Tag Archives: music

The influence of Absolute Bird

Our three Absolute Bird programmes in the spring are influencing the majority of the work we’re doing in 2019, challenging and marvelling audiences and project participants alike. As our chairman, John Singer explains in our participation brochure, our artistic programmes – such as Absolute Bird and, previously, Bach and the Cosmos – are not limited to our concert series. We also explore the relative themes, music techniques and pieces from these programmes to enthuse participants’ enjoyment in our daily activities in hospitals, hospices, specialist care centres, care homes and schools.

In Absolute Bird, we’re performing a vast range of birdsong- and nature-inspired repertoire, from medieval rounds and canons such as Summer is icumen in to modern-day naturalistic sounds of the Outback by Hollis Taylor – some of the music being used to inspire multiple age groups in our wellbeing and education projects.

Here is just a taster of how we are using nature, namely birdsong, to inspire creative music-making beyond our concert series this year.

How birdsong is inspiring our projects

In our music-making workshops at St Christopher’s Hospice, patients are drawing inspiration from bird-related classical repertoire such as Couperin’s Le Rossignol en amour (featured in Absolute Bird: Flocks of Europe) and Les coucous benevoles, and excerpts of Stravinsky and Vivaldi to from their own creations of music and word with CLS musicians and workshop leader Sam Glazer.

St Christopher's Hospice visit January 2019
CLS musicians at St Christopher’s Hospice, Jan 2019

The young people at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School get to create something a bit special with Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt and CLS musicians this term: they’ll leave a legacy of birdsong-inspired sounds in the form of an interactive sonic tree sculpture. “How?” we hear you gasp. Well, the plan is to create a tree as large as six feet tall to house 24 interactive birds that, when touched, play back music composed during the sessions. “Naturific!” And audience members at our Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southwark Cathedral concerts in May will get to see this in action.

The “nature-niche” continues with members of Headway East London, a centre for survivors of brain injuries, who will create and perform music composed in response to Absolute Bird repertoire during their five-week project in March. Imagine a sonic flotilla of these recorded creations, shaped as river birds, floating down the canal – this is what Gawain is aiming to construct for a Headway EATS event.

Recently, our participation dream-team met with vocal leader and workshop facilitator Jessie Maryon Davies to get the creative juices flowing for our summer term Creative Primaries projects in Tower Hamlets and Harrow. There are lots of possibilities for bird-related stories and repertoire for pupils and our musicians to collaborate on in Key Stage One classrooms, so watch this space for their new music.

Creative Primaries Dec 2018 Suzi Corker
Primary schools engaged in Bach and the Cosmos in Dec 2018 (image: Suzi Corker)

We’re in the thick of creative music sessions at University College London Hospital (UCLH). In the first session this term, guitarist Jack Ross led the session with clarinettist Mel Henry and CLS Violin Clare Hayes, trying out some trios with bass clarinet, violin and guitar. They based the session on the story of a little chick, about which, with the help of our musicians, the young people created an original piece in response. Staff were loving it and people were passing by the classroom often – hopefully it brightened up their Monday morning!

Where else are we using birdsong?

The subjects of nature and birdsong are also at the centre of our Comfortable Classical concerts in February and March at the Albany, Deptford, and Canada Water Theatre. Our wind and string ensembles are going to be playing and introducing the music in three relaxed lunchtime performances for anyone and everyone, from young children to older adults. Audience members are also encouraged to take up other relaxing activities (such as drawing, colouring or knitting!) while listening to the music.


Be sure to keep up to date with all our activities on Twitter @cityldnsinfonia, and on Facebook and Instagram (@cityoflondonsinfonia). You can also visit our website for information on our wellbeing and education projects, and our upcoming performances.

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“From Bingo to Bartok”: Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras

On 25 January 2019, we published “From Bingo to Bartok”: Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras, a free online publication with Orchestras Live and commissioned by the Baring Foundation.

Co-edited by our very own CEO Matthew Swann and Orchestras Live CEO Sarah Derbyshire, From Bingo to Bartok illustrates some of the best examples of orchestral work engaging older people from many classical music organisations around the UK.

The publication’s case studies cover projects in communities where classical music is supporting older people living better lives and meeting the challenges of health and loneliness – about which Matthew says:

“These projects show how orchestras can bring huge societal benefit in an area of growing need. They also show how these same projects can deliver enormous artistic and organisation benefits to orchestras through developing the skills of our musicians, creating performance opportunities and opening income streams.”

Download From Bingo to Bartok

You can view our own case studies in chapters five and seven, detailing our approach to sharing music experiences with older people in care homes and to intergenerational concerts through Relaxed performances.

Find out more about our Wellbeing work

Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School Residency

In 2016, the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School invited our musicians to bring their creative, responsive approach to its young people, leading to our current three-year residency. The School, based at two sites in Camberwell and Beckenham, Kent, is attended by young people aged 8-18 from across London and the South East, all of whom are living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions.

Mental health is a crucial issue for today’s young people with more than one in ten having a diagnosable condition, and more than half of adult mental health problems beginning in childhood. Presenting a broad range of conditions including anorexia and psychosis, the young people at Bethlem and Maudsley need transformational opportunities during a difficult time in their lives. Continue reading Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School Residency

WWI Centenary concert in pictures

On Saturday 10 November 2018, we held a performance of words and music at Southwark Cathedral​ in commemoration of 100 years since the end of World War I. City of London Sinfonia also gave this performance in memory of their founder Richard Hickox CBE, who died 10 years ago in November.

Bill Barclay, narrator
Bill Barclay in WW1 Centenary: Fauré Requiem. (c) James Berry Photography

All the words narrated by Bill Barclay and Emma Pallant were collaged specifically for our concert, by Bill, from hundreds of memoirs and letters written by survivors of the Great War, including soldiers, officers, doctors, factory workers and family members. These documents can be found in the Imperial War Museum.

Baritone Stephen Whitford delivered expressive solo lines in the Offertoire and Libera me, and Southwark Cathedral Girls’ Choir sang the Pie Jesu prayer, originally written for solo soprano. Combined with Fauré’s orchestration and chamber textures, realised in this instance by conductor Paul Brough, these passages produce the special atmosphere of the Fauré Requiem, which enables the music to serve as a prayer for the dead to receive eternal rest.

Also featured in this commemorative performance were All Saints Kingston and St John the Divine Kennington choirs.

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All images © James Berry Photography for City of London Sinfonia, 2018.

WWI Centenary: Fauré Requiem

On Saturday 10 November (7pm), we’re holding a WWI Centenary performance of Fauré’s Requiem at Southwark Cathedral, in which the beautiful and consoling music will be interspersed with original readings, written by the Globe’s Director of Music, Bill Barclay. These texts, written to commemorate the end of the Great War 100 years ago, have been drawn from testaments of both people fighting and awaiting the return of loved ones at home.

Joining City of London Sinfonia in this special performance of words and music are narrators Bill Barclay (pictured middle) and Emma Pallant (pictured left), baritone Stephen Whitford (pictured right), conductor Paul Brough, and the choirs of Southwark Cathedral (Girls), All Saints Kingston and St John the Divine Kennington.

Tickets are available via the CLS Box Office online at cls.co.uk and by phone (020 7621 2800; Mon-Fri, 10-6). Tickets are also available on the door on the night of the concert from 6.15pm – subject to availability.

WWI Centenary Faure Requiem

Bach Remixed in pictures

On 16 October 2018, we presented our second performance in Southbank Centre’s newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall. This time, in Bach Remixed, we turned our attention to JS Bach and his love of maths and numbers – the language of the cosmos. Take a look at our performance in pictures, captured beautifully by James Berry Photography.

From Komm, süßer Tod, Epiphoni Consort broke into Knut Nystedt’s contemporary reworking of the piece, Immortal Bach, in surround sound.

Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Epiphoni Consort in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Following four performances exploring notions of beauty and creativity in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Professor James Sparks from the University of Oxford shared his knowledge on geometry, topology and symmetry in relation to Bach’s Musical Offering and Brandenburg Concerto No.3. We also learnt that cup = doughnut.

James Sparks Bach Remixed
James Berry Photography. James Sparks in in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Baritone Roderick Williams opened the second half by directing Singet dem Herrn, one of Bach’s most famous motets, from within the choir.

Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consort
James Berry Photography. Roderick Williams and Epiphoni Consortin Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

Our audience enjoyed some unexpected and welcomed comedy from our Principal Oboe, Dan Bates, who starred in Roderick Williams’ modern interpretation of Ich habe genug for solo oboe. The end of the piece dovetailed effortlessly into the full cantata – a piece that Roderick champions and which we all delighted in watching.

City of London Sinfonia.
James Berry Photography. Ich habe genug with Roderick Williams and City of London Sinfonia in Bach and the Cosmos: Bach Remixed, 2018

All images in this blog post are © James Berry Photography for City of London Sinfonia, 2018. You can view more photos of this concert below and learn more about how our Bach and the Cosmos series unfolding on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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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.

Music, technology and wellbeing

Our wellbeing work includes long-standing projects at children’s hospitals such as Evelina London Children’s and University College London hospitals, care homes in North London, hospices in South London and with survivors of brain injuries at Headway East London. We have also entered our second year of a three-year residency (supported by Youth Music) at Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, making music with young people who have a broad range of mental health illnesses.

In our Music, technology and wellbeing podcast, Fiona and Zak from the City of London Sinfonia team discuss their experiences of music-making with CLS musicians in wellbeing settings, as well as the impact our projects have on participants and our musicians.

“Music-making is a shared experience.”
– Fiona Lambert, CLS Director of Participation

Sound Artist Gawain Hewitt also talks about how we’ve been using music technology in our recent projects to respond to some of our artistic programmes, such as Modern Mystics, Hero Worship and Bach and the Cosmos. Using technology alongside instruments makes music-making even more accessible, particularly for those with physical or psychological difficulties. In the current term, Gawain has been working alongside CLS musicians and participants to create pieces that respond to Bach’s compositional structures, as well as composing using numbers, sequence and patterns.

“Everyone has the right to be music-makers.”
– Gawain Hewitt, Sound Artist and Workshop Leader

Hear more from Fiona, Zak and Gawain in our Music, technology and wellbeing podcast, available for free download on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts.

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

Beethoven: Artist to Hero

Comment by Matthew Swann, CLS CEO

Nowadays, we’ve got a very good idea of the artist as hero: an individual who creates what he or she wants to and is very much their own manager. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, it was very much the case that artists – particularly musicians and composers – were considered part of a servant class. They were artisans; they were producer of things for the upper classes to consume and they weren’t necessarily in control of their own artistic vision.

Beethoven was the man that changed that. He looked at political, military and leadership heroes throughout his life – particularly Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of the French Revolution and later self-declared emperor. Through a series of events where Beethoven fell out of love with Napoleon, for all intents and purposes, he decided that true heroism came from the artist.

Our Hero Worship concert at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall follows that journey and Beethoven’s own realisation, at the same time, of his growing deafness. It’s a journey of how Beethoven realises that the artist is becoming the hero, and all the anguish and that realisation is presented in his Third Symphony.

As well as collaborating with Brett Dean, a wonderful composer in his own right, Cambridge historian and music-lover Sir Christopher Clark will bring phenomenal insight to our performance. He’ll elaborate on the historic significance of this change: the change from an artist perceived as a servant – an artisan at the beck and call of the upper classes – to someone who drives artistic, creative and philosophical thinking themselves.

Hero Worship at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Listen to Matthew talk more about Beethoven and our performances on our Spring Season podcast (available on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts).

Want to be further enlightened (pun intended) on Beethoven’s historical significance? Come to Hero Worship on Tuesday 8 May 2018 (7.30pm) at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets available at cls.co.uk (including CLS 5IVER for students and 16-25s) and southbankcentre.co.uk.