Tag Archives: St John’s Smith Square

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.

December 02, 2017_ProtectingVeil_046
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.

Matthew Barley FB
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.

Our next London Season launches

Our next London season is fast approaching and we’ve got a jammed packed programme which sees the return of favourites CLoSer and Crash Bang Wallop!, alongside our Hot Tunes Cold War concert series beginning in September as well performances of perennial favourites: Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. As always we’ve got a fantastic array of guest artists lined up too including: jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock, baritone Roderick Williams, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle.

Find out where you can see us and what’s on in our new online brochure:

online London Season brochure
online London Season brochure

RETROSPECT: November in Pictures

Remember, remember CLS in November. As we get closer to ‘the most wonderful time of year’, we felt it high time we had a photographic reflection on what City of London Sinfonia has been up to this past month. Highlights this November included a trip up North for a performance at Hull City Hall, returned to St John’s Smith Square for a performance featuring John Adams The Wound Dresser and Mozart’s Requiem and made our debut at London Jazz Festival with the brilliant Gwilym Simcock! As usual, the City of London Sinfonia team have been taking snaps throughout the month; here’s a selection of the best…

Under the Sea

Crash Bang Wallop! returned in November with all things nautical

November 2012 Michael Collins Hull credit Becca

Michael Collins rehearses with the Orchestra for their performance at Hull City Hall

November 2012 Wound Dresser Reh credit Becca

Rehearsing for the Wound Dresser with Roderick Williams and Stephen Layton

November 2012 Gwilym at St James Picc credit Becca

City of London Sinfonia show off their jazz chops with Gwilym Simcock at London Jazz Festival…

Gwilym Simcock recording NOV12 credit Becca Newman

Gwilym Simcock recording credit Becca Newman

And in the recording studio!

L'chaim November credit Gillian Hunter

We visited a number of Jewish Care Homes as part of our Meet the Music L’chaim project

November 2012 Westminster central hall credit Becca

Then rounded the month off with a trip to Broadway for a performance with Ruthie Henshall and Elaine Paige for the Princes Trust.

Images: Becca Newman, Gillian Hunter & Paul Coghlin

Mozart Diary: December 1791/Conclusion

 Our concluding post documents Mozart’s final days. And speaking of final days, if you haven’t already booked your tickets for our performance of Mozart’s Requiem this Wednesday 14 November then, like our friend Mozart, you are running out of time! Scroll down for details of how to book…

I don’t think I can last for much longer and I am told I have only a matter of weeks to live. The swelling in my hands and feet has resulted in an almost total inability to move and it is a struggle for me to put pen to paper. My sleep is interrupted by intense bouts of nausea and my family have traveled to be at my side.

I already have the taste of death on my tongue. How bitterly I regret leaving my wife and children without being properly provided for. Why do I have to go now? Now, when I am no longer a slave to fashion or a slave to speculators and when I can compose freely whatever my heart dictates. I have so much music left to compose and so many ideas still to realise.

Mozart died on 5 December 1791 at the age of 35. He was buried the next day at a ceremony attended by his family friends in a pauper’s grave, due to his family’s volatile financial situation, and even today it has proved impossible to establish Mozart’s final resting place with any degree of certainty.

Despite his early death, Mozart’s composition continued to be celebrated in concert halls and performances across the world and he has long been hailed as one of the greatest classical composers ever to have lived. Naturally, the sudden death of one our best-loved composers has exercised minds and pens for nearly two centuries. Although there is no way of knowing the whole truth, historians have managed to clear up some of the stranger parts of the story…

So what really happened?

There have been many theories to explain Mozart’s death with Schaffer’s play, Amadeus, going as far to suggest that Mozart was poisoned by rival composer Salieri! Below we explain two of the popular Requiem mysteries:

The Grey Messenger
It has been widely suggested that this messenger was a servant of Count Franz von Walsegg. The Count’s wife had died earlier that year and he commissioned the Requiem in her memory. Count Walsegg also fancied himself as a musician and had the unfortunate habit of passing other composer’s work off as his own! This is probably why the Requiem was commissioned anonymously – the Count didn’t want Mozart to know he was stealing his ideas…

Rumors of poisoning
Despite showing symptoms of poisoning (swelling limbs, accelerated fever etc.), modern historians tend to agree that Mozart died of natural causes, probably due to rheumatic fever. Over the past centuries, poison suspects have included the Freemasons, the husband of Mozart’s alleged mistress and poor old Salieri… Mozart’s assumption that he had been poisoned could be down to the fact that he was ill and perhaps a little delirious; his quirky and melodramatic personality has been well documented.

There is no evidence or suspicion of foul play in any of the documents that were recorded at Mozart’s death. Just goes to show… everyone loves a juicy rumor!

We hope you have enjoyed our four installments of the Mozart Diaries and if you’ve missed anything, please feel free to go back and have a read.

Mozart Requiem
Wednesday 14 November, 7.30pm
St John’s Smith Square

Tickets from £15
Box Office: 020 7222 1061 /sjss.org.uk

Mozart Diary: September 1791

Here’s the second installment of our weekly Mozart Diary. Ahead of our performance of Mozart’s Requiem on 14 November at St John’s Smith Square, we are examining the mystery and intrigue behind this most popular piece. This week Mozart’s been feeling a little under the weather…

I have this moment returned from the Opera, which was as full as ever. My newest opera, Die Zauberflöte is proving to be a great success and has lifted my spirits after a restless summer. My friends and relatives have been most complimentary of my recent work and I am pleased see the opera receive such acclaim. September has been a productive month and I am nearing completion of my Clarinet Concerto, yet I am frequently weakened by the most crippling bouts of illness.

And now to my Requiem; this is going to be a brilliant composition, perhaps even the best of my career, and I have already made good progress with my sketches for the Dies Irae and Kyrie. However, my diminishing health prevents me from completing any drafts and I have fainted multiple times whilst working. No matter how ridiculous I appear, I am convinced that my ill health is linked to this mysterious commission. If, in the first place, I was haunted by the image of the Grey Hooded Messenger, now I am haunted and cursed by my own Requiem!

Constanze has little sympathy and believes that I am making myself ill with my own fanciful delusions. How could a Requiem be the cause of my ailments? She is convinced that I am the victim of a fever, which has recently struck down some of our friends and relatives, but I cannot agree! I have been commissioned to write a Mass for the Dead and the more I write, the closer I feel to death.

If I dare say it, I feel as though this anonymous commission to write a Requiem for the dead comes as a warning of my own impending death.

Mozart Requiem
Wednesday 14 November, 7.30pm
St John’s Smith Square

Tickets from £15
Box Office: 020 7222 1061 /sjss.org.uk

Mozart Diary: Summer 1791

Ahead of our performance of Mozart’s Requiem on 14 November at St John’s Smith Square, we’ll be looking at the mystery and intrigue behind this most popular piece, left unfinished when Mozart died, in our weekly Mozart Diary.

Summer 1791

I have received the most mysterious commission, brought to me by a stranger who would not give me his name. This anonymous messenger, dressed in a hooded, grey robe, called at my quarters (where I had been muddling over some particularly tricky orchestrations for Die Zauberflöte) and demanded that I compose a Requiem for an individual whom he refused to reveal. Handing over 30 ducats, half the total commission, with the balance to be given upon completion, the man vanished. I am not to know or enquire about the individual who has commissioned this Requiem from me.

And the situation became stranger still; on our recent trip to Prague I saw the saw the sinister figure again! Constanze, Süssmayr and I were about to board our coach when suddenly, as if from nowhere, the grey messenger appeared and tugged at my wife’s coat, demanding for an update on the progress of the Requiem. I, of course, updated the man who once again, refused to impart any information about the commission. Who is this mysterious grey messenger?

I am haunted. I cannot sleep, nor eat, and the grey messenger appears in my every thought, mocking me with his cold, staring eyes. Such strange feelings have come over me and as I continue to work by day and night, I feel increasingly sure that this commission has come to me from the supernatural. This is going to be a great work, I know it, yet I can’t help but feel a little anxious every time I put my quill to manuscript…

Mozart Requiem
Wednesday 14 November, 7.30pm
St John’s Smith Square

Tickets from £15
Box Office: 020 7222 1061 /sjss.org.uk

New Online Brochure

Our new London concerts brochure which lists all City of London Sinfonia concerts from September 2012 to February 2013 is now ready.

Highlights for the next sixth months include a return to Village Underground in Shoreditch for a second CLoSer series, a programme of Stravinsky and John Adams with our Principal Conductor Michael Collins taking centre stage at Cadogan Hall, and a reunion with Polyphony for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at St John’s Smith Square, conducted by our Artistic Director Stephen Layton.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming concerts!

Concert Focus – Geoffrey Burgon

On 21 July we’re celebrating the life and work of the late Geoffrey Burgon with performances of a selection of his film and television music, as well as two of his concertos. Burgon is famous for the accessibility of his music, rebelling against avant-garde orthodoxies which controlled commissions and performance at the beginning of his career. He produced over 200 compositions during his lifetime, and is considered as one of the gems of English contemporary music.


Born in 1941 Burgon went to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama originally to train as a jazz trumpeter. However, composition took over as his major interest and he found success writing ballet scores for Ballet Rambert and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was his incredibly popular Requiem that established Burgon as a serious composer, and his reputation was sealed. Much of his fame developed from his wonderful scores for film and television, including  Brideshead Revisited in 1981, which led to many offers from Hollywood. He is also known for his music for Doctor Who in the 1970s, Bleak House (1985), the Chronicles of Narnia (1988-90), Robin Hood (1991), and The Forsyte Saga (2002-03).




It would be wrong to pigeon hole Burgon in the film/television composer bracket. His Viola Concerto, know as Ghosts of the Dance was commissioned by concert soloist Philip Dukes, and was influenced by 1930s American dance music and the effects of the Depression. In his Cello Concerto, a piece which explores the relationship between soloist and orchestra in a novel way, Burgon began to see the soloist as a figure in Film Noir, pursued by dark forces but prevailing and eventually escaping to a dreamlike ‘Hollywood Heaven’ world.


For a flavour of some of the music we’ll be performing at the concert listen to our Spotify playlist.

Thursday 21 July, 7.30pm

St John’s, Smith Square

Tickets: £34.50, £28, £18


Viola Concerto
Cello Concerto
Extracts from TV and Film scores


The event will be presented by Monty Python’s Terry Jones.