Tag Archives: London

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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Your guide to Bach and the Cosmos

How do maths and music link together? In Bach and the Cosmos, we’ll explore the answer through music for orchestra and voice by JS Bach in concerts in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol in October 2018.

Curated in collaboration with Roderick Williams OBE, our London series and University Tour feature some of Bach’s most numerical compositions, including the Goldberg Variations, Musical Offering, Brandenburg Concerto No.3 and B Minor Mass.

Who better to delve into all the mathematical structures and patterns in Bach’s music than a Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Oxford? Professor James Sparks joins our musicians at four of the top UK universities for maths and the Queen Elizabeth Hall to do just that in performances described as “TED talks…but with a live orchestra”.

Roderick Williams
(Image: Benjamin Ealovega) Roderick Williams directs and performs in Bach and the Cosmos

Our series bears three distinctive programmes of Bach’s music. In our Goldberg Variations tour (dates and venues below), Orchestra Leader Alexandra Wood directs the title piece alongside mathematical discovery with James Sparks.

You can see James again in Bach Remixed at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with a focus on different pieces and musical-methodological revelations. Baritone Roderick Williams and the Epiphoni Consort (pictured below) also join our line-up in vocal music including Ich habe genugSinget dem Herrn and Komm, süsser Tod. You can also see Roderick’s contemporary piece Enough for solo oboe performed by our very own Dan Bates.

Following their incredible performance in Modern Mystics last November, we’re excited to perform with the Epiphoni Consort at Southwark Cathedral again on Saturday 20 October in an immersive performance of Bach’s monumental B Minor Mass, conducted by renowned conductor and Bach interpreter John Butt.

Performance dates: London series

Wednesday 10 October, 1.30pm
Goldberg Variations, Relaxed Performance: Canada Water Theatre
Tickets: CLS Box Office | Canada Water Theatre Box Office

Wednesday 10 October, 7.30pm
Goldberg Variations: The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Tuesday 16 October, 7.30pm
Bach Remixed: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
Tickets: CLS Box Office | Southbank Centre Ticket Office

Saturday 20 October, 7.30pm
B Minor Mass: Southwark Cathedral
Tickets: CLS Box Office

University Tour: Goldberg Variations

Tuesday 9 October, 7.30pm
Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford
Free admission: register by email | More info

Wednesday 10 October, 7.30pm
The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Thursday 11 October, 7.30pm
West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
Tickets: CLS Box Office

Monday 15 October, 7.30pm
St George’s Bristol
Tickets: St George’s Bristol Box Office

Find out more with CEO Matthew Swann

On a cloudy day in Brixton, we caught up with CEO Matthew Swann who explains all about our Bach and the Cosmos programmes and collaborations.

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OHP 2018: Views from the Pit

It’s been an incredible Season of operas at Opera Holland Park: our fifteenth Season as orchestra in residence. From ‘one of the most moving Traviatas’ (The Mail on Sunday) ever staged to the passionately performed (Opera Today) UK premiere of Mascagni’s Italian verismo, Isabeau, Opera Holland Park’s 2018 Season truly had it all.

‘City of London Sinfonia is getting better year on year’
Seen and Heard International (Isabeau)

Throughout the Season, some of the CLS team have been getting behind-the-scenes insight from City of London Sinfonia musicians, conductors and the Opera Holland Park team, all featured in our Views from the Pit podcast mini-series – available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts. There’s talk about the Season’s four productions, insight into the rehearsals and opera experiences over the years, as well as insight into a typical day in the life of a professional musician.

Let us know what you think by giving us a like, leaving a comment or a review. You can also tweet us @CityLdnSinfonia or via Opera Holland Park’s dedicated hashtag for the Season, #OHP2018.

Views from the Pit: episode guide

Episode 1: James Clutton and Matthew Swann

Opera Holland Park’s Director of Opera, James Clutton, and CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann discuss how Opera Holland Park has evolved over the years, the collaboration between both organisations, making opera more accessible to the widest possible audience and, of course, the four operas performed in the 2018 Season.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 2: Così fan tutte with the strings

Following 2017’s marvellous interval biscuit talk, violinist Charlotte Reid and violist Matthew Maguire return to our podcast series to talk about Così fan tutte and performing an opera after spending a couple of hours working with children at University College London Hospital. We’re also joined by violinist Gabrielle Painter who describes Isabeau and a typical performance day during an OHP show run.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 3: La traviata with the brass

Two of the Orchestra’s longest-standing members, French horn Mark Paine and Tuba Stephen Wick talk about the exciting and challenging orchestral moments in Verdi’s La traviata. They also go down memory lane, having both been performing at Opera Holland Park since 2004.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 4: Ariadne auf Naxos with the woodwinds

The woodwinds are very important in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos – an opera that Principal Oboe Dan Bates has loved for 20+ years. We join Dan and Principal Clarinet Katherine ‘Waffy’ Spencer after a six-hour rehearsal of the opera to find out more about the incredible orchestral and vocal writing in Strauss’ score.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts

Episode 5: Opera Holland Park with Brad Cohen

In the fifth and final episode of Views from the Pit, conductor Brad Cohen expresses his excitement about conducting Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park, giving insight into the rehearsal process and the challenges of moving Ariadne from Glasgow to London. He also explains what makes opera a unique artform.

SoundCloud | Apple Podcasts


Views from the Pit is presented by Tasha Allery and Gabriele Neuditschko, and features rehearsal footage from OHP 2018 dress rehearsals (Così fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos, Isabeau) and OHP 2017 dress rehearsals (Zazà). Images © Ali Wright for Opera Holland Park, 2018.

Your guide to Hero Worship

What’s more exciting and entertaining than a TED talk? A TED talk with a 40-piece orchestra. This is how CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann describes our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 8 May.

Join us on an exciting journey with Cambridge historian Sir Christopher Clark to learn about the significance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Beethoven’s illness and medicine’s inability to cure it, the verbose testament he wrote in Heiligenstadt but never sent, and how he elevated artists from the servant class and reinvented them as heroes.

Amongst works by Beethoven, the Orchestra performs Brett Dean’s Beethoven-inspired piece Testament. Testament was composed in an attempt “to pick Beethoven’s brain”, as Brett puts it. The piece promises to be an exciting experience for the musicians as well as the audience, as our strings play on bows without rosin (which is basically the musical equivalent of driving on ice without snow chains if you’re in the Austrian Alps), while the woodwinds produce “sounds that are hard to pin down” with effects such as ‘toneless murmuring’.

In a bold move that violist and composer Brett Dean describes as being “don’t try this as home difficult”, City of London Sinfonia performs Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony without a conductor. What is very special about this performance is that the Symphony will be directed by Brett from the viola; from within the orchestra, which highlights aspects of the piece that you might not be able to hear as clearly in a more traditional setup and gives you the chance to rediscover the Symphony in a different way.

We know that worship usually takes place in special surroundings and Hero Worship is no different in this respect. That’s why we have chosen Southbank Centre’s shiny new Queen Elizabeth Hall as the place for an evening full of beautiful music and exciting insights. It is the perfect place for a concert that gives you a chance to see and hear Beethoven the artist as well as Beethoven the hero – but most of all, Beethoven the human.

Want to book tickets and find out more?

You can purchase tickets at the CLS Box Office (until 10am on 8 May) or at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office. Tickets will also be available at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the night.

Listen to our Spring Season podcast to hear CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann elaborate on what makes the concert a TED talk.

In our Hero Worship with Brett Dean podcast, Brett Dean talks more about Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony and his own piece, Testament, shedding light on the concept and context of the work and the experimental sounds he chose to feature in the music.

The Inclusive Orchestra: relaxed performances

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

CLS prides itself on having a ‘seriously informal’ approach, which means we play high-quality music, but we think people should have the freedom to enjoy the concert as they please: grab a drink, use their phones, cough, or clap between movements. Our approach works and has grown in popularity. Young people (aged 16-25) made up a surprising proportion of our audience at our Modern Mystics concerts in autumn 2017 (25%).

We’re beginning to realise that this approach works well for anyone, including people living with dementia, who would enjoy having the freedom to get up, talk, clap, or enjoy a break in the quiet space outside the concert hall.

What makes a concert ‘dementia-friendly’?

I often get asked this question, and it’s not a complicated answer: it’s no different to a regular concert. When we are putting together a dementia-friendly concert, we are primarily focused on accessibility around the venue. Can audience members find the toilet, the café and the concert hall with relative ease? Is there a volunteer nearby who can answer questions?

In December 2017, we presented our first ‘dementia-friendly’ concert at St John’s Smith Square. In preparation for the performance, we sought answers from other like-minded organisations who already have experience engaging people living with dementia: The Alzheimer’s Society, Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Dementia Friends, Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Academy of Art and The Young Vic.

One of the important steps was having The Alzheimer’s Society audit the concert venue. They showed us all the many ways we could improve access to St John’s Smith Square, and we were delighted by the sheer number of considerations. We were “delighted” because addressing the issues meant we could be more confident about promoting this concert as dementia-friendly. For example, some of the issues they discovered were dark patches on the floor, which, to some people, can appear as holes in the ground or wet patches. Likewise, colours on signs, the chairs and tables must be carefully selected so that the contrast is highest and objects can be differentiated more easily. Signs must also be clear in content and within line of sight as you navigate the venue.

Our team in the office and many of our musicians are trained as Dementia Friends. We’ve participated in a taster course to better understand the many kinds of dementias and how they can affect people in different ways. From losing memory, which is what most people associate with dementia, to visuo-spatial difficulties and emotional changes, there is no such thing as one dementia. We can’t recommend it highly enough to become a Dementia Friend, so that you can learn small ways to help other people.

How are we putting our learning into practice?

Our concerts should be as welcoming as possible. Our first dementia-friendly concert could have been better, as it was held in December, on a dark, windy and rainy evening. We have already considered some solutions, and so our next round of relaxed concerts will be held in CLS Minis in April 2018 – in a much warmer month, and during the day.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

You can read more about our Relaxed Lunchtime Performances on Facebook and Twitter, or by visiting our website.


Following our first dementia-friendly concert in December 2017, Zak was given the opportunity to speak more about this and represent CLS at a British Council conference in South Korea. You can read more about his time there in our The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea blog post.

Zak on dementia-friendly concerts

Music and mindfulness in a busy world

In today’s world, we need time to stop and focus. We need time that doesn’t involve being bombarded with the deafening noise of work and noise pollution; to have a break from social media and other things that are supposed to make our lives better, but quite often make our minds overly busy and stressed and tired.

In our Music and Mindfulness concerts, CLS violinist and mindfulness practitioner Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) and the musicians of City of London Sinfonia are there to give you a “magic hour” of peace and calm.

Previously, audience members at Modern Mystics: The Fruit of Silence experienced a mindful meditation with Ann before listening to the beautiful music of Arvo Pärt and Peteris Vasks performed in Southwark Cathedral. We also took Music and Mindfulness to a place of work, to help city workers start their day with positive and focused minds.

Ann Lovatt
CLS violinist Ann Lovatt in a King of Ghosts recording session (c) Pete le May.

How do live music and mindfulness work together?

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to step out of autopilot. It allows you to reconnect with your body and your breath; to become more aware of stresses and to enable you to step back from stress and its causes. Meditation is a proven method of reducing stress, and music is also proven to have therapeutic effects, as well as the power to excite, to calm and to the reach the myriad of emotions in between.

When preparing for a mindful music session, Ann looks in depth at the music – for example, the structure, context and how the instruments might be used. In each session, she hopes to highlight aspects of the music which allow some insight or reflection appropriate to the practice of meditation. Throughout the mindfulness session, Ann bears all the musical factors in mind and references the chosen piece of music before it is performed live by CLS musicians.

The inclusion of a short mindful meditation within a live performance aims to enhance the listeners’ experiences of the music being performed, bringing an immediate sense of wellbeing to complement that which comes through the music alone.

Where can I experience Music and Mindfulness?

In April 2018, our strings, brass and woodwind sections will take it in turns to perform lunchtime and evening miniatures at various venues in our CLS Minis series. These include three Music and Mindfulness concerts in Deptford, Mile End and Marble Arch.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Want to know more before you try it out? Ann Lovatt talks more about the benefits of music and mindfulness in our Spring Season podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Your guide to CLS Minis

Lots of good things come in mini packages: cars, ice creams, iPads (to name a few). CLS Minis is our version in orchestral music, featuring six short chamber concerts with programmes focusing of different sections of the Orchestra: strings, brass and percussion, and woodwind.

The series of miniatures focuses on mental health and wellbeing and features three programmes curated and performed by CLS musicians. For each programme, there will be a relaxed performance during the day (1.30-2.15pm) and an evening performance with an additional mindful meditation (7-8pm).

Relaxed Lunchtime Performances

The Relaxed Lunchtime Performances are for everyone and aim to provide comfortable environments for people who are perhaps living with dementia, their carers or another invisible disability associated with age. These 45-minute concerts are great opportunities for those who may not be able to attend evening concerts to visit some great venues and watch some fantastic live music in the middle of the day. In these performances, there is no judgement; you can come and go if you need to do so, and you can be confident that the performers are aware of people with those conditions attending the concerts. It is a wonderful way for people to enjoy music that they perhaps loved when they were younger, but don’t get the opportunity to now.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only), and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Music and Mindfulness

In the early evening, our orchestra sections will perform the same programme as they did earlier in the day but with an added dimension: with a mindfulness meditation integrated into the concert. During the mindful music sessions, CLS violinist Ann Lovatt (referred to as Ann Morfee elsewhere) gives audience members something to focus on, or to watch or listen out for in the performance of the music. Experiencing live music alongside a meditation is so powerful and helps bring an immediate sense of calm and wellbeing at the end of a working day. It enables you to tune out of the outside world and just listen to the music; to just be in the moment.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets start from £5 (for students and 16-25s with the CLS 5IVER ticket scheme) at the CLS Box Office and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

Listen to the CLS podcast

Find out more about our CLS Minis series with CEO Matthew Swann and Ann Lovatt on our podcast: available for download on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud.

Finding My Way to Cardiff: ABO Conference 2018

Written by Claire Bayliss, CLS Orchestra Manager

The end of January saw my first visit to an Association of British Orchestras (ABO) Conference – this year, co-hosted by BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Sinfonia Cymru and Welsh National Opera Orchestra at the striking Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Collaboration was the theme, and indeed the order of the day before the Conference had even opened; when delegates were forced to share taxis in a bid to overcome the failings of Great Western Railway and arrive on time.

There was a buzz in the air: colleagues catching up on a year’s worth of news, faces being put to names across the business, and networks expanding – all while we were taken through a thought-provoking, challenging and enjoyable series of discussions, presentations, performances and speeches.

International Collaboration was on the cards: how Brexit will affect our industry (the answer: we don’t know until it happens), and how we can still do more to address the Diversity Challenge, especially in consideration of hidden disabilities. Horace Trubridge, the newly elected General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union set his stall. The question of increasing musicians’ engagement in industry discussions was brought into focus with a bold pledge to double the number of orchestral players attending the Conference in 2019. We celebrated successes of our colleagues with the ABO Award and Rhinegold Awards, and we heard from Alan Davey (Controller of BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Performing Groups) on the BBC’s plans for classical music.

Collaborative performances were interspersed throughout the Conference: BBC NOW and the orchestra of WNO each took one half of the opening night’s concert; Sinfonia Cymru performed Birdsong, the result of a collaboration with Gwilym Simcock and Kizzy Crawford, and featuring visual projections by Ruby Fox; a jazz quartet from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama provided after-dinner entertainment; and Martin James Bartlett, winner of the 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year, performed at the closing session with the 2016 Finalist and Woodwind Category winner, saxophonist Jess Gillam.

For me, however, the focus was very much on 10.00 Friday morning when I was to co-present a session as part of the ABO’s Find Your Way 2017–18 cohort. The brief: fresh thinking around collaboration. The challenge: according to the Arts Index, only 37% of the UK population think that culture is a valid use of taxpayers’ money – down from 50% five years ago. How can we use collaboration to make our work more relevant to society today?

Find Your Way 2017-18 Cohort

It has been a privilege to work alongside the outstanding individuals Toks Dada (Programme Co-ordinator, Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham), Helen Dunne (Orchestra Manager, Royal Opera House), Simon Fairclough (Director of Development, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), Nick Jackman (Development Director, London Philharmonic Orchestra) and Annie Lydford (Head of Communications, English National Opera). Together we’ve been examining ways that we can collaborate better with the commercial sector (Us vs All of Them), with our peers (Us vs The Others), and with each other within our own organisations (Us vs Us).

The preparation of our presentation was a collaboration in itself, but after much discussion in face-to-face meetings, skype conference calls and late night messages; many hours of research on brand partnerships, loyalty schemes, co-investment potential and knowledge sharing; two shared documents totaling 39 pages, a complex 3×3 grid cross-referencing our ideas, and the design and fine-tuning of 59 slides; several snatched meetings and rehearsals in corners during the Conference, a tense moment in which we narrowly avoided a catastrophic technological glitch, and the last few minutes of pacing and muttering to ourselves, we were finally ready.

It paid off, and we delivered.

Helen and at the ABO Conference
Helen Dunne (left) and Claire Bayliss (right).

The audience looked engaged throughout – many taking notes. They responded to our questions and laughed at the right moments. Upon finishing, we received a hearty round of applause and some challenging, but friendly questions. Our session had provoked debate and interest amongst our colleagues within the sector.

We set out with the aim of each delegate taking away maybe one or two thinking points back to their home organisation – we achieved that, and more. What a feeling!

But not to rest on our laurels, the next Find Your Way challenge is just around the corner…


The ABO’s Find Your Way programme is a nine-month leadership course offering ambitious and emerging leaders of the orchestral sector the opportunity to further develop their managerial knowledge and skills, under the guidance of an experienced coach. The programme is funded by Arts Council England and the Jerwood Foundation.

“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. 

Let’s keep creativity close-by

By Matthew Swann, CLS Chief Executive

MatthewheadshotThere has been a lot of talk in recent years and months about musicians and artists of all hues finding it more and more difficult to survive in London. This has prompted the Deputy Mayor for Culture to announce dedicated “Artist Zones”, where artists and organisations would be given help to purchase unused spaces. A great idea, but I think we can go further…

Some context. Music venues are closing across the country, but especially in the capital, where a conservative estimate suggests that a third of London’s gig venues have closed in the last 10 years. The low earnings that afflict many artists and musicians, especially those starting out, are incompatible with London rents, let alone mortgages. Conversely, part of what has made London a magnet for so many people and so much investment is the incredibly diverse cultural offerings available. We see this in microcosm as bold, risk-taking artists establish themselves somewhere cheap and forgotten like Shoreditch was 20 years ago, only to be priced out as those who want a slice of vicarious ‘cool’ follow them. The artists get chased north up the Kingsland Road into Dalston, then east into Hackney, now south into Peckham. Even in Peckham, young artists and local populations are being squeezed out as more vicarious cool is sought. Decades ago the same happened to Soho and Notting Hill – once down at heel but culturally vibrant, now beyond the means of artists beyond a handful of outlier megastars.

Classical music is by no means immune. The CLS office is in Brixton, having moved from (a very grotty and cheap) office in the City five years ago because Central London was beyond our reach. Now Brixton is becoming too expensive – in Autumn 2018 we will likely have to look further afield for office space. Our landlords have seen what is happening in the centre of London, have invested in the building’s infrastructure and are attracting bigger companies who can pay higher rents.

Just as bands and visual artists are losing performance spaces, so is classical music. Already, one of our favourite venues has had to hike its hire fees in a bid to keep up with rents. One church we would love to perform in more, close to one of the ‘cool’ areas above, has seen its commercial potential and priced itself beyond what we think is reasonable. Affordable venues are all oversubscribed. Rehearsal venues are a particular issue, in that London simply does not have enough of them of a big enough size, and they are very expensive. It is even becoming an issue for our Meet the Music programme. Our education team have spent the last few days desperately trying to find a suitable, and importantly, available and affordable, East London venue for a schools project later in the Autumn. At a time when so many London orchestras, including our own CLoSer series, are attracting new, young and cross cultural audiences, we are in danger of becoming victims of our own success as the venues we champion fall to encroaching speculative development.

If all this sounds like a moan, it’s not meant to be. One of London’s joys is its ever shifting cultural tectonic plates. When I first moved to Camberwell in South East London a dozen years or so ago, telling people I lived there usually elicited a sharp intake of breath. Neighbouring Peckham was a no go zone after dark. Brixton a generation ago was a by-word for inner-city violence. Now, I can drink cocktails on top of the multi-story car park in Peckham, and take my kids to the cinema on its ground floor. Brixton is a by-word for outstanding food (and home to CLS towers!). Camberwell is the epicentre of scruffy artistic chic. Problems and poverty still remain in those areas and in many ways are more entrenched, but there are opportunities which did not exist 10 years ago.

But like the Mayor’s office I do think that we need to guard against London gaining investment but losing its creative soul. The Deputy Mayor’s “Artist Zones” are a great idea, but require capital investment and a long term leveraged commitment which doesn’t suit everyone. I think we can go further, and help both artists and businesses at the same time.

It’s been mooted before, but why don’t we create an English Heritage style Grade system for cultural venues, preventing them from change of use and unsustainable rent hikes. The business of development and investment could continue around them, still benefitting from having creativity nearby  that would otherwise up sticks for the next cheap and forgotten area of London. But let’s extend this to rehearsal rooms, artists workshops, independent theatres, the lot. Any venue that has been in continuous use for creating music, art, etc for five years is protected. That way artists and musicians are not constantly pushed around, and eventually out, of London.

Second, any new office development in much widened “artist zones” has to provide at least 5% of its space to non-profit creative organisations either free of charge or well under market rates. Then the music, performing arts and visual arts organisations (and Orchestras!) that fuel London’s creative infrastructure, and in turn fuel investment, can concentrate on empowering artists, rather than spending exponentially increasing portions of their budgets on rent

I think that businesses and investors stand to benefit as much from these ideas as artists and the organisations that support them. Some businesses already understand the benefits of keeping creative organisations in their developments, but unilateral altruism isn’t going to solve the problem.

“Artist Zones” are a great idea, but let’s go further and benefit everyone by keeping creativity close.