Tag Archives: CLS

The only way is up: Bach, Singet and B Minor Mass

Written by Andrew Dickson (Bass, The Epiphoni Consort)

Singing Bach is a little like mountaineering, I sometimes think. Not only is Johann Sebastien Bach (JSB) the greatest musician of all time (sorry, Mozart), but no other composer requires so much energy and concentration to rehearse, or so much balance and nerve to perform. The arcing lines and dancing rhythms, the switches from darkest tragedy to wild joy, the sheer muscular athleticism and dexterity required… you can ascend to dizzying heights, but only if you use all your muscles, including some you didn’t know you had. It’s upwards, always upwards.

To make things even more challenging, we in the Epiphoni Consort are scaling two pinnacles of the repertoire in CLS’s Bach and the Cosmos series. The first is the 1727 double-choir motet Singet dem Herrn (Sing Unto the Lord), with its delicate balance between exuberance and pathos, which we sing with the superb baritone Roderick Williams. The second is the real biggie – the mightiest, meatiest choral piece of them all: the Mass in B Minor, sometimes described as the summation of JSB’s career, in which we’re conducted by one of the greatest Bach interpreters alive, John Butt. As one of my fellow singers commented at a rehearsal the other night, “there really are a lot of notes”. Not so much mountaineering as marathon mountaineering, if that’s a thing.

Of course, it’s also a pleasure, and none of us would be doing it if it weren’t. Singet I first sang at university, and it’s a delight to reencounter it (though it’s more fiendish than I remember: apparently I’m not as athletic as I was). As well as drilling those notes, we’ve spent a long time focusing on the Lutheran text, which is deeply poignant, especially during the chorale section in the middle of the work: “Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub. Gleich wie das Gras vom Rechen, Ein Blum und fallendes Laub…” (“God knows we are but dust. Just as the grass that is mown, a flower or falling leaf…”). Singing it is a powerful experience.

The B Minor Mass I first heard in my teens (in that legendary John Eliot Gardiner recording), but I’ve never actually sung it before – more reason our concert on Saturday feels special. This work, which Bach assembled from a collage of cantata movements he’d composed in Leipzig, was intended to show off his skills and catch the attention of a new employer across in Saxony. In that way, I suppose, it’s the greatest job application of all time. (Not that it worked: Bach spent the rest of his life grinding away in Leipzig.)

The Mass is utterly encyclopedic: from elaborate fugues and dizzying double-choir counterpoint to the simplest, slenderest solo arias and plainchant. Singing it, you feel like you’re exploring the furthest reaches of Bach’s architectural imagination. The way he builds the opening cries of “Kyrie”, like placing the great foundation stones of a cathedral, to the filigree of the Sanctus, where we in the bass section sing a joyous, swaying melody that descends through the octaves while the higher voices make shimmering patterns up in the heavens. Encyclopedic though it is, after a while you don’t see the individual textures or effects: you just feel the heft of the whole structure, its solidity and profundity. That, too, is rather moving.

As I hope is clear, it’s tricky, learning to keep your head at these altitudes, but it’s also hugely rewarding. Hopefully we’ll make it all the way to the top.

Bach and the Cosmos: B Minor Mass

The Epiphoni Consort perform Bach’s B Minor Mass with City of London Sinfonia, John Butt, Roderick Williams, Joanne Lunn, Rowan Pierce, Robin Blaze and Charles Daniels at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 20 October 2018, 7.30pm. Tickets available via the CLS Box Office online, on the phone (020 7621 2800; M-F, 10-6) or on the door.

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Beethoven: Artist to Hero

Comment by Matthew Swann, CLS CEO

Nowadays, we’ve got a very good idea of the artist as hero: an individual who creates what he or she wants to and is very much their own manager. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, it was very much the case that artists – particularly musicians and composers – were considered part of a servant class. They were artisans; they were producer of things for the upper classes to consume and they weren’t necessarily in control of their own artistic vision.

Beethoven was the man that changed that. He looked at political, military and leadership heroes throughout his life – particularly Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of the French Revolution and later self-declared emperor. Through a series of events where Beethoven fell out of love with Napoleon, for all intents and purposes, he decided that true heroism came from the artist.

Our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall follows that journey and Beethoven’s own realisation, at the same time, of his growing deafness. It’s a journey of how Beethoven realises that the artist is becoming the hero, and all the anguish and that realisation is presented in his Third Symphony.

As well as collaborating with Brett Dean, a wonderful composer in his own right, Cambridge historian and music-lover Sir Christopher Clark will bring phenomenal insight to our performance. He’ll elaborate on the historic significance of this change: the change from an artist perceived as a servant – an artisan at the beck and call of the upper classes – to someone who drives artistic, creative and philosophical thinking themselves.

Hero Worship at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Listen to Matthew talk more about Beethoven and our performances on our Spring Season podcast (available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts).

Want to be further enlightened (pun intended) on Beethoven’s historical significance? Come to Hero Worship on Tuesday 8 May 2018 (7.30pm) at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets available at cls.co.uk (including CLS 5IVER for students and 16-25s) and southbankcentre.co.uk.

Looking forward with CLS

We’re looking forward to so many wonderful performances and participation projects this year. Some of which, as you’ll have seen and heard about already on Instagram, has already had a creative and positive impact on our musicians and workshop participants.

In our first 2018 podcast (available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes), you’ll hear from Alexandra Wood and our team about what they’re looking forward to this year, including working with people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School (whose music features in our podcast!), learning more about mental health, Ariadne auf Naxos at OHP, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out on DVD.

“In this world, there’s so much clutter: constant noise, texts, emails our mobile phones. We constantly need to be on our toes, ready to act. It’s wonderful to take time just to exist, to breathe, and to have space.” – Alexandra Wood

What are you looking forward to this year, or even this week? Whatever it is, take the time to just enjoy it.

 

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).

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!

City of London Sinfonia’s commitment to 50% female artistic leaderships

 

 

Classical and orchestral music has long had a problem with diversity. The cliché is that it’s male, white, middle class, and often dead. And it’s a cliché because it’s often true.

City of London Sinfonia want to be part of a movement that changes that. We believe that classical music can transform people across all areas of society and in order to do that we need, and want, to present an Orchestra that better represents that society. There are many issues to tackle here, but on International Women’s Day we want to highlight the issue of gender, and make sure that any young woman who sees the Orchestra – whether in a concert hall or in schools  – to look at any role in the Orchestra and think, “I can do that”.

Even today, positions of artistic leadership in many orchestras are overwhelmingly held by men, even while the majority of musicians on a concert platform are often female. This is not the message we want to send young women learning musical instruments, that you can be a professional musician, but not a leader.

We are very proud that over 60% of our principal seats are already held by female musicians. Our next challenge is to make sure that we champion female conductors and directors, alongside the hugely talented and enlightened male conductors and directors we perform with.

That is why, from this Autumn, City of London Sinfonia’s artistic leadership will be 50% female – Creative Director and violinist Alexandra Wood and Principal Conductor Michael Collins. We are also committed to ensuring that at least one female conductor or director perform at every one of our major artistic series.

City of London Sinfonia can’t change the orchestral world overnight, but we can make sure that talented young female musicians watching CLS can see a realistic, aspirational vision of what they might themselves become.

“They don’t know where to put it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Matthew Swann, CLS Chief Executive

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