Tag Archives: interview

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).

if-3
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.

samleecls-83
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

Advertisements

An Interview with Richard Hope

This week the team at CLS got the chance to catch up with actor Richard Hope before he joins us this Wednesday, along with Emma Pallant, for a very exciting performance of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Southwark Cathedral. Aside his extremely impressive resumé, we loved his enthusiasm for music, subtle humour and thoughts on cake (always a very important subject!). Check out the interview here:

 

What first made you want to become an actor?richard hope

At school someone bet me £5 that I couldn’t get into the National Youth Theatre and at the interview, having done my speeches, Michael Croft asked me that very question. I told him I would win £5 (worth about £100 now) and he said: “You’re in!” I was with them for five years and doing drama was a great way to meet girls. I have always respected the written word and how hard it is to bring it alive from the page. To be able to share that and enjoy it has stayed with me. My first TV job was with Sir Laurence Olivier who encouraged my work and my recounting of appalling jokes.

 

What has your favourite role been?

For stage maybe Levin in Anna Karenina which toured the world for years with many revivals . Helen Edmundson has an amazing ability as a writer to distil the essence of the story . I also did War and Peace playing Pierre at the National which ran for four and a half hours….. and we did matinees twice a week. For TV it has to be Morty in The Riff Raff Element written by Debbie Horsfield who has just adapted the new BBC series of Poldark…. or playing Ford Prefect in HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy with Ken Campbell directing (and encouraging me to be dangerously mad as I struggled to fly in space in a harness above the audience!). Recently I really enjoyed playing Elizabeth 1 in the UK premiere of Orlando….. I had the wig and dress with fairylights.

 

Are you musical? / Do you play any instruments?

I was always told at school I couldn’t sing and sort of gave up. I had to do songs in shows and then found myself doing Max Kellerman in Dirty Dancing at the Aldwych. I love music and admire the precision of dancers and musicians. I play the triangle and I have mimed with a harmonica on film.

What is the most played piece on your iPod?

It Keeps Rainin’ by Fats Domino closely followed by We Can’t be Friends by Lorene Scafaria. This week listening to Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen.

 

What living person do you admire most of all?

My kids. Namely, having to pick them up in the rain after surviving the Reading Festival and their tent catching fire.

 

What is your favourite cake?

Dundee Cake as it reminds me of Christmas and sometimes has a dash of Guinness.

 

Tickets are still available to see Richard Hope narrate alongside City of London Sinfonia at Southwark Cathedral this Wednesday! BOOK NOW

midsummer ebulletin size

Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with City of London Sinfonia and Holst Singers
Wednesday 8 October, 7.30pm
Southwark Cathedral, London Bridge
Tickets, £25, £15, £5 available from spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk / 020 7377 1362

(Free pre-concert talk from 18:30 in the retrochoir. Book tickets for the pre-concert talk here)