Tag Archives: Contemporary Music

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.

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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

 

Retrospect: The Book of Hours

The Book of Hours (on 22 November) brought something slightly different to our Modern Mystics trilogy, showcasing our outstanding musicians in music evoking both medieval and modern sound worlds. Our audience could shift between the Orchestra onstage and Jack James’ imaginative visual interpretations of the music on the red-bricked wall of Village Underground.

In her first outing with our musicians, Jessica Cottis led a programme of contemporary classical repertoire with a vast variety of textures and effects, and with instrumentation ranging from solo viola (Fiona Bonds starring in Skempton’s Only the Sound Remains) to synthesizer and sampler. We even fitted in some Thai Tuned Gongs, and experimented with aluminium foil on our string instruments!

We were also honoured to be joined by the three living composers, Howard Skempton, Richard Causton and Julian Anderson, who spoke about their pieces with Jessica Cottis and Alexandra Wood in between performances.

Take a look at some of James Berry’s brilliant photos below.

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Join us for the finale our Modern Mystics trilogy on Saturday 2 December at St John’s Smith Square. We’ll be joined by cellist Matthew Barley who performs John Tavener’s ecstatic vision of devotion for cello and orchestra, The Protecting Veil, and presents an interactive exploration of the music as part of Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival.

All images © James Berry Photography.

Tell us about you 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

 

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.

Gabriel’s Angels: help create a new piece of music

City of London Sinfonia have commissioned a new composition for choir, organ and chamber orchestra from the renowned Gabriel Jackson and we want you to be part of it.

Allow us to introduce you to Gabriel’s Angels; a crowd funding campaign where you’ll be able to become a patron of the arts and help us create a piece of music that will be performed to over 10,000 people throughout the UK. In order to make this commission a reality, we need to raise £6,000 to cover the cost of the composition and performance.

Here’s a little information on the composer behind the campaign; Gabriel Jackson. Firmly established at the forefront of the choral composition world, Gabriel Jackson has created pieces for the likes of The Sixteen, BBC Singers and the Varsari Singers. His striking compositions are in the repertoires of many of Britain’s leading cathedral and collegiate choirs and he won the liturgical category at the inaugural British Composer Awards. We’ll be keeping you up to date with news and interviews on Gabriel’s new commission throughout the campaign!

To say thank you to all of those people who contribute to new music and our campaign, we’ve got some special CLS rewards to send you:

£5 donation will get you a limited edition Gabriel’s Angel badge

£10 donation gets you a badge and your name in the Requiem Tour programme

£20 donation gets you all of the above plus a postcard from a CLS musician from a Cathedral of your choice

£50 donation gets you the badge, your name in our programme and “Gabriel’s Angels certificate of honour”

£100 donation earns a badge, your name in our programme and signed copy of Gabriel’s latest release (signed by Gabriel Jackson and Stephen Layton)

£250+ donation gets you a meet and greet with the composer himself…

The commissioning of new choral and orchestral works is fundamental to the survival of classical music, yet it can also turn out to be a very expensive process. So turn down that last drink at the pub and invest in the future of music. It will make you feel good – we promise!

After yesterday’s launch, we’ve gotten off to a great start but we still have a long way to go. It’s time to get crowd funding!

Follow the JustGiving link below to donate:

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Performance locations/dates for  Requiem Tour (inc. Gabriel Jackson’s new commission)

MAY

Friday 3 May, 7.30pm Durham Cathedral

Monday 6 May, 7.30pm Ely Cathedral

Friday 10 May, 7.30pm Portsmouth Cathedral

Saturday 11 May, 7.45pm Derby Cathedral

OCTOBER

Friday 11 October, 7.30pm Coventry Cathedral

Saturday 12 October, 7.30pm Guildford Cathedral

Wednesday 16 October, 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral

Friday 18 October, 7.30pm Chester Cathedral

Saturday 19 October, 7.30pm Southwell Minster

Saturday 26 October, 7.30pm Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral