Tag Archives: CLoSer

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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

Jack James: Visuals in The Fruit of Silence

Earlier this autumn, we caught up with Video Artist Jack James to find out more about him and what he’s got in store for our audience in The Fruit of Silence at Southwark Cathedral on Thursday 9 November.

How long have you been a video artist for?

“It must be about 10 years. I started in theatre and did a degree in Technical Theatre and Stage Management, which was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It’s quite mixed with lots of different things going on; it’s not just about theatre.”

We got to know you because of Opera Holland Park…

“Yes, Flight at Opera Holland Park. And we’re now going to do that with Scottish Opera, which is interesting – the set is very different; it’s much bigger.”

Have you worked with a lot of orchestras before?

“Not really, no – only in an opera context.”

Is this the first time you’re working with just a live orchestra?

“Yeah, it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to it.”

In The Fruit of Silence, people are going to be walking around throughout the concert and there’s a choir that will also be roaming around the Cathedral. Where are the visuals going to go?

“We’re going to operate mostly in the main part of the Cathedral, so when they promenade off, they’ll be going to places without video and coming back to those moments. We’ll do some stuff that relates to the architecture, and some stuff which is more general and abstract.”

What’s the creative process? How do you go about designing something for a gig?

“It depends. Often we’re working with other designers who have a particular initial overview, so we might take stimulus from the way they design the set. I think in this case that is the Cathedral itself, so that will be the starting point, and then listen to the music and start to get ideas of what it feels like.

“There’s a satisfaction to responding to something; being able to hear something in the space, to change the way you think about it. We try to build it like a kit of parts; get some ideas and try and assemble them into a formal thing over the process, so you can always be a little bit flexible. Sometimes you get somewhere and look at something and think, ‘ah, what this really needs is…’ So it’s not just a one-hit process.

“Different people work in different ways. Some people would map the whole plan out and set off and do it, and some people would react more. And when it comes to music, I think being able to react is quite important, because we won’t be the only people that want to change things last minute. People think about classical music as rigid sometimes, but I don’t think that’s really true. I think there’ll be a lot of changes and you want to see a performance come out as people are rehearsing, and we want to respond in the same way.”

What are your influences and inspirations?

“I’m really fascinated by abstract imagery, and how it can help be a picture that on its own doesn’t really mean much, but when it’s combined with things can represent or evoke a thought or an idea.”

Why do you think that visuals at a classical music concert might be interesting?

“I think it might help people connect with it. There are challenges with classical music, and I think anything that will help people – who haven’t necessarily been to one of those concerts before – get it, feels like it’s worth doing. And it’s such a beautiful space that we can accent parts of it; it should enrich the whole thing.

“People say that it’s very musical; the visuals are not just happening at the same time, it’s more that they are involved or reflect the music. We have to be very careful not to do something that distracts them at the most important bit. I guess we’re giving people something else to do while they’re listening, because it helps them engage the mind.”


Watch Jack James’ projections and visuals in action in our first two Modern Mystics concerts: The Fruit of Silence, Thursday 9 November (7.30pm), Southwark Cathedral and The Book of Hours, Wednesday 22 November (7.30pm), Village Underground.

Retrospective on The Soldier’s Tale

On 5 April we made a devilish return to Shoreditch’s cultural converted warehouse, Village Underground, in the finale of our Folk Tunes Tall Tales series – an intimate performance of The Soldier’s Tale, starring Shakespeare aficionados Simon Russell Beale, Dame Janet Suzman and Ivanno Jeremiah.

Kicking back and relaxing on our comfy cushions, at the bar and in premium seats, as advised by CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann, we were treated to ‘an entertaining introductory talk’ (The Guardian) by Bill Barclay, Director of Music at Shakespeare’s Globe, who set the scene for a ‘pleasingly understated production’ (Evening Standard) of Stravinsky’s dramatic masterpiece.

Inspired by a collection of 17th-century Russian folk fables by Alexander Afanasyev, The Soldier’s Tale depicts the story of a deserter who has been robbed of his violin by the devil, with Alexandra Wood’s ‘sinuous violin’ (The Times) symbolising the soul of the soldier and the percussion that of the devil.

‘…with Michael Collins conducting, the playing was attractively abrasive’
Evening Standard

We revelled in seeing such talented actors up close and bringing character to Jeremy Sams’ ‘neat English version of the text’ (The Guardian), with additional modernisations from our very own Elaine Baines, and Janet Suzman sent shivers down our spines with her ‘sulphurous cackle’ (The Times).

Once the soldier’s soul had been sold and the devil had won, our all-star cast was greeted with the applause and cheer of a very happy audience, and there was nothing more to be done but to head to the Village Underground bar – and to pack the cushions away for another Season.

We’ll be back at Village Underground on Wednesday 22 November in the second concert of our autumn Modern Mystics series – an immersive Sonic Trilogy, conjuring up the past through music, light and amplification. Get closer…

Retrospective on CLoSer: The Devil’s Violin & Burns Night Ceilidh

Wilton’s Music Hall drips with history – and on 24 & 25 January, it was the setting for our Devil’s Violin concert with Burns Night Ceilidh. We danced with the Devil from the world of Scots fiddling to the Appalachian Mountains of the American South all in one of London’s most intimate venues.

The first half was City of London Sinfonia’s string section’s chance to show their prowess – under the incredible direction of CLS Leader Alexandra Wood.

City of London Sinfonia

 

Alex also took centre stage to perform solo in Locatelli’s ‘The Harmonic Labyrinth’ – a dastardly difficult suite that combined the power of the Orchestra with awesome feats of fingerwork in the solo violin part.

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Then we were joined by Henry Webster on folk fiddle and Dan Walsh on banjo for tunes from the American South, including Bonaparte’s Retreat as heard in Copland’s Hoe Down from Rodeo. After hearing Henry and Dan’s own take on the famous tune, the whole orchestra joined in.

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…and of course there was the completely unplanned encore – Charlie Daniel’s Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia, featuring baroque guitar (is that a world first for baroque guitar performing bluegrass?)

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A swift changeover (involving clearing over 200 chairs and 100 cushions away in less than half an hour!), Licence to Ceilidh took to the stage to lead a Burns Night Ceilidh.

 

At the end of the night all that was left was to sing Auld Land Syne – we hope you enjoyed the concert and that you will be able to join us on 5 April for the next CLoSer concert, The Soldier’s Tale.

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All photographs (not tweets) credit James Berry.

 

Iain Farrington: Song Arranger

Iain Farrington, the unsung star of CLS’s CLoSer concert with Sam Lee, made quite an appearance without actually stepping foot on stage. Perhaps when I tell you he’s a composer and arranger, that might actually make a lot more sense. He’s also got a phenomenal performing career as a pianist (check him out playing at the London Olympics with the LSO).

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Iain Farrington

On Thursday 17 November, Folk song collector Sam Lee sang songs from his Mercury Prize nominated album Grounds Of Its Own, and The Fade In Time, but in a way he’s never sung them before—with an orchestra—thanks to the genius of Iain Farrington, whose busy and diverse career has led him to arrange for a wide range of styles like traditional African songs, Berlin cabaret, folk, klezmer, jazz and pop, to name just a few.

 

For this concert, Iain arranged 8 songs of Sam Lee’s, turning folk music for a relatively small ensemble of 6 musicians into a large scale orchestral work for 36. If you’re doing the maths, you’d think an arranger could just give sextuples of six different parts and call it a day.

But Iain didn’t.

He wants to bring live music to as wide an audience possible (CLS does too!), and whether you love classical music and don’t know much about folk, or visa versa, Iain’s arrangements of Sam’s songs take you to the ‘other side’.

  1. How do you even start to go about arranging Sam’s folk songs with 5-6 players and then making that work for an orchestra of 36 musicians?

It’s not just the fact that Sam Lee’s band is a folk collective, but the instruments they use are not necessarily orchestral instruments (e.g. banjo, ukulele, koto, hang drums, violin, cello, trumpet, percussion, double bass). When you listen to how they play, it’s relatively free and semi-improvised. They’ve worked out a sound specific to that group.

I’ve kept the original harmony and structure and some harmonic phrases, but because of the bigger orchestra, I’ve redesigned the songs to work orchestrally whilst still retaining the sound of Sam Lee’s musicians. Some songs lend themselves to orchestra, others are lighter, and one had to be rewritten (Lovely Molly) which is choral. New harmonies and solos from several instruments will be bringing out the text. The hammer dulcimer will feature and improvise, bringing out the element of complete freedom, which is important to have when you’re crossing these worlds.

The biggest challenge for these songs is down to the fact that Sam’s is a song collector. He’s collected songs from different places and people, who often sing unaccompanied, wonderfully free, with tempos that are flexible and highly expressive and not wedded to any regular rhythmic accompaniment in quite a number of his songs. Small bands find this easier because you follow the lead singer, but in an orchestra this is more difficult. I wanted to retain the freedom that allows Sam to be flexible.

  1. How important is the text to the songs when you’re putting an arrangement together?

I’ve taken the text as the be all and end all. The words are illustrative of nature, landscapes, birdsong, ideas of town and country, love and marriage. Sam’s versions are cutting edge, not saccharine, with an immediacy and appealing grit to the sound. It’s not lush or romantic, and likewise I wanted to avoid that sentimentality. Folk songs for larger ensembles run the risk of sounding too fattened up, too rich, leaving none of the grit left. I wanted to retain that element of raw clarity.

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Sam Lee Credit Jo Russell
  1. Why did you choose to arrange 8 of Sam’s songs?

I wanted to make sure there was enough variety. It’s easy to do one type of arrangement, but I wanted enough contrast. Orchestral arrangements can be dull when adapting pop music, for example, which uses loud guitars and drums, where a string section might only play chords, with a jab from the brass, a trill from the winds. I think if you’re going to be working with an orchestra, you have to write for the musicians properly. Be exploratory. Try and make things interesting for both the audience and the musicians themselves. The orchestra isn’t the background but in the foreground.

About Iain Farrington 

Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. He has made numerous recordings, and has broadcast on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Through his multi-faceted work as a musician, he aims to bring live music to as wide an audience as possible. Iain’s concert programmes often mix popular and jazz elements into the traditional Classical repertoire. His many chamber orchestral arrangements allow large-scale works to be presented on an affordable smaller scale. His biography can be found here.

By Zak Hulstrom

Retrospective on Died for Love with Sam Lee

We always say we promise to surprise and move you – but last night, Thursday 17 November, was really special.

Our friend Sam Lee has toured the country finding ancient melodies and embellishing them with his own contemporary twist. We were honoroud to perform his songs in full orchestral arrangements for the first time thanks to the pheonomenal talent of arranger Iain Farrington.

Mingled with Sam’s songs were works by Britten, Delius and Butterworth that hark back to forgotten worlds and connect us to the tunes that have been hummed by countless generations.

With candles flickering, the Orchestra in the centre of the room surrounded by a sweep of chairs, and a cosy pool of cushions, it was the perfect way to be transported away by music that has travelled across centuries.

Died for Love with Sam lee is the first of four concerts exploring Folk Tunes and Tall Tales – we would be delighted if you joined us for the rest of the journey. Find full details on our website.

Relive the experience

Checkout the beautiful photos from the concert by Jo Russell along with your reactions from Twitter. Just tweet us at @CityLdnSinfonia to let us know what you thought!

Photos by Jo Russell:

From Twitter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

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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.