

How do I find out more?

You can find out more about our Modern Mystics: The Book of Hours concert on our website at cls.co.uk, where you can also purchase tickets.

Fast forward to 6.42 in our Modern Mystics podcast to hear more from Jessica Cottis and Alexandra Wood, in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

You can also watch as our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann, gives a one-minute video account of the music featured in our sonic trilogy, and keep up to date with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter.

Your guide to The Fruit of Silence

Our three-part Modern Mystics concert series – exploring mysticism in music – starts on Thursday 9 November (7.30pm), and we can’t wait!

In The Fruit of Silence, we’re inviting our audience to create their own spatial journeys through the music (works by Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks, Dobrinka Tabakova), visuals (by Video Artist Jack James) and architecture (the beautiful Southwark Cathedral). You can explore the beautiful spaces and changing acoustics throughout the building as our musicians and Epiphoni Consort perform from different spots.

There’ll also be a free pre-concert session, open to just 50 concert ticketholders, in which CLS violinist Ann Morfee will lead mindfulness techniques in a short Mindful Meditation.

Make sure you keep up to date with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter and get involved in the action on our concert days. Tickets are available at cls.co.uk.

Not sure what to expect in Modern Mystics?

Hear from our Creative Director, Alexandra Wood, about what you’ll experience in the first (9 Nov) and third (2 Dec) concerts of the series, and listen to conductor Jessica Cottis describe her plan to bring Anderson’s Book of Hours to life at Village Underground (22 Nov) in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

Watch as our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann, gives a one-minute video account of the music featured in our sonic trilogy.

You can also listen to some of the music we’ll perform on our Spotify playlist.