Tag Archives: CLoSer

Spotlight on…Darius Milhaud

Our final CLoSer concert on Wednesday 25 April has a distinct jazz flavour to it and includes a performance of Darius Milhaud‘s jazz inspired La creation de monde. But who was this most prolific of twentieth century composers? Here’s a quick snapshot:

Darius Milhaud

120 (if still alive today)


Born in France and spent time living abroad in Brazil during the First World War. When the Nazis occupied France early in World War II, Milhaud, a prominent Jew, was forced to flee to the US. He had developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, which often confined him to a wheel chair, which compounded the need to escape the Nazi regime. 


Known as..
A “member” of Les Six – an informal group of six composers working in Montparnasse, whose music came to be seen as a rejection of prewar impressionism, and particularly the musical style of Richard Wagner and the impressionist music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Wrote music for nearly every genre imaginable.  His major works span several ballets and operas, to more commercial film and theatre scores. He also composed twelve symphonies and eighteen string quartets.

CLoSer performance
La création du monde
The Creation of the World uses ideas and idioms from jazz, and was originally cast as a ballet in six continuous dance scenes. It tells the story of creation through African folk mythology. The piece is highly influenced by the then newly arrived American jazz scene.

Listen to La création du monde on our Spotify playlist.

CLoSer: Jazz Finale
Weds 25 April, 7.30pm
Village Underground, Shoreditch

Tkts: 020 7377 1362/spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk



CLoSer part two – in words and pictures

Our second CLoSer concert at Village Underground played to a packed crowd on Wednesday 29 February, when the Holst Singers and baritone Derek Welton joined us as Guest Artists. We thought we’d share with you some of the best photos from the night and what the audience had to say:

“Great music – venue warmed by a a fantastic orchestra”


“Think that might have been my favourite concert in a while; got the whole relaxed thing pitched just right”



“Incomparable polyphony, musical alchemy!”


“wonderful programming (incredibly varied), hushed audience, informal atmosphere, excellent musicians & gorgeous setting!”


“Totally brilliant. Say no more!”


The final concert in the series will be a jazz finale extraordinaire, when we’ll be joined by Guest Artist and renowned jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock, who’ll be joining the orchestra to perform some of his own compositions, as well as music by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Darius Milhaud.

Listen to our Spotify Playlist to hear some of the music to be performed on the night.

Wednesday 25 April, 7.30pm,
Village Underground, EC2A

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)/ Students £5
Box office: 020 7377 1362/spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk

Images: Clare Parker

Composer Focus: Igor Stravinsky

Ahead of our performance of Stravinsky’s Mass with the Holst Singers at Wednesday’s CLoSer, we profile the composer, one of the most innovative of the twentieth century.



Born on 18 June 1882, the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky spent much of his childhood in St Petersburg, where his father, Fyodor Stravinsky, was a famous bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre. The young Stravinsky studied law for several years, before switching to study music privately with the celebrated Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1909, he found fame with his composition The Firebird, which Sergei Diaghilev, the director of the Ballets Russes in Paris, encouraged him to transform into a full-length ballet.

In 1910, Stravinsky moved to Paris and was commissioned by Diagilev to write further ballets for the Ballets Russes. Petrushka, set in a Russian fairground, followed The Firebird. Stravinsky’s next ballet, The Rite of Spring, which premiered in Paris on 29 May 1913, received one of the most notorious reactions in the history of classical music, when it was booed and ridiculed by the audience. Fist fights and catcalls greeted the highly unconventional choreography, instrumentation and use of dissonance in the orchestra. The police were called to attempt to quell what quickly became a riot.

Some believe that the scale of the unrest was exaggerated by Dagliev and Stravinsky, who courted controversy and desired to be seen as innovators. However, The Rite of Spring undoubtedly broke new ground in composition. Its story is based on a ‘primitive,’ pagan ceremony, and it contains challenging and stirring rhythms of early pagan Russia. It was to remain Stravinsky’s most famous work, and established his reputation as a premier composer of the twentieth century.

From Paris, Stravinsky, his wife Katerina and young children moved to Switzerland, where they spent the war years, returning in 1920. In this period, Stavinsky began to experiment with the inflections, harmonies and rhythms of jazz, and later, turned to a neo-classical style with, for example, his ballet Pulcinella (1919-1920) and his choral work the Symphony of Psalms (1930).  In the 1930s, he began to develop professional relationships with key figures in American music. Following the worst couple of years of his life (beginning with the death of his eldest daughter Ludmila in 1938, the death of his mother in 1939, and, finally, the death of his wife of thirty three years, Katerina, from tuberculosis also in 1939), Stravinsky decided to move to the United States with Vera de Bosset, with whom he had been having an affair since 1921. They married in 1940.

Stravinsky became a naturalised US citizen in 1945, the third nationality he had taken in his life (after Russian and French). He socialised with a crowd of European intellectuals and artists in Los Angeles, including the British writers W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas and Aldous Huxley. His Mass was also produced during this time (1944-1948) and is written with a French and Russian-sounding, neo-classical aesthetic. However, after meeting Robert Craft, the musicologist who would go on to live with him as an interpreter, chronicler, and assistant conductor for the rest of his life, he began to be more committed to the use of serial compositional techniques such as dodecaphony, the twelve-tone technique.  This generally characterises his compositions from the mid-1950s, but he was never restricted by the musical forms he chose to use, and remained a highly original and inventive composer for the rest of his life. He died in New York in 1971.



Stravinsky, as drawn by Picasso


Listen to Stravinsky’s Mass on our Spotify playlist

Read our CLoSer FAQs for more information on the concert series.

CLoSer: Spirit of the Voice
Wednesday 29 Feb, 7.30pm
Village Underground


Stravinsky’s Mass

The second concert in our innovative, informal series, CLoSer, will focus on the human voice with a performance by CLS and the Holst Singers of Stravinsky’s Mass.

Stravinsky began work on his Mass in 1944, completing the Kyrie and Gloria towards the end of that year. Pausing to work on other projects, he returned to the Mass in 1947, finally completing all the movements in 1948. He rarely wrote non-commissioned music, so is believed by his friend Robert Craft (the American conductor and writer) to have written his Mass out of ‘spiritual necessity.’



Although he was devoted to the religious content, Stravinsky chose to write a Roman Catholic mass, despite being a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.  His reasons for doing this were practical ones: he was committed to creating a Mass that would be performed in liturgical circumstances, and, given that he disliked the sound of unaccompanied singing, couldn’t write for the Russian Orthodox Church, which forbids any music but the human voice and bells. The Roman Catholic Church permits instrumentation on religious occasions so provided the right vehicle for Stravinsky’s small wind ensemble and four-part choir.

Despite Stravinsky’s desire that the Mass be used liturgically, it has almost always been performed in concert since its first performance at La Scala in Milan in 1948. It remains, however, deeply committed to the affirmation of faith. Although he denied that he was influenced by any particular composer or composition, Stravinsky uses a chanting style of singing that is reminiscent of monastic chant, a style that, despite his tendency to put musical stresses on unstressed words, preserves the text of the mass and connects his work to older Christian musics.

His commitment to the spiritual content is, appropriately, particularly apparent in the Credo, about which Stravinsky is quoted by Robert Craft as saying “One composes a march to facilitate marching men, so with my Credo I hope to provide an aid to the text. The Credo is the longest movement. There is much to believe.” 

 Listen to Stravinsky’s Mass on our Spotify playlist


CLoSer: Spirit of the Voice
Wednesday 29 Feb, 7.30pm
Village Underground

CLoSer Interview: Holst Singers

We caught up with Will Davies from the Holst Singers, our Guest Artists at our next CLoSer concert, to find out more about this extraordinary choir.

Holst Singers, what are the origins of the choir and its name?
We were founded in 1978 under Hilary Davan Wetton, but for almost two decades have been conducted by our Musical Director Stephen Layton, who has shaped and nurtured the celebrated sound we make. I believe our name was actually taken from the Holst Room at St Paul’s Girls’ School where we originally rehearsed in the early days – so I guess we are named after the composer, but not directly!

How many singers in the choir? What’s the average profile of a Holstie? (if there is such a thing!)
We have a core of about 40 singers who are the ‘regulars’, who you’ll catch performing at most concerts. I’m not sure there is an ‘average’ Holstie! I suppose most of us are graduates with a chapel choir background, so Oxford and Cambridge feature fairly heavily in the choir’s make-up. Outside of that, we’re a very varied bunch, a whole range of ages and occupations. Without wanting to sound too cheesy, the thing that unites us all is music. I think we’re in a unique position as an institution– we’re one of the nation’s top-flight choirs, but we work entirely as a self-run amateur outfit, with no subscription fees or anything like that. It means that everyone involved is there to concentrate on the music-making; it works really well for us.

What is it like working with CLS Artistic Director Stephen Layton?
In short, truly inspiring. He’s one of the world’s greatest choral conductors, and it shows. He always seems to know exactly what he wants to achieve with the music, from the broad sweep of a piece to the subtle nuances. What’s great is that he knows how to get us to produce the performance he wants; he works us hard, but it’s always worth it for the end result.


What’s the range of the choir’s repertoire? Do you enjoy performing newly-commissioned work, or prefer more established repertoire?
We love getting our teeth into a wide range of repertoire. I suppose we have a reputation for performing works in the very loose category of ‘unjustly neglected a cappella gems’ – works by Baltic composers like Tormis and Ešenvalds for instance, or the Russian Orthodox music on our Ikon recordings. We’re also actively involved in performing new commissions, from premiering Tavener’s Veil of the Temple to working with Imogen Heap on her soundtrack to The Seashell and the Clergyman.

Talk us through the pieces you’re performing for CLoSer.
We’re performing two pieces, Stravinsky’s Mass and Immortal Bach by Knut Nystedt. The Stravinsky is a great work. It’s quite severe, almost bleak at times, but beautiful with it. It’s scored for choir and a fairly small wind ensemble, and you get these wonderful moments of sparse, dissonant instrumental writing with the choir almost chanting the text, especially in the Credo. That’s probably the most challenging movement for us – not because it’s particularly difficult musically, but because he treats the text in a really counterintuitive way. Instead of setting it in the ‘usual’ way (accented and inflected as one might speak it, with expression) he produces a sort of muttering mantra; it’s this kind of ‘march of belief’, which is surprisingly tricky to get your head around at first.

Immortal Bach is really interesting – Nystedt takes the first two lines of the chorale Komm, süßer Tod and deconstructs them. You hear the unadulterated chorale first and then you hear it transformed, by dividing the choir into separate groups who sing each phrase of the chorale at different speeds, coming together at the cadence points before continuing onwards. It’s a bit tricky to explain without a choir on hand to demonstrate, but it’s very effective – the result is this fantastic smeary collage of Bach.

What do you hope the audience take away from your performance on 29 February?
I hope they get an impression of how the human voice can speak powerfully to you, in unexpected ways. I think the thing that connects the music we’ll be performing is that neither piece uses voices conventionally, to wring emotion from words or to make you say, “Oh, what a lovely tune”. The Nystedt is in a sense just the application of a simple mathematical rubric to a Bach chorale, and the Stravinsky is ascetic, austere music; and yet both produce this captivating atmosphere.

What would the Holst Singers desert island discs be and why?
Ah, now this is going be tricky. I’d have trouble enough doing my own, letting alone trying to speak for the whole choir – I’m inevitably going to get lynched when they see this! “How could you miss out Spem in alium?!” Ah well, here goes…
I think we need something early in there. Let’s have Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, because it’s pretty damn fit, especially the way the Kyrie kicks off; I could listen to that soaring-and-descending motif go round and round all day. It would be rude not to have anything Slavic on the island, let’s cram the Rachmaninov Vespers in the bag too. Last one… we need something English in there too. This’ll be a controversial one, but let’s go for the Vaughan Williams Shakespeare Songs. The middle movement is the sexiest thing ever. Wait. We get a full set of sheet music for these on the island too, right?!

CLoSer: Spirit of the Voice
Weds 29 February, 7.30pm
Village Underground, Shoreditch

Poulenc Suite Francaise
JS Bach French Suite
Poulenc Le Bal Masque
Nystedt Immortal Bach
Stravinsky Mass

CLoSer in words and pictures

Our first CLoSer concert at Village Underground on the 22nd November was a huge success with a packed audience enjoying the venue, music and fantastic musicianship on show. We thought we’d share with you some of the best photos from the night and what the audience had to say:

 “The first CLoSer programme was like a substantial sandwich: hot crusty wholemeal bread on the outside with something sweeter in the middle.” 


“Great performance – loved the informal setting and the mixed audience!” 


 “The orchestra played on all my emotional strings.” 


“I loved the sense of excitement, the bar, the lighting, the chatter and the informal approach of the musicians and conductor. Acoustics were great too.”


 “Give us more!!”

The next concert in the series focuses on vocal music by Bach, Poulenc and Stravinsky with Guest Artists the Holst Singers and our Principal Conductor Stephen Layton.

Wednesday 29th February, 7.30pm,
Village Underground,

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk

Images: Clare Parker

CLoSer – The First Review

We asked Laura, our Marketing Intern and newest office recruit, to give us the lowdown on the launch of CLoSer on Tuesday night.

CLoSer, our brand new concert series, launched on Tuesday with a Strings Masterclass in East London’s newest venue, Village Underground.

This renovated, turn-of-the-century, warehouse offered a versatile space, acted  as an atmospheric and edgy venue. A brilliant blank canvas of old brick, hinting at its industrial past, Village Underground transformed for the evening, hosting 200 audience members, free to relax on floor cushions, unwind at the bar and get closer to the orchestra.

The informal evening of orchestral music was led by our charismatic Principal Conductor , Michael Collins and progressed through a programme of three works, and also featured Michael  as a soloist. The minimalist Shaker Loops, by John Adams, opened the evening with energetic motion and electrifying acceleration. Gathering speed over 25 minutes, the orchestra played with vigour as the music gained speed and rhythmic excitement.


This opening piece was followed by an interview with Michael himself, carried out by our principal cellist, Sue Dorey. Touching on his ability to deftly switch role from conductor to soloist, he spoke fondly of his musical education and how he came to play clarinet as a young boy. One of the leading clarinettists of his generation, Michael’s  performance of Gordon Jacob’s mini-concerto Clarinet Concertino entertained the audience through his persuasive musicianship and buoyant, light-hearted style.

After a brief introduction to the techniques employed by the musicians, the concert came to a close with Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings; a rousing finish to the evening with its gypsy character and dance-like style. The audience  were then free to enjoy the bar and mingle with musicians before offering their feedback on their departure.

Wednesday 29th February, 7.30pm,
Village Underground,

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk

Composer Focus: John Adams & Shaker Loops

Find out about the music behind the concert, with our quick guide to John Adams’ Shaker Loops, to be performed at our first CLoSer concert on Tuesday 22 November. 

Shaker Loops
Written in 1978 by American composer John Adams, hailed as one of the great composers of minimalist music, Shaker Loops is one of his most popular and performed compositions.

Formed of four movements:

I. Shaking and Trembling
II. Hymning Slews
III. Loops and Verses
IV. A Final Shaking

Adams says of the piece “the four sections, although they meld together evenly, are really quite distinct, each being characterized by a particular style of string playing. The outside movements are devoted to ’shaking,’ the fast, tightly rhythmicised motion of the bow across the strings.


image: Margaretta Mitchell

Part II is deliberately slower and languid followed by the melodic third movement, with “the celli playing long, lyrical lines (which are nevertheless loops themselves) against a background of muted violins, an activity which gradually takes speed and mass until it culminates in the wild push-pull section that is the emotional high of the piece.” 

The piece takes its name from both the distinctive ‘shaking’ of the strings as they oscillate between notes, and the image Adams’ had of ‘Shakers’ (members of the Millennial Church), dancing and worshipping to repetitive, energetic music.

John Adams occupies a unique position in American music, with his works renowned for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. His operatic works include Doctor Atomic and The Death of Klinghoffer and his composition On the Transmigration of Souls written for the New York Philharmonic to mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack, won three Grammys and the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003.

He has said of London audiences “they are my ideal listeners – sophisticated, musically literate, enthusiastic and of course a little bit insane!”

Listen to our Spotify playlist for a preview of Shaker Loops.

Tuesday 22 November, 7.30pm
Village Underground, EC2A

Tickets: £15 (includes a free drink)
Box office: 020 7377 1362/spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk