Tag Archives: Luton

Retrospective: Aiming Higher, First Time Live, July 2015

Last week City of London Sinfonia travelled to Luton to perform in the final culminatory concert as part of Aiming Higher, an exciting project that aimed to give young musicians in Luton the chance to progress their musical skills and ambition. Building on the success of First Time Live 2 in July 2014, the project provided the opportunity for an even wider range of young music groups to work collaboratively with the musicians at CLS and composer John K Miles as they performed Carnival Variations, a brand new piece composed especially for the project. In this blog post, John gives an overview of his favourite moments throughout the project, his thoughts on why the project was so important and what he, as a composer and animateur, gained personally from the experience.


Hi John! So, tell us a bit more about the project – we hear it was gargantuan…

Aiming Higher was superbly ambitious.  It was conceived as a follow up project to Carnival Suite – a piece commissioned by Orchestras Live for City of London Sinfonia and beginner instrumentalists in July last year – now published by Charanga/Music Sales. The project centred on a sequel commission, Carnival Variations, which was a set of five variations based on the original suite, for City of London Sinfonia, Luton Youth Jazz Orchestra, Luton Youth Concert Band, Cantores (Luton female youth choir), and Lady Zia Wernher (special school).  The final programme also included two movements from the original Carnival Suite with students from Foxdell Junior School in Luton.


We understand you were in charge of the commission… how did you go about composing it?

All the material took its starting point from the Brazilian rhythm Afoxe as taught to me by my good friend Adriano Adewale, a master Brazilian drummer living in London.

The variation for City of London Sinfonia was a straightforward commission produced in the traditional way – composer tearing hair out, drinking tea, questioning, singing, problem solving and eventually notating…

The four subsequent variations for the Youth Ensembles were written and built through a creative workshop process with the young musicians in Luton; I made several visits to each group with CLS’s wonderful Projects Coordinator, Pia Luck and up to four musicians from the orchestra, all over the space of three months.

“The variation for City of London Sinfonia [involved me] tearing my hair out, drinking tea, questioning, singing, problem solving and eventually notating…”

And what did the different creative sessions involve?

The first sessions with the different groups were mainly creative; introducing the material to the young musicians and then composing collaboratively.  I then took all the ideas the kids suggested on board went away and wrote most of the music, again in the traditional way (tea… hair…)

The second sessions consisted mainly of tweaking; playing the music I’d composed back to them and taking on any feedback.  I then took away the music and added, expanded, modified and wrote the orchestral parts for CLS.  I also, where possible, connected the groups. The choir, for example, was written into the piece for Luton Youth Jazz Orchestra.

The third session was essentially a rehearsal for everyone to play the piece.  We then had one final rehearsal ahead of the concert day with all the groups together in the same room.

And why, in your opinion, do you think the project was so successful?

The fantastic thing about this way of working, is that it allowed me to get to know the groups in an organic way – what they did well, what might challenge them, and what they might enjoy.  It facilitated a set of bespoke variations that had a connection to all the performers (including young musicians and members of CLS) and that also the groups (hopefully) felt some ownership of.

“The fantastic thing about this way of working, is that it allowed me to get to know the groups in an organic way – what they did well, what might challenge them, and what they might enjoy.”

It also allowed the participants to work alongside top professional orchestral musicians, not only in the final concert but throughout the process.  This fostered a meaningful connection between the orchestra and participants and created a rare learning context for all concerned.  The rich mix of participants, genres, ages and experience was very special (and at this point I’d like to mention the fantastic tutors at Luton Music Hub, Kerry Watson, Julia Fraser, Nick Ridout, Simon Router and Adam Cowburn who have brought these ensembles up to such a high standard!).  One of the key components of this project has been the connection to meaningful pathways to young musicians during/post project and it is inspirational to see such dedication, expertise and continuity in a music service!


What do you feel that you have gained on a personal level from this project?

On a personal level this was a unique opportunity to write bespoke pieces for ensembles across a variety of genres, bound together by the aesthetic of a world class classical chamber orchestra.  The resulting music drew on Classical, Jazz and World Music –  shaped by a world where information and access to global music are at the touch of a button.  Ironically the musical landscape can (at times) feel stylistically and demographically fragmented and this project was a golden opportunity to bring different genres, styles and a huge range of musicians together.

Apart from ‘traditional’ ensembles, we also worked with the students at Lady Zia Werner special school, and I learnt a lot from this experience.  Their variation ended up being programmed as the final ’showstopper’ and a great way to bring all the ensembles together.  It highlighted not only the educational value these projects have but also the deeper way music can connect and inspire people across generations, experiences and communities.

“[Our work with Lady Zia Werner special school] highlighted not only the educational value these projects have but the deeper way music can connect and inspire people across generations, experiences and communities.”


A huge thank you to Orchestras Live, Royal Opera House Bridge, The Mix, and The UK Centre for Carnival Arts for supporting this ambitious far-reaching project.



Month in Pictures – Summer Season!

Summer 2014 has definitely been one of the best for us here at City of London Sinfonia. With open-air opera, concerts in East London warehouses (as part of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival) and tons of education and community work in hospitals, care homes and primary schools, we have so many favourite memories and moments we’d love to share with you! Read on for the latest edition of our Month in Pictures blog, featuring some of our best snaps from the Summer months.


On 17 July, we were joined by 570 young musicians to perform a new piece based on ‘Carnival’ they had collaboratively composed during previous workshops with composer John K Miles and Orchestras Live. Here are some of pics of both the rehearsals and culminatory concert, including the pBone section of the Orchestra which we thought was especially brilliant (and colourful!)

In fact, we loved the pBones so much that we even decided to buy one of our own! Here is our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann trying it out earlier this week (they’re not just for kids, apparently!).

Earlier in July, we visited Great Ormond Street Hospital for some workshops and afternoon concert with some of the young patients. For the some of the children who were unable to leave their wards, the hospital set up a live-stream on their internal computer systems so that they were able to join in too.

Back in June, we are proud to have participated in Spitalfields Music Summer Festival! The Orchestra joined Icelandic composer and electronic musician Valgeir Sigurðsson for a melancholic programme of John Dowland, Thomas Adès, Arvo Part and world premiere of Valgeir’s new work No Nights Dark Enough at Village Underground, Shoreditch.

As Orchestra-in-Residence at Opera Holland Park, we are now on the last 2 productions of the open-air festival: Norma and Adriana Lecouvreur. Last Sunday, some of the musicians joined them for their Family Open Day, introducing the audience to life at the opera behind the scenes. Here are some pictures from the day, where we were conducted by the world’s youngest conductor (!). If you haven’t already been, do pop along to see a performance before it finishes on 9 August!

Our last Crash Bang Wallop! concert, The Fantastic Feast at Cadogan Hall was a real success back in May. The Concerts Team had some great fun making all the props, including slugs and pizzas – here are some of our favourites:

As part of our work in Jewish residential homes across London with our L’Chaim: Living Music project, we visited Holocaust Survivors Centre earlier in the season for a series of interactive concerts.

Co-produced with Orchestras Live, we were joined by our animateur-in-residence Claire Bloor for a series of younger years Lullaby workshops and concerts based on Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Nutcracker Suite in Bolsover, Derbyshire. A ballerina joined us for the final concert, and I think it’s fair to say that the friendly geese next door to the concert venue wanted to as well!