Tag Archives: Matthew Barley

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.

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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.




Your guide to The Protecting Veil

As with The Fruit of Silence and The Book of Hours, there is a spiritual aspect to the music in our Modern Mystics finale at the weekend, as we perform The Protecting Veil at St John’s Smith Square (Saturday 2 December, 7.30pm). We’re also inviting our audience to interact with our musicians and soloist in living programme notes.

Not only is it the last concert in our sonic trilogy, but it is also the next concert in Southbank Centre’s year-round Belief and Beyond Belief festival, which explores what it means it be human, and the music, art and culture that have risen out of religion.

The Protecting Veil, for cello and string orchestra, is considered by many to be Sir John Tavener’s finest instrumental work. Sir John said the following:

“In The Protecting Veil, I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. The cello represents The Mother of God and never stops singing throughout. One can think of the strings as a gigantic extension of her unending song.”

We’re looking forward to collaborating with cellist Matthew Barley again, who will perform the work with our string sections on Saturday and present living programme notes as part of the performance.

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Matthew Barley – Photo (c) Madeleine Farley

What are living programme notes?

Matthew Barley has developed a captivating way of educating audiences about a piece as part of the performance, called living programme notes – a concept more engaging and interactive than simply reading about the music in a written programme in a dark concert hall. Our audience will be able to interact with our musicians and learn more about Tavener’s music. Matthew Barley explains more:

“[We’ll be] uncovering some of the fantastic stories about how The Protecting Veil refers to the Protecting Veil of Mary, the Mother of God, that she laid out over the land in Constantinople about a thousand years ago, saving the Greeks from an invasion after a visitation in the night to Andrew, The Holy Fool, [and] looking at a concept of Tavener’s called the Eternal Feminine, that he felt underpinned the work very much.

“[We’ll be] looking at how Indian classical music influenced the work – something Tavener was listening to a great deal when he wrote it – and also looking at the structure of the piece. There are many, many fascinating things about the work. There’ll be played examples and various contributions from different sections of the Orchestra.”

Watch the full video on Twitter:

How do I book tickets?

You can book ‘standard’ or ‘gallery’ tickets (all unreserved seating) for our Modern Mystics: The Protecting Veil concert on our website at cls.co.uk, or on  Southbank Centre’s and St John’s Smith’s Square’s websites.

This concert is a relaxed performance, and friendly to people living with dementia. For more details on this, and if you have access needs, you can contact our box office on 020 7621 2800 or email boxoffice@cls.co.uk.

How do I find out more?

Fast forward to 5.38 in our Modern Mystics podcast to hear more about our performance from Matthew Swann and Alexandra Wood, in live footage from our Season Launch in our latest podcast (available to download/listen to on SoundCloud and iTunes).

You can also remind yourself of what our Modern Mystics trilogy is about in our Chief Exec’s one-minute video account, and get involved with our #ModernMystics series on Twitter.

Matthew Barley, Brazil and “the stuff of music”

banner for blog copyOn Thursday 10 April, the City of London Sinfonia is embarking on a journey around South America with innovative cellist, Matthew Barley. Taking inspiration from his own travels and musical experiences in Brazil, Matthew has arranged music by some of the most well-known South American songwriters ready for a debut performance with the City of London Sinfonia. In anticipation of this exciting cultural event, we asked Matthew to give us an insight into life and music in Brazil as well as the songs featured in the concert.

In Brazil, music is a way of life, and is spiritually connected to many people through their religion in a way that is unfamiliar for Europeans – and even in a non-religious sense, as you walk the streets of Rio de Janeiro, you see how music is so deeply embedded in their life. There are bands busking that people would pay good money to hear in a London jazz club and the music is so completely absorbed into the body that it is inextinguishable from dance – this is most obvious in the Carnival. All of this music expresses a love that is rare – a love of “the stuff of music”…

The first song in Thursday’s programme, Ela e Carioca by Caetano Veloso (possibly familiar to some ears through its feature in the Pedro Almodovar film Talk to Her) is a yearning love song – the sort of song that nobody does quite as well as the Brazilians. Beatriz by Chico Barque is similarly love-fuelled, with extraordinary lyrics about a young student who falls completely and hopelessly in love with a tightrope walker from a circus. So many popular love songs around the world are cliché-ridden and based around a very small number of chords, Beatriz, however, has over 20 chords and a fabulously unpredictable melodic line. Mantequeira Range by Paulo Jobim & Rolando Bastos and Milonga del Ángel by Astor Piazzolla – the great Argentinean genius of Nuevo Tango – are both instrumental pieces originally. They are both such wonderful pieces and fit in perfectly in this context.

Águas de Março (‘The Waters of March’) by Antonio Carlos Jobim is a song about the floods of water that cascade down the mountains of Rio in March. The lyrics are a list of the bits of litter and bric-a-brac that the water carries with it, making it a truly fascinating piece of music. Many think of Jobim as the greatest song-writer of all time, and many think of Águas as Jobim’s greatest song, so it’s not hard to see how highly the song ranks in Brazilian repertoire. I have played many of these songs with Brazilian musicians, and their love for their music, and the very natural way they play, is infectious.

Matthew Barley, March 2014

Want to know more? Come and hear Matthew Barley’s arrangements played alongside John Tavener’s profound The Protecting Veil on Thursday 10 April at Christ Church Spitalfields. Meanwhile get ready and listen to our playlist of the songs featured in the concert and other South American hits!

The Protecting Veil Thursday 10 April 2014
7.00 – 8.45pm
Christ Church Spitalfields, Commercial Street, E1 6LY
Ticket prices: £25, £18, £10*restricted view BOOK NOW

Concert will also be performed at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds on the 5 April.


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