Tag Archives: 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

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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.

The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

For one week in December 2017, I was lucky enough to travel to South Korea and represent CLS at a British Council conference focusing on ‘Creative Ageing’. It was part-funded by the Baring Foundation, who invited CLS because of our creative ways of engaging older people through music. Ten delegates from the UK, and many more from Korea, came together for a knowledge-sharing conference, to tell our stories and learn how each of us are involving older people in the arts.

Creative Ageing UK Delegates 2017
(There I am at the front, on the right)

Our orchestra’s first projects in care homes began in 1998, when CLS musicians started visiting residents of Jewish Care, performing concerts and developing relationships with older people through a person-centred approach. Over the years, these care home concerts have become so popular that we felt we could do more: we wanted to open our concerts to the public so that more people could attend classical music concerts.

For nearly 30 years, CLS has involved people of all ages and backgrounds in music activities as a way of improving wellbeing and enhancing quality of life. Our approach is one-of-a-kind because all 43 of our musicians lead and participate in workshops in children’s hospitals, hospices, schools and care homes, while at the same time performing innovative concerts at major London venues (e.g. St Paul’s Cathedral, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Opera Holland Park).

We are constantly thinking up new ways of tying our two most important strands together (artistic innovation and community involvement) so we were delighted to be invited to South Korea and share our experience of producing our first-ever dementia-friendly concert.

Highlights from the conference

On our first day in Seoul, we watched a variety show featuring groups of older people acting, dancing, singing, and playing handbells and handmade box instruments. The first act ended with 100 women in pink outfits pulling all the jetlagged UK delegates off their seats and into the middle of an impromptu dance party.

Dancing
(From left to right: Alice Thwaite, Equal Arts; Kate Duncan, City Arts Nottingham; Carol Rogers, Liverpool Museums)

The conference began on the second day with a plenary session entitled Why creative ageing? followed by themed sessions on ‘Arts and intergeneration’, ‘Arts and dementia’, and ‘Capacity building and training for catalysts’. The conference was followed by a series of roundtable discussions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) the following day. Session topics included ‘Creative ageing programme developments at museums and galleries’, ‘Creative contents development’, and ‘Impact and evaluation’. Alongside the Seoul and Busan conferences, UK delegates Penny Allen and Diane Amans conducted dance workshops for teaching artists and older people.

My presentation was titled The Inclusive Orchestra and it told the story of how we break down barriers between music and our audiences. With success in attracting younger people over the past several years, we have started thinking about the barriers for older people to attend classical music performances, which led to our first-ever ‘dementia-friendly concert’ on 2 December 2017.

With support from our local Dementia Action Alliance, we provided Dementia Friends training to our musicians, encouraging a deeper understanding of the disease and the many ways it affects the brain (i.e. it’s not always about losing your memory; sensory perception can also be affected). The Alzheimer’s Society then performed an environmental audit of our concert venue, making sure that we considered better access routes into and around the space. Continue reading The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea

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.

Opera Holland Park 2017: Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà

We had an incredible 2017 Season, our fourteenth season as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park. And just like with the first two operas, and all British open-air productions, the wind, rain and thunder threatened to overthrow performances in the second half of the Season – but to no avail. Here’s what some of the critics had to say about Kát’a Kabanová and Zazà…

WhatsOnStage (★★★★★) described Kát’a Kabanová as ‘Janáček’s most richly coloured and disturbingly flavoured score’ – with which conductor Sian Edwards agreed in our Views From The Pit podcast. Edwards, in her Opera Holland Park debut, was given full credit by the media, with Seen and Heard International exclaiming that ‘it was Sian Edwards’ conducting that lit the night up, inspiring the City of London Sinfonia to unheard-of heights’, and The Stage (★★★★) adding that ‘she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence’.

Classical Source (★★★★★) loved Zazà, Leoncavallo’s ‘curious’ opera, in which ‘City of London Sinfonia and Peter Robinson was on fine form, relishing the music, and particularly well-managed were the off-stage banda and choral moments’, and the Daily Express (★★★★) thought ‘City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score’. Despite Zazà not quite hitting the mark with The Times, other papers such as The Telegraph (★★★★) and The Guardian (★★★★) had plenty good to say about the new production, giving full praise to Peter Robinson’s ‘sensitive conducting’ of ‘Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration’.

More from the press

Kát’a Kabanová

WhatsOnStage: ‘The belting City of London Sinfonia assails the ear with immaculately dosed helpings of romance and horror; and together with the OHP Chorus, whose members personify Kát’a’s paranoia in movement director Clare Whistler’s mime work, they respond rousingly to Sian Edwards’s rhapsodic conducting…’

The Stage: ‘Making her company debut in the pit, conductor Sian Edwards understands its complex style perfectly, and she and the City of London Sinfonia convey the score’s atmospheric power with incisive eloquence.’

The Spectator: ‘Sian Edwards conducted, and it was baleful, headstrong, ecstatic and raw…’

The Arts Desk: ‘Conductor Sian Edwards leads a well-paced account, nuanced but with no holding back at the searing climaxes… Rather than leitmotifs for the characters, Janáček employs different moods in the music to depict each, and Edwards did an excellent job of delineating these separate styles. She deserves much credit for the success of this revival, as does the entire cast for the compelling musical drama they make of this ensemble piece.’

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards draws some powerful, idiomatic playing from the City of London Sinfonia, and she is a natural when it comes to releasing Janáček’s fleeting tenderness and realising his extraordinary powers of musical characterisation.’

Opera Today: ‘Sian Edwards drew precise, taut playing from the City of London Sinfonia…’

MusicOMH (★★★★): ‘Sian Edwards’ conducting is excellent, while all of the principals succeed in filling the large tented auditorium to good effect.’

Zazà

The Telegraph: ‘Peter Robinson’s sensitive conducting honours the evanescent fragrances of Leoncavallo’s skillful orchestration…’

The Guardian: ‘Conductor Peter Robinson gets the tricky mix of glitz, sadness and sensuality exactly right.’

Evening Standard (★★★): ‘Conductor Peter Robinson delivers a rousing and, when necessary, raucous orchestral commentary.’

Daily Mail (★★★★): ‘This superb Zazà readily shows off many similar magic moments… There’s some truly beautiful music here, especially for the orchestra.’

Daily Express: ‘The City of London Sinfonia under conductor Peter Robinson brings out the lushness of the score and the Opera Holland Park Chorus supplies backstage bustle, while Louise Winter portrays dipsomaniac mother Anaide.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘Peter Robinson’s expert conducting is a reminder that Leoncavallo was a resourceful orchestrator as well as a dependable librettist.’

The Stage (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia’s authoritative playing of Leoncavallo’s appealing and impassioned score under Peter Robinson’s vital baton sets the seal on this worthwhile re-launch.’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Leoncavallo’s score is opulent, rich and melodious throughout, and Robinson conducts it with plenty of accent and a fair degree of precision.’

The Spectator: ‘The strings sweep upwards, the horns surge, and Leoncavallo’s Zaza throws itself into your arms.’

Planet Hugill: ‘…under Peter Robinson’s direction the City of London Sinfonia drew out the beauties of Leoncavallo’s rather luxuriant score.’

From Twitter

Opera Holland Park 2017: La rondine & Don Giovanni

We’re proud to be performing, as Orchestra in Residence, at Opera Holland Park in their Summer Opera Season once again in 2017. The reviews for the first two operas, La rondine and Don Giovanni, have been so great that we feel a lot like we’re in a Puccini nightclub sequence. Here’s what the critics have had to say so far…

Culture Whisper (★★★★★) was elated that the season-opener, the new production of La rondine, ‘illustrates to perfection what OHP does best’, adding that ‘in many ways the night belongs to conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, spinning a sparkling City of London Sinfonia like a top’. The Guardian (★★★★) also showed admiration for ‘the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic’.

WhatsOnStage (★★★★) crowned La rondine ‘a visual and musical feast’, and gave praise to ‘the ever-splendid City of London Sinfonia, whose annual residence is one of the company’s outstanding boasts, [who] played the score for all its worth under Matthew Kofi Waldren’s elegantly energised baton’, while the Daily Mail (★★★★) didn’t ‘expect to see anything much better this summer’.

In Don Giovanni, The Times (★★★★) announced that ‘[Dane] Lam’s general approach is invigorating… and the City of London Sinfonia plays vivaciously’, and WhatsOnStage’s (★★★★) reviewer turned up on a particularly weathersome night, remarking on the cast’s and orchestra’s resilience on a particularly ‘tempest-toss’d’ cruise ship: ‘gosh what a night….Opera Holland Park’s heroic stage company – and, especially, the splendid City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam – carried on serenely while the audience adopted the brace position and clung for dear life.’

With the ‘gem-like orchestral colours’ (The Arts Desk) of La rondine, and a ‘great deal of musical panache’ (Limelight) in Don Giovanni, the Opera Holland Park 2017 Season has sailed to critical acclaim.

Photos © Stephen Thomas Smith for Opera Holland Park, 2017

More from the press

La rondine

The Guardian: ‘The chorus was on soaring form, the City of London Sinfonia – brass especially – spirited and infectiously enthusiastic. Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren kept the tempi fluid and well paced. This was a buoyant start to a varied season.’

The Times (★★★★): ‘Everyone in Magda’s [Elizabeth Llewellyn] circle dreams of something, and the characterisation of the supporting ensemble… is a delight.’

The Arts Desk: ‘…what works here has most of the gem-like orchestral colours and vocal glamour it needs. Matthew Kofi Waldren is excellent at steering the deft mood-changes and easy lilt of the score…’

Bachtrack (★★★★): ‘Matthew Kofi Waldren drew a first-class performance from the City of London Sinfonia, revelling in the glorious froth and whimsy of the score, occasionally threatening to overpower the singers early on in the performance, but highlighting so much of the sweeping beauty and orchestral detail of Puccini’s writing that one could sit there and wallow in that alone.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘There’s lush support from the City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren and the energetic Opera Holland Park Chorus.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘…the orchestration is magnificent and all credit to Matthew Kofi Waldren for coaxing the orchestra to its best…Dance rhythms were infectious; elsewhere, one heard a level of detail one might have considered unlikely given the quasi-outdoors setting…A special mention, too, for the leader, Martin Burgess and his various solos, all magical… In act three, Llewellyn and the orchestra conspired to provide moments of magic in her soliloquy as she reminisces.’

Daily Express (★★★★): ‘The City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren gives a fine performance of Puccini’s evocative score.’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘With two strong voices on the stage, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren allows the City of London Sinfonia to raise its decibel levels above the average at Holland Park, and La rondine comes across as a more full-blooded opera as a result.’

The Independent (★★★★): ‘…a cast commandingly led by the charismatic Elizabeth Llewellyn, Matteo Lippi with his gorgeously Italianate bel canto, and Stephen Aviss as a flamboyantly camp and mellifluous poet. Direction by Matthew Kofi Walden is sure-footed, designs by takis are inventive.’

Don Giovanni

Classical Source (★★★★): ‘Dane Lam leads a very fleet account of the score, full of light and shade, with a beguiling propulsive quality about it; and there were many moments where the transitions between the orchestra and Stuart Wild’s admirable continuo (on piano) were seamless.’

Seen and Heard International: ‘Dane Lam and the City of London Sinfonia were firing on all cylinders throughout the performance’

Limelight (★★★★): ‘Lam…demonstrated a great deal of musical panache…The City of London Sinfonia obviously enjoy working with him and respond eagerly to his musical direction.’

The Stage (★★★): ‘…it’s in Dane Lam’s vital conducting and the clean-edged playing of the City of London Sinfonia that the performance shines most brightly’

Financial Times (★★★★): ‘In the title role, Ashley Riches has the elegance and swagger to make us believe in him to the bitter end, while Graeme Broadbent bellows authoritatively as the Commendatore.’

Evening Standard (★★★★): ‘In the pit, Dane Lam conducts firmly rather than elegantly, but the semi-open air acoustic allows occasional intrusions of birdsong — an effect that Mozart himself might have enjoyed.’

Culture Whisper (★★★★): ‘…this summery production of Mozart’s opera enjoys its comic potential from the outset’

Music OMH (★★★★): ‘Oliver Platt’s production for Holland Park not only succeeds in retaining the class system involved but, by being extremely innovative, delineates it to the full.’

City of London Sinfonia will be back in the Opera Holland Park pit in Kát’a Kabanová (starts 15 July) and Zazà (starts 18 July).

Podcast: Animal Antics KS1 Project

It’s not often that our musicians get to be bumblebees, chickens and horses stuck in mud, but they got to do just that in our ‘Animal Antics’ themed KS1 concerts in May 2017.

The project, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service and Harrow Music Service, saw schoolchildren engage in a series of fun, creative workshops with our fantastic Animateur in Residence, Claire Henry, before experiencing live orchestral music for the first time. The concerts introduced the children to instruments, with our musicians illustrating the story through musical excerpts, and gave them the chance to join in with rhythms, dictate changes in the music, and sing along to their own songs, created in the workshops – all to help the orchestra escape from the mud!

Our Key Stage 1 music projects this year have been made possible with generous support from the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, AM Spurgin Charitable Trust, Bernarr Rainbow Trust, Childhood Trust, Derek Hill Foundation, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and donors of the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Listen to our Animal Antics podcast, featuring conversations with musicians, Claire Henry, children, and representatives from schools and music education hubs, available on SoundCloud.

You can also watch/listen on YouTube.

We’ll be releasing a new podcast every month, giving you insight into our performances, collaborations and projects throughout the year, so follow us on SoundCloud and keep an eye out!

Retrospective on The Soldier’s Tale

On 5 April we made a devilish return to Shoreditch’s cultural converted warehouse, Village Underground, in the finale of our Folk Tunes Tall Tales series – an intimate performance of The Soldier’s Tale, starring Shakespeare aficionados Simon Russell Beale, Dame Janet Suzman and Ivanno Jeremiah.

Kicking back and relaxing on our comfy cushions, at the bar and in premium seats, as advised by CLS Chief Executive Matthew Swann, we were treated to ‘an entertaining introductory talk’ (The Guardian) by Bill Barclay, Director of Music at Shakespeare’s Globe, who set the scene for a ‘pleasingly understated production’ (Evening Standard) of Stravinsky’s dramatic masterpiece.

Inspired by a collection of 17th-century Russian folk fables by Alexander Afanasyev, The Soldier’s Tale depicts the story of a deserter who has been robbed of his violin by the devil, with Alexandra Wood’s ‘sinuous violin’ (The Times) symbolising the soul of the soldier and the percussion that of the devil.

‘…with Michael Collins conducting, the playing was attractively abrasive’
Evening Standard

We revelled in seeing such talented actors up close and bringing character to Jeremy Sams’ ‘neat English version of the text’ (The Guardian), with additional modernisations from our very own Elaine Baines, and Janet Suzman sent shivers down our spines with her ‘sulphurous cackle’ (The Times).

Once the soldier’s soul had been sold and the devil had won, our all-star cast was greeted with the applause and cheer of a very happy audience, and there was nothing more to be done but to head to the Village Underground bar – and to pack the cushions away for another Season.

We’ll be back at Village Underground on Wednesday 22 November in the second concert of our autumn Modern Mystics series – an immersive Sonic Trilogy, conjuring up the past through music, light and amplification. Get closer…

Retrospective on CLoSer: The Devil’s Violin & Burns Night Ceilidh

Wilton’s Music Hall drips with history – and on 24 & 25 January, it was the setting for our Devil’s Violin concert with Burns Night Ceilidh. We danced with the Devil from the world of Scots fiddling to the Appalachian Mountains of the American South all in one of London’s most intimate venues.

The first half was City of London Sinfonia’s string section’s chance to show their prowess – under the incredible direction of CLS Leader Alexandra Wood.

City of London Sinfonia

 

Alex also took centre stage to perform solo in Locatelli’s ‘The Harmonic Labyrinth’ – a dastardly difficult suite that combined the power of the Orchestra with awesome feats of fingerwork in the solo violin part.

January 25, 2017_CLoSer_Wiltons_012.jpg

Then we were joined by Henry Webster on folk fiddle and Dan Walsh on banjo for tunes from the American South, including Bonaparte’s Retreat as heard in Copland’s Hoe Down from Rodeo. After hearing Henry and Dan’s own take on the famous tune, the whole orchestra joined in.

January 25, 2017_CLoSer_Wiltons_019.jpg

…and of course there was the completely unplanned encore – Charlie Daniel’s Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia, featuring baroque guitar (is that a world first for baroque guitar performing bluegrass?)

january-25-2017_closer_wiltons_025

A swift changeover (involving clearing over 200 chairs and 100 cushions away in less than half an hour!), Licence to Ceilidh took to the stage to lead a Burns Night Ceilidh.

 

At the end of the night all that was left was to sing Auld Land Syne – we hope you enjoyed the concert and that you will be able to join us on 5 April for the next CLoSer concert, The Soldier’s Tale.

January 25, 2017_CLoSer_Wiltons_056.jpg

All photographs (not tweets) credit James Berry.

 

Matthew Swann: What makes Christmas Christmas?

What is it about Christmas that makes us feel so… nostalgic? ‘Warm and fuzzy’? Simultaneously happy and tearful? Or, at the risk of using a much abused and misused, currently-in-vogue Danish word, ‘hygge’?

It’s difficult to define what that peculiarly Christmassy feeling is (and undoubtedly there have been many learned articles on the subject) but certainly music plays a huge role in it. The music we are used to playing and singing at Christmas invokes all sorts of folk, family and childhood memories and invokes all those difficult to define emotions and feelings.

For the CLS Christmas concert at St John’s Smith Square, ‘An English Folk Christmas by Candlelight’, we are unashamedly exploring these memories, via the incredible heritage of folk music that our classical composers have mined for inspiration.

And here I have an admission to make. While in my younger days, I claimed to loathe Christmas music and all the various trappings that came with it, and spend much of the rest of the year trying to create innovative performances that bring in new audiences… when it comes to Christmas I do like the traditional.

Not big, brash, shiny tinsel Christmas celebrations, but those very English tunes that the likes of Vaughan Williams used to such great effect in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols. There is something uniquely nostalgic and warm about their sound, especially when paired with a stunning venue and candlelight.

Matthew Swann – CLS Chief Executive

Join CLS and the Holst Singers for An English Folk Christmas at St John’s Smith Square on Tuesday 20 December, 7.30pm. Tickets at cls.co.uk.