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.
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.
Baritone Roderick Williams opened the second half by directing Singet dem Herrn, one of Bach’s most famous motets, from within the choir.
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.
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”.
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 genug, Singet 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.
10 October, The Octagon at QMUL
16 October, Queen Elizabeth Hall
20 October, Southwark Cathedral
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.
(Image: Kaupo Kikkas) Epiphoni Consort performs in Bach Remixed and B Minor Mass
(Image: Kaupo Kikkas) Epiphoni Consort pictured in Modern Mystics: The Fruit of Silence
On 8 May, we headed to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time since the Hall’s refurbishment and grand reopening in April. This was the first of many collaborations to come at the QEH and our debut working with Australian composer and violist Brett Dean.
As with many of our ‘seriously informal’ concerts, Hero Worship departed from the regular orchestral concert format, offering a narrative and images (not too dissimilar to that of a TED talk) to help us better understand Beethoven’s life and music. Cue entertaining Cambridge historian.
Sir Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, gave our audience insight into the historical, political and social contexts that influenced Beethoven and his compositions. Intertwined with musical canapes from his early symphonies and septets, the narrative spanned from his early years to the uncovering of the Heiligenstadt Testament following Beethoven’s death (listen to Brett Dean’s explanation in our podcast).
We’d had a taste of who Beethoven was before his Heiligenstadt trip and Napoleon’s betrayal, and now it was time to discover his reformed style in the ‘Eroica’: the Symphony that altered the course of music. With Brett Dean directing the Symphony from the viola and the majority of our musicians standing (thank goodness the violins relaxed in their break – pictured), ‘strong inner voices sprang to life, unfurling the symphony as a gigantic piece of chamber music’ (The Observer).
Despite having known each other for decades, Brett Dean and Sir Christopher Clark had never been on a stage together before. Their bows at the end of the performance showed what a joy it had been, and the simultaneous rapturous applause confirmed that it was a joy for everyone involved.
Breathtaking virtuosity from @CityLdnSinfonia under the masterly direction of #BrettDean tonight at the QEH. Phenomenal Beethoven 3 – so incredibly alive, with stunning ensemble and solos throughout. The new QEH’s acoustic is transformed too! Deeply special concert.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com which we can feature in one of our podcasts.
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.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a manic October, we’ve finally had a chance to catch our breath and bring you the highlights from the past month. In the last four weeks, we’ve completed the second leg of our Fauré Requiem Cathedrals tour, enjoyed some stunning orchestral jazz in our Hot Tunes/Cold War series, watched 1920s Soviet propaganda and traversed the Suffolk coast with our Lullaby concert tour. From Village Underground in Shoreditch, to Paddy’s Wigwam in Liverpool, our seemingly nomadic musicians have battled falling trees, gale-force winds and, er, really bad traffic jams.
Ok, so this was technically September, but the impressive Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre played host to Music from across the Iron Curtain, the first concert of our Hot Tunes/Cold War series.
Our Hot Tunes/Cold War series explored music influenced by the political events leading up to and during the Cold War, examining the development of jazz culture from the early 1920s and its effect on classical music against the backdrop of the turbulent political events of the mid-20th century.
Our Cathedrals tour began in Coventry’s epic Cathedral, with Stephen Layton conducting the Orchestra and the Cathedral choir.
The beautiful Guildford Cathedral was the location of the first of two Come and Sing events, which offered singers the opportunity to sing Tallis’ majestic Spem in Alium.
We returned to the ever-atmospheric Village Underground for the next installment of our CLoSer series: a screening of Kozintsev’s The New Babylon with the Orchestra providing the score.
Our musicians react in a measured and mature way to Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (the “Surprise” Symphony) during our Lullaby tour.
A former student of Lennox Berkeley and Nadia Boulanger, Nicholas Maw was one of the great British composers to emerge in the late 1950s/early 1960s. A contemporary of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle, he came to prominence with the premiere of his Scenes and Arias at the BBC Proms in 1962. He is famous for his attempts to reconnect with the Romantic tradition and its preoccupation with sweeping melodies, which he believed had been broken by the onset of Modernism. His repertoire includes orchestral, chamber, solo instrumental, choral and operatic works, and our concert on Sunday 30 October includes some of the biggest milestones of his career.
His sumptuous Violin Concerto, an expansive piece composed in a Brahmsian manner for a typical nineteenth century orchestra, jointly commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra of St Luke’s, New York, will be performed by international violin superstar Tasmin Little.
Sophie’s Choicewas Maw’s final opera, based on William Styron’s eponymous novel on the tragic subject of Auschwitz and a mother’s choice as to which of her two children to send to the gas chambers. The suite will receive its UK premiere at the concert and was drawn from the opera a year after its world premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2002. The Suite does not follow the sequence of the opera, but includes the sumptuous orchestral writing (one of the most highly praised facets of the opera).
The concert closes with two beautiful choral pieces, featuring the Holst Singers: One Foot in Eden Still, I Stand, based on a poem by Edwin Muir on the subject of mankind’s Fall in the Garden of Eden, and Hymnus, Maw’s sole work for mixed chorus and orchestra based on two early Christian texts.
Royal Academy of Music students Holst Singers Stephen Layton conductor Christopher Austin conductor* Tasmin Little violin
Violin Concerto* Sophie’s Choice Suite One Foot in Eden Still, I Stand Hymnus