London Sinfonietta Travels: Singapore

At the start of September a band of London Sinfonietta players traveled to Singapore for a four-concert residency at their International Festival of the Arts. In the wake of last year’s ambitious and much-acclaimed The Rest is Noise festival, we teamed up with Southbank Centre to take them a sweeping expedition through 20th century music. Principal Trombone Byron Fulcher fills us in on on the adventure.

Sunday 31 August

Heathrow Airport / flight to Singapore

We’re off! After some fairly intense rehearsals for this trip and a BBC Prom at Cadogan Hall, the London Sinfonietta is off to Singapore for a week. The context of the trip is now becoming apparent to me as we’ve met Gillian Moore in departures. Gillian is Head of Classical Music at Southbank Centre and a previous Artistic Director of the London Sinfonietta. She is also one of the leading lights behind The Rest is Noise festival that ran throughout 2013 at Southbank Centre.  We’re taking a manageable sized touring version of that festival to the other side of the world – what a fantastic idea – to trace the development of classical music through the 20th Century.

On the flight, I’m sat next to someone else who’s clearly with the group but who I’ve never met – Jonathan Cross. Jonathan is Professor of Musicology at Oxford University and it turns out that he, like Gillian, has listened to many concerts that I’ve played in with the London Sinfonietta and Philharmonia Orchestra. Jonanthan is with the Southbank Centre contingent to deliver the pre-concert talks for each of our events.

Monday 1 September

Arrival in Singapore

Straight to the hotel but only after a brief stop to deliver Enno’s double bass to the concert hall. The posters for the festival and our concerts are plastered everywhere.

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2 cripped

After a brief unpack it’s time to explore. There are some amazing buildings very close to our excellent hotel such as the Marina Bay Sands but also a lot of building work I thought. However it turns out that we’ve arrived just three weeks before the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. This is a street circuit night race and our hotel is one of the few that is right on the track. Preparations are well under way and I can’t help wishing the trip was three weeks later – that would be exciting!

Tuesday 2 September

First rehearsals

As well as playing our own repertoire, the London Sinfonietta players have been engaged to lead the sections of the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory Orchestra in a few pieces including Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 and James Macmillan’s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie.

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I last played the Macmillan in 1999 whilst trialing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It was a bit of a shock to open the part on the other side of the world and see my own hand-writing from 15 years ago!  At least no one had seen fit to rub it out in the meantime I suppose. It was also a bit of a surprise to see Don Kow on second trombone. I had given him a lesson in London in July but hadn’t made the connection that we were possibly going to meet in Singapore a few months later (I don’t look very far ahead). The low brass players that we’re working with from YST are excellent. They can all play their instruments and have obviously really learnt their parts thoroughly too – so no major concerns there.

Wednesday 3 September

First concert

It’s wonderful to play some of the great and important repertoire again – the pieces that the London Sinfonietta has collected and in some cases even commissioned. I’m just needed for Varese Octandre and Milhaud Creation of the World in this concert. Simon Haram (Principal Saxophone) has come all the way here just for the Milhaud but it’s a big feature and he sounds stunning.

The weather has definitely changed though. There’s a tropical storm arrived and everyone outside has dived for cover. These storms and high tides can be a feature of parts of Asia. Does this explain how that boat got stranded on top of the Marina Bay Sands?!

Thursday 4 September

More rehearsals

4A daunting-looking day on paper with three rehearsals but in the end it’s not bad at all. Mike Thompson (Principal Horn) and John Orford (Principal Bassoon) aren’t required in the morning but have been invited to have coffee at the British High Commission. The High Commissioner is the chap left to deal with various affairs in the former colonies. Singapore was part of the British Empire until 1942 when the Japanese invaded during World War 2. Due to it’s turbulent history, Singapore is certainly now a bustling metropolis with people from all sorts of cultures, enjoying a exotic mix of religious beliefs (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism and others).

The last rehearsal today is Terry Riley’s In C. This piece marks the beginnings of minimal music and has a very flexible orchestration. We’ve taken the opportunity to mix some Eastern and Western instruments.  After addressing some balance issues by adding a little amplification where needed, we crossed our fingers that the audience would get a nice blend of yuanqin, erhu and accordion with the tuned percussion pulses and variety of orchestral instruments.

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Friday 5 September

Teaching

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This is my day off from the London Sinfonietta but I’m teaching at a music school – a fairly informal trombone masterclass in the morning and some brass ensemble directing in the afternoon. It’s one thing to communicate by playing, listening and copying but the language difficulties were more apparent at lunch with the students, although many of them speak very good English as well as several Chinese dialects, Japanese, Korean and Malay. Thanks to (left-right) Bi Tao, Lim Qi Xuan, William Lee and Li Chunyang for taking part.

A quick stroll around the market after lunch was interesting too. In among the array of fruits and vegetables that I’d never heard of or seen before were some signs advertising fortune telling services. I’m a bit of a cynic myself but judging by the queues, this service is clearly in great demand.

Saturday 6 September

Concert(s) day

This is busiest day of the trip on paper with a long rehearsal and three-part concert entitled Post War Directions. The first part of the concert (Avant Garde) contains some very significant pieces including the Cage Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano and the wonderfully atmospheric Chamber Concerto by Ligeti. These are two must-hear pieces for sure and the Ligeti in particular was really transfixing.

Brass players are generally fairly social creatures and there’s often quite a lot of ‘meeting and greeting’ going on with touring. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra seemed to be keeping their heads down so far but the reason became apparent this evening: they had just returned from their own tour which included the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. American Jamie Hersch is their assistant principal horn player and he was extremely keen to meet (his hero) Mike Thompson, London Sinfonietta Principal Horn, who he had grown up listening to and being inspired by. Jamie is clearly a really enthusiastic guy who loved London and the amazing Proms audience, which it has be said is quite unique. He also teaches and clearly enthuses the hornists of YST who hail from many backgrounds. It was a fun evening chatting around the table with an American, some Russians, Chinese, Singaporeans and Brits – a true cultural exchange.

Sunday 7 September

Finale

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The last concert is entitled No More Rules and mainly features music by living composers (Tom Adès, Unsuk Chin, and James MacMillan) plus the beautiful Rain Coming by Tōru Takemitsu.  This is seriously hard music for all of us, but in addition to playing our own instruments some of us also double on percussion. It’s maracas, Chinese gongs, metal rattle and harmonica for me in the Chin. The MacMillan is the big ending to this concert and after playing the other pieces it feels like quite a blow. It’s a powerful piece describing the very detailed confession of a Scottish witch prior to her assumed execution. It’s thought that she confessed in order to achieve some leniency to the sentence, but failed. The trombone and tuba parts are very busy for us all but the section sounded pretty solid and confident I thought. No problems, hence the smiles at the end from (left – right) Don, me, Aldwyn and Lai.

Coda

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It was great to have some of the London Sinfonietta Emerging Artists with us on this trip: Joshua Batty (flute), Scott Lygate (clarinet) and Christian Barraclough (trumpet). Needless to say, they all played impeccably. Christian’s development, in particular, has indeed reached the final stages with only the finishing touches left – here he is working on the sommelier technique!

Caption Competition

What’s up with Principal Viola Paul ‘Harry’ Silverthorne? Maybe he’s suffering from a little latent jet-lag, or is this the moment he remembered that just a week earlier, he had got Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ name wrong?

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THIS IS IAN DEARDEN

Discover the people behind the music in our quick-fire Q&As.

This month, Ian Dearden takes on our questions in the lead up to the London Sinfonietta’s performance of An Index of Metals by Fausto Romitelli on Wednesday 8 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Together with David Sheppard, Ian forms part of Sound Intermedia – dedicated to realising visionary new art works through live performance and cutting-edge technology. Find out more about Sound Intermedia here and book tickets for An Index of Metals here.

THIS IS IAN DEARDEN

Ian Dearden

What do you regard as your greatest musical achievement?

Realising I was not a composer and stopping.

What is your greatest fear?

Working at height.

How many instruments can you play and which is your favourite?

I don’t play any more.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?

Latest edition of Private Eye, TV remote, iPad, wine glass stains.

What was the first recording you ever bought?

Halle Orchestra/James Loughran – The Planets by Holst.

What’s the most unusual instrumental set up you’ve ever worked with?

A string quartet in helicopters flying over Birmingham.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?

National Park Warden

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

Electro acoustic composer Denis Smalley.

Tell us your best musical joke.

Why did the orchestra have such bad manners?

It didn’t know how to conduct itself.

Listening Club: Romitelli – An Index of Metals

We kick off this season’s Listening Club by delving into Fausto Romitelli‘s enthralling An Index of Metals. Read on as composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Philip Cashian, explores this extraordinary work ahead of our performance on Wednesday 8 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Find out more and book tickets here.


Fausto Romitelli (1963 – 2004)
An Index of Metals
(2003) 

Paolo Pachini video art
Leonardo Romoli video art
Kenka Lèkovich text

“At the centre of my composing lies the idea of considering sound as a material into which one plunges in order to forge its physical and perceptive characteristics”

Fausto Romitelli’s extraordinary An Index of Metals is a vast psychedelic soundscape that loops and swirls, stutters, accumulates, connects and juxtaposes layers and blocks of sound in a brilliantly unpredictable, but at the same time beautifully controlled way. He described the piece as a ‘desire to create a total perceptive experience’ which he undoubtably achieves.

Listening to the piece through headphones is an absorbing aural adventure with the music constantly twisting and turning in completely  unexpected ways as he combines acoustic instruments with electric guitar, electronics and the female voice. Live, with the extra layers of video and projections (on three screens) I imagine the whole experience will be a real treat in the concert hall!  It’s rare to find a piece that can truly combine electric guitar (as used in rock music) with acoustic instruments without falling into clichés, in fact all the music, to my ears, sounds fresh and unpredictable and is unreliant on gestures or ‘common sounds’ we’ve heard before.

The 50 minute piece is divided into 12 continuous sections which until No.10 (Hellucinations) alternate between sections with female vocals and shorter intermezzi. The first and last sections cleverly frame the entire work quite literally switching the piece on and off : No.1 (Introduzione) is a loop, like a record that can’t quite get going, and No.12 (Cadenza) is a slow sustain ( briefly referencing the opening as it starts) that gradually accumulates before suddenly being switched off.

Sections 3, 5 and 7 feature the female voice and are all titled Drowningirl. The music in all these sections is slowly descending, dragging the voice down. In No. 3 from 4’02” listen out for trilling waves of sound slowly slipping downwards.

In No.5 at 1’35”, 2′ 35″ and 4′ 47″ there is a recurring gesture that glissandos downwards acting as a kind of refrain in the movement.

In No.7 at 5′ 08″ you can hear descending patterns in treated acoustic instrumentals that fall into the  electric guitar at 5′ 59″.

No. 10 (Risingirl) is the most engaging movement vocally and feels like a point of ‘arrival’ in the piece, almost operatic in places. My favourite  moments are the busy flute and voice at 2′ 30″, the two note figure with feedback at 4′ 33″ and the effect of the voice suddenly being  heard as if on the radio or distantly at 5′ 06″.

Speaking as a composer,  some of the subtle links between sections really impress me and are worth listening out for. Like No.4 (Secondo Intermezzo) which begins with little popping sounds moving between left and right over the electric guitar and slowly changing in timbre and moving into the foreground. By the opening of No.5 they’ve transformed into a heart beat.

Further Listening

Karlheinz Stockhausen Aries

Rubens Askenar Testo Junkie

Sigur Rós Takk

Gérard Grisey Talea

Radiohead Kid A

Aphex Twin Tha


© Philip Cashian

www.philipcashian.com

Meet Jonathan Berman

This afternoon Jonathan Berman conducts a BBC Proms Plus Portrait to celebrate Sir Peter Maxwell’s Davies’ 80th birthday. A selection of his chamber works will be played by alumni from our London Sinfonietta Academy, interspersed by conversation between Sir Peter and Andrew McGregor.

The concert starts at 5.45pm in the Royal College of Music, tickets are free and available on the door. If you can’t make it, the event will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 10.15pm tonight.

We spoke to Jonathan about what to expect, and asked what he’s currently listening to…


This afternoon we are going to hear three pieces by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one for solo viola and two for small ensemble interspersed with a conversation with the composer himself. Antechrist is a short six-minute overture which was written for the opening concert of the Pierrot Ensemble in 1967.  The idea of an ‘Antichrist’ reoccurs in Maxwell Davies’ music, from The Lighthouse where the antichrist figure manifest itself as the ‘beast’ which destroys the lighthouse keepers from the inside out to the actual resurrection of the Antichrist at the end of the ballet Vesalii Icones.

Antechrist begins with a 13th century motet, accompanied by handbells, drums and tambourine which even though it is stretched over nearly three octaves is easily recognisable and plays the role of the ‘Christ’ figure. The following section distorts this religious medieval motet (although the pitches are very closely related), even making a joke of the motet using grotesque violin glissandi, hence playing the role of the ‘Antichrist’. These two characters alternate until they play together in a climactic final rendition of the motet with the ‘Antichrist’ section superimposed on top of the motet.

The second piece Runes From a Holy Island is a set of five short pieces giving little snapshots of the Island of Hoy, where Maxwell Davies lives. They are a set of miniature seascapes describing specific places around the island, which he conjures up through the use of hidden (and some less-hidden) compositional ‘crossword puzzles’.

JONATHAN’S PLAYLIST

Fantasia and Two Pavanes by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 

Preparing for this concert I have been listening to a lot of Maxwell Davies and I have been so struck by both the volume and the variety of his work. In my searching I have come across these pieces, which have, among other things, made me laugh a great deal!

Maxwell Davies’ arrangement of Purcell’s Fantasia and Two Pavanes is wonderfully humorous, including an organ with a stop that doesn’t work, and the two pavanes are presented as foxtrots played on a record player where the player slows down and speeds up in places and other hidden surprises…

Click here to hear a clip.

Recently I have had a, possibly unhealthy, addiction to Italian music. Here are some choice hits that I’ve become particularly fond of:

Ave Corpus Sanctum by Marchetto da Padova
This is really early music – but I’m very fond of the weird turns it makes.

La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina by Francesca Caccini
This is a very nice opera all about gender equality in 1625.

Ah si ben mio by Verdi, sung by Fernado de Lucia
This is just a beautiful recording from 1917. I love the rhythmic freedom and sensitivity to the drama of the music. Also amusing to hear the tuba doubling on the bass line!

Inverno in-ver by Castiglioni
I was introduced to Castiglioni some years back and have become a great fan of his music and I wish it was played much more. Again I find such humour and delicacy in this piece which, as it was once describe to me, is ‘like Vivaldi and Respighi up a few octaves’!

Satyricon by Maderna
It seems that quite a bit of what I have been listening to recently has been humorous music – which isn’t always the case – but to round that off here is a chamber opera by Bruno Maderna. Written in the 1970s, this is a section of scenes that can be performed in whatever order the performer wants, each with its own musical style and language. (Make sure you get to 3.55 for the first little surprise.)

And finally a couple from Spotify:

Moro, Lasso, al mio duolo by Gesualdo

No look into Italian music could ever be complete without some Gesualdo. This is one of his later motets from Book Six which from the very first bar inhabits a world different to anything of the time (or even after).

Concerto no 2 by Paganini, played by Ivry Gitlis
Paganini has a slightly bad name, mainly from the caprices that are often too difficult and so are played badly! However he is, for me, the very best bits of Italian belcanto opera distilled into solo violin pieces with the most wonderful characters participating in the drama. Here Gitlis plays so endearingly and flirtatiously in this canzonetta – one can even see it on stage, being sung underneath the window of the leading lady with guitar accompaniment!

Through the Lens: Exhibition round-up

We can’t believe it’s been over a week since our Through the Lens exhibition! Here are some snaps of the event taken by photographer Hildegard Titus. Don’t forget, you can check out our gallery featuring the photos selected for the final exhibition here and you can take a look at the full selection of this season’s photographs here.

Through the Lens: Exhibition

On Friday 18 July, we celebrated our season-long collaboration with photojournalism students from the London College of Communication in our Through the Lens exhibition. The four photographers worked with their mentor, professional photographer Briony Campbell, to each select five images for the exhibition. Here’s the final cut:

Abdi Ibrahim

Maja Smiejkowska

Hildegard Titus

Claudia Vye

Jon Farey’s London Sinfonietta Academy diary – Day 7

Jon Farey reflects on his last day at this year’s London Sinfonietta Academy… We’re going to miss our daily dose of Academy news! A big thank you to Jon for all his work on the blog this week.


Concert day with the London Sinfonietta Academy 2014! It’s been such a week, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in seven days. At 10am, all bleary eyed, we ran the concert programme and made a final few tweaks. We were at a point where we knew the music and it was just a case of bringing out the final few colours that we wanted. Another early lunch, on the walk to finding my concert fuel I passed, once more, the children’s book illustrations that are advertising the House of Illustrations’ Quentin Blake ‘Inside Stories’ exhibition, that details the artist’s illustrations for authors that include Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen. My favourite is this cheeky chappy by Anthony Browne:

After lunch it was concert time. Pierre-André had asked us to keep the focus when moving from piece to piece – since we were playing six very contrasting pieces it was crucial to ensure that we were clinical in focusing and locking in for each piece. After my pre-concert banana and coconut water ritual, I read through my music and clarified to myself my intentions in each piece and before I knew it, it was concert time.

The stage, pre-concert:

On the whole I was really happy with how the concert went – a couple of slips, but nothing that detracted from our musical intention. Pierre-André’s face as we finished the final piece in the programme, Xenakis’ Jalons, was a picture – if I had been able to take a picture it would have told you all that you needed to know. The biggest grin I had seen all week; he looked happy, relieved and satisfied. Needless to say that I share these feelings, it has been an incredible week that couldn’t have gone smoother – we have worked hard and reaped the benefits in playing an incredibly fun and satisfying concert. A huge thank you to all at the London Sinfonietta, including Pierre-André, the principal players, Tina Speed, Shoubhik and the team – thank you all for such an inspiring week and for giving me the chance to write about it in this blog!

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