This is Laurence Crane

Laurence Crane takes on our quickfire questions ahead of Saturday 10 October, when we premiere his London Sinfonietta commission Chamber Symphony No.2 ‘The Australian’.

© Katalin Farkas

© Katalin Farkas

What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?

I’m not sure…I’m very cautious about publicly highlighting a single work as my best. Perhaps I could say that my greatest achievement is to be still composing 40 years after I started? Although I suspect that some people would not regard that as an achievement.

What do you fear?

Too many things! To single one out would be to tempt fate.

Which piece of music has had the biggest effect on you as a composer?

Again there are many, from many different genres and types of music. I am going to restrict myself to what is broadly termed ‘contemporary classical’ and acknowledge my debt to Howard Skempton and, particularly, his early piano music. I’ll pick out his Piano Piece 1969. I would also like to mention the Swiss composer Juerg Frey’s Second String Quartet, a completely extraordinary work.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?

In April 1991 I was the singer in a band that performed at 7am in a large marquee, which had been erected in the middle of Marble Arch in London for an event marking the start of a London to Paris vintage car rally. Our set was made up entirely of songs with the word ‘morning’ in the title. Joanna Lumley was there.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?

September issue of Cycle Sport magazine…on the cover ‘How Froome won the Tour’.

What was the first recording you ever bought?

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie, vinyl LP purchased from W H Smith’s in Oxford in the summer of 1974.

Describe your compositional style in three words.

Sculpted. Frugal. Stubborn.

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

A warden on a bird reserve.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

My family.

Tell us your best musical joke.



© Barbara Monk-Feldman

Our latest (Un)easy Listening post uncovers the music of Morton Feldman, ahead of our in-the-round performance at St John’s Smith Square on Saturday 10 October. Philip Cashian, composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, reveals some of the devices and techniques Feldman uses in this inspirational music.

Morton Feldman For Samuel Beckett
composed in 1987 l for 23 players l duration c. 55 mins


Iconic American composer Morton Feldman was 61 when he wrote For Samuel Beckett. It was the last piece he wrote and was commissioned by the Holland Festival for the Schoenberg Ensemble.

Feldman was a close friend of fellow New Yorker John Cage and in the 1950s and 60s, under his influence and that of visual artists such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston, experimented with graphic notation to write music that avoided the conventions of Western classical music.

In 1970 he wrote Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety, a beautiful, hypnotic elegy for his childhood piano teacher. This short chamber piece marked a shift to more conventionally notated, and therefore precise, music. In this later period Feldman was fascinated with creating very slow, moving harmonic worlds that explore musical resonance, space and repetition with an incredibly concise and unique attention to orchestration. He also started to write extremely long works, in order to lift the audience out of conventional expectations when listening to a piece of music: his String Quartet No.2 (1979) is 100 minutes long and For Philip Guston (1984) is four hours long.

For me Feldman’s music sounds like nothing else, in the way it physically inhabits a musical space like a three dimensional object. It constantly sounds just out of reach, ungraspable and blurred but in the most exquisite way.

For Samuel Beckett is harmonically very static as it obsessively re-presents the same musical idea, but what is so fascinating is that it’s constantly shifting and moving, like a musical carousel. Different groups of instruments have different roles and co-exist, mirroring and echoing each other. The wind and brass have constantly overlapping chords, which shift and change in relation to each other. Harp, piano and vibraphone have constantly pulsing bell-like figures and the strings (mostly playing harmonics) briefly capture chords to create a resonance.

The only dynamic marking is ‘ppp’. Feldman liked quiet dynamics. He once said:

“…when it’s loud, you can’t hear the sound. You hear its attack. Then you don’t hear the sound, only in its decay”.


Concentrated listening is required to fully appreciate a piece of Feldman as it washes over you and I think it’s important to climb aboard as soon as the piece starts, to really notice the subtle changes. This recording comes in two parts, here are a few things to listen out for in the musical landscape:

  • High Ab and Bb (a seventh lower) passing between clarinet, oboe and flute in the opening 1:00.

  • Brass chords echoed in the strings and woodwind: 1:16 – 1:59.

  • Ab/Bb ostinato in the piano, vibraphone and harp from 0:58 all the way to 13:36.

  • At times the music freezes and loops around: 5:19 – 6:07 (listen out for the high G note in the flute at 5:31) and 6:48 – 7:40 (with the high flute note again).

  • The entry of the tuba at 1:14 with a low D at the bottom of a brass chord is the lowest note so far in the piece. When it moves in other places it has a huge effect on the harmony: a tone up to E at 11:47, down to C at 12:49 and to a low B at track 2, 2:15.

  • At 14:10 the music briefly coalesces then at 14:25 focuses on a gently pulsing piano and vibraphone chord.<

  • Two oboes and string harmonics are briefly exposed at 16:03 – 16:10, two flutes at 15:56, trumpets at 18:03 – 18:21 then a chord consisting of only string harmonics at track 2, 0:00 – 0:13.

  • Track 2, 21:01 this is an extremely important moment because it marks the beginning of the end, as a harp harmonic is left on it’s own to resonate. Moments of silence (with resonance) get more frequent from here on, until the piece ends.


At this point in the blog I’d normally include a list of composers influenced by Feldman. But on this occasion it’s impossible: almost every composer I’ve ever spoken to admires and is influenced by his music.


Morton Feldman wrote many pieces of music inspired by the avant-garde novelist, playwright and poet Samuel Beckett. On Saturday 10 October, the soaring 300-year-old arches of St John’s Smith Square will be backdrop to the London Sinfonietta’s performance of his intimate 1987 portrait For Samuel Beckett, a piece much admired and rarely performed. For more information or to book tickets head to

Below Art Lange explores the intricate connections between Beckett’s writing and Feldman’s music:

Feldman and Beckett

Morton Feldman © Barbara Monk-Feldman / Samuel Beckett © Jane Bown / The Observer

“The quality of language is more important than any system of ethics or esthetics… Form is the coalescence of content, the revelation of a world.”

Substitute ‘music’ for ‘language’, and one might think that this is a quote from Morton Feldman, but it’s Samuel Beckett, from an early essay on the prose of Marcel Proust. To his mind, ‘form’ – the revelation of a (note, not our) world – is the most pressing and personal question any of us must face, and it’s one of the constants in Beckett’s writing; that is, the difficulty (yet necessity) of forming a life out of the conditions we find ourselves in. It’s not a matter of acceptance, but self-awareness. Ultimately, confirmation arrives through the arduous task of coming to an agreement with existence, when it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what is not.

To do so, Beckett created a series of situations in which characters were dispossessed, disenfranchised, powerless, bearing the burden of pain, alienation or incomprehension. The degree to which this was a response to specific incidences of his own metaphysical dilemma is open to interpretation. But it’s true that, whatever his motivation or state of mind, he chose to create Art to counteract the Void. This, along with his outsider status and his willingness to embrace ambiguity in the face of fascism and chaos, could be why Feldman felt an affinity to him, and so titled this music.

Beckett’s Art, like all great Art regardless of rhetoric, is a confrontation with existence, perception and understanding. In rejecting everything artificial he divorced his characters from our devices of Time, for example, and other comfortable aspects of realism such as convention, recognisable images or common behaviour. His work sought to be “neither life nor art, but something in between” (as Feldman once wrote of Robert Rauschenberg). In Beckett’s own words, he wanted it to be both “perfectly intelligible” and “perfectly inexplicable” at the same time. This required both unorthodox structures, unfamiliar events, passages of unusual (bordering on incoherent) insight, and a persistence of activity for the survival of an identity.

And so it is with Feldman. For Samuel Beckett is one of his later works, rich in detail and lush in sound but troubling, obsessed, claustrophobic in spite of its scope. Given their shared attraction to shadow (Feldman’s music uses chiaroscuro in the same way Beckett meticulously exploited light, dark and all those moods in between on stage and on the page), it’s perhaps surprising that Feldman didn’t opt to involve the stark textures of solo piano – an individual surrounded by… nothing. In any case, this is not dazzling, but muted, orchestration for 23 players; instrumental timbres and tonal colours emerge as if by chance and quickly disappear.

In the beginning, there is no warning. We are just in the music, a self-contained environment (whether real or a state of mine we don’t yet know). It forces us to find our position within what seems to be an eternal present. The sounds proceed with a deceptive monotony – deceptive in their simplicity and lack of development, since what is seductive might eventually become oppressive. The repetition seems a Beckett-like punishment, but shouldn’t be heard literally, as the details differ even as the effect remains the same.

With no beginning, middle or end, no goals, no obvious intent, it could be one of Beckett’s static dramas; since continuity, unasked for, is inevitable, there’s no need to invent anything. Everything simply is; and continues to be. Our role has to do with the nature of perception: we experience a music that seems not to change, but is constantly changing; we don’t know what it means, but it is insistent in its message. Though the Art of Feldman and Beckett incorporates aspects of silence, in its ultimate condition silence equals Death. What comes after doesn’t matter. The music continues, until it stops.

© Art Lange, 1992. Reprinted with the kind permission of Universal Edition.


The soaring 300-year-old arches of St John’s Smith Square are backdrop to our 2015/16 season opener on Saturday 10 October, featuring Morton Feldman’s For Samuel Beckett, much admired and rarely performed.

Feldman’s music paints an intimate portrait of the iconic novelist, playwright and poet. As Art Lange describes:

“Beckett created a series of situations in which characters were dispossessed, disenfranchised, powerless, bearing the burden of pain, alienation or incomprehension. The degree to which this was a response to specific incidences of his own metaphysical dilemma is open to interpretation. But it’s true that, whatever his motivation or state of mind, he chose to create Art to counteract the Void. This, along with his outsider status and his willingness to embrace ambiguity in the face of fascism and chaos, could be why Feldman felt an affinity to him, and so titled this music.”

We decided to put the internet to good use, and look back through history at other composers who have created portraits with their music:

Chuck Close

Chuck Close Self-Portrait (Yellow Raincoat) 2013 Photo credit Donald Farnswoth, Magnolia Editions and David Adamson, Adamson Editions

Philip Glass A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close

“Composed as a diptych in two harmonically related but distinctly different movements, this work is a spiritual reflection of Chuck Close, and a tribute to the friendship between two of the most influential artists of their generation. Close and Glass first became friends in the late 1960s when both worked as assistants to the sculptor Richard Serra. Close was then taking photographs and painting images of his friends. He specifically did not want to paint ‘famous’ people although many of his subjects, including Glass, Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Alex Katz and Robert Rauschenberg, did ironically become famous in their own right. Close called his portraits ‘heads’ to emphasize they were exercises in ‘form not biography’. Unlike traditional portraits, they gave every aspect of an image equal value and importance.” Source

Fryderyk Chopin D flat Waltz

“Chopin used to amuse gatherings of his friends by improvising musical portraits of them, but there is only one recorded instance of a finished composition springing from these spontaneous creations. Curiously, the subject is not a human but one of George Sand’s dogs, which chases its tail in the famous D flat Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1).” Source

Francis Poulenc Les soirées de Nazelles

“Poulenc would often stay at a friend’s country house in the town of Nazelles, near Tours. It was here that he played aux portraits (charades) around the piano. Like Chopin before him, he would capture each of the guests in an improvisation and a guessing game would follow to identify who was being depicted. He later published eight of the portraits as a cycle, Les soirées de Nazelles. They are framed by a Preambule and Final, which was later identified by the composer as a self-portrait.” Source

Edward Elgar Enigma Variationsvze36b0fd40ef04ae8b660ab6944e69fe9“This work, commenced in a spirit of humour and continued in deep seriousness, contains sketches of Elgar’s friends. It may be understood that these personages comment or reflect on the original theme and each one attempts a solution of the ‘enigma’ theme. The sketches are not ‘portraits’ but each variation contains a distinct idea founded on some particular personality or perhaps on some incident known only to two people.” Elgar’s programme note for a performance of the Variations in Turin, October 1911

Claude Debussy Hommage à S. Pickwick

“The ninth prelude of Debussy’s second book of preludes takes as its source of inspiration the lovable and kind-hearted protagonist of Charles Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers (published in 1836), Samuel Pickwick. It begins in a purported serious tone with the first strain of God Save the Queen given in thunderous tones in the lowest register of the piano and accompanied by full-voiced chords above it. This grave rendition of the English national anthem, however, is soon dropped as the tempo quickens and the music begins to reflect the comic nature of Pickwick’s adventures. A lively dotted-rhythm becomes the principal motif of the prelude accompanied at periodic intervals by a rising scale figure that sounds something like a whistle. Just as in Dickens’s novel, moments of grandeur and even sentimentality appear in Debussy’s prelude, yet in their proper place as part of the overall comedy.” Joseph DuBose

For more information about our season opener Feldman: For Samuel Beckett or to book tickets click here.


Tomorrow marks the beginning of London Sinfonietta’s 2015/16 season. We asked players, composers, supporters, staff and friends to tell us which event they’re most looking to and why. To browse all our of upcoming concerts, visit

feldman strip

London Sinfonietta board member Régis Cochefert:
Feldman: For Samuel Beckett, Saturday 10 October 2015, St John’s Smith Square

This concert interests me because of the opportunity of hearing new works. There is something really addictive about listening to new music, both when I am trying to let it carry me and be analytical about what I like or dislike about it. When the magic works, the discovery and the enjoyment add up to more than the sum of their parts.

The other reason I am drawn to this concert is the opportunity to hear a piece by Morton Feldman I don’t know. Thomas Adès introduced me to him when he was Artistic Director at Aldeburgh Festival and I have not looked back since!

Stockhausen & Boulez

Sean Watson, Administration and Recordings Officer:
Stockhausen & Boulez, Saturday 5 December 2015, Royal Festival Hall

I’m really looking forward to the Stockhausen & Boulez concert. The music explores the tense relationship between musical themes as well as political or narrative ones.

At a time when union within the UK and Europe is increasingly fragile Stockhausen’s seminal Hymnen explores fractious, fluid and contradictory ideas which are never more relevant to us than today. Powerfully alienating concrete sounds spliced with songs of togetherness and otherness; Hymnen can make us feel and reflect on the complexity and subtlety of our own nationalistic inclinations. I think it does a far better job than the thousands of column inches newspapers dedicate to these topics every day.

journey strip

Composer Deborah Pritchard:
The Journey Between Us, Thursday 11 & Friday 12 February 2016, Southwark Playhouse

The Journey Between Us at Southwark Playhouse engages with the resonance between words and music in a captivating and original way. Curated and conceived by composer Samantha Fernando, five short stories about the human condition are illuminated by four movements of her music. Her unique voice is deeply expressive, displaying a beautiful palette of colours and timbres with a powerful sense of shape. I can’t wait for this event.

van der aa strip

Marketing Assistant Siân Bateman:
Van der Aa: The Book of Disquiet, Wednesday 24 & Thursday 25 February 2016, The Coronet Theatre

My recommendation definitely has to be our UK premiere of Michel Van der Aa’s The Book of Disquiet. Not only does the piece focus around the intriguing figure of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, but his words will be performed by the brilliant Samuel West. There will also be an ensemble of musicians, live electronics from our Principal Players Sound Intermedia, and video projected across three circular screens at the back of the stage. As a graduate in drama, this is the concert of the season for me.

poppe strip

Enno Senft, London Sinfonietta’s Principal Bassist:
Poppe: Speicher, Thursday 10 March 2016, The Coronet Theatre

Performing Enno Poppe’s piece Speicher at The Coronet Theatre will be a special challenge in my musical calendar. Rarely do pieces of such complexity and drama stretch over 80 minutes, involving this level of virtuosity and concentration. It’s extremely engaging music that puts high demands on players as well as the audience. Staging it at the old Coronet Theatre off Elephant and Castle roundabout in South London, away from the ‘comfort zone’ of the traditional concert hall, is risky. But I am excited to find out what this might bring to the music and its meaning.

Personally I have the vain hope of gaining spiritual support for this marathon performance by the coincidence that Enno Poppe comes from my region of North-Rhine Westphalia, and is the only namesake I’ve met.

mix strip

Amy Forshaw, Marketing Manager: 
Mix: London Sinfonietta & Ilan Volkov, Sunday 3 April 2016, The Coronet Theatre

Looking ahead to the 2015/16 season, I’m most excited by our Mix event. Under the guidance of pioneering curator Ilan Volkov we’ll be setting up composers and musicians from different genres, then witnessing the results of their encounter. Collaborating with artists from other disciplines is one way the London Sinfonietta can place contemporary music at the heart of today’s culture, and I hope it inspires new people to give it a try. It’s also endlessly inspiring for us to work on.

That we get to do all this in The Coronet Theatre is even more exciting, and we’re planning to make the most of its maze-like spaces with DJ sets and sound installations.

au strip

Andrew Burke, Chief Executive:
Art on the Underground, Spring 2016

I’m very pleased that we have forged a collaboration with Art on the Underground, who are fascinated (as we are) by putting exciting and thought provoking contemporary art forms in front of an ‘audience’ of commuters in order to shift the experience and perception they have of their daily route of travel. It’s a huge opportunity for us to reach new people and encourage them to engage in listening and be changed and moved by music. Matt Rogers is the commissioned composer who is making new installations and works to be performed at various points along the Victoria Line. It should be quite a journey.

connect strip

Ed Marsh, Participation & Learning Manager:
Contemporary Music for All, Friday 4 March 2016, Kings Place
Connect, Spring 2016

The public will be at the heart of our 2015/16 season, as we embark on two projects that will involve amateurs in the conception, composition and performance of new works. We celebrate CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) as part of a UK-wide weekend, and lead a project with three international ensembles to commission and perform public participation works across Europe.

The participatory nature of both the CoMA and Connect projects excites me the most out of everything happening over the next year. I think it’s important to show that anyone really can be creative and take part in artistically excellent performances, and that great artists and musicians all start somewhere!

When you see a group of people, who may not have even been on stage before, giving their all and performing like professionals, I think that’s a really inspiring experience.

duets strip

London Sinfonietta Entrepreneur Robert McFarland:
Duets in a Frame, Wednesday 1 June 2016, St John’s Smith Square

This concert is a must for new music lovers. Harrison Birtwistle’s new work, Duets in a Frame, is partly bringing together the duets he’s written for the London Sinfonietta over the past decade, but the title promises more theatrics and references the links he sees between music and art. Art also comes into Tansy Davies’ Fallen Angel; written ten years ago now, it was inspired by a painting by Anselm Kiefer. And finally I wonder and hope that Francisco Coll’s work, receiving it’s UK premiere, will trump the stunning debut pieces that the London Sinfonietta commissioned.


The response to our recent launch of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music app has left us speechless. We’d like to thank everyone for being a part of our journey. Whether you are one of the 40,000 people who have downloaded the app, 2500 who submitted a high score or 100 who attended our public workshop last weekend, we’re grateful.

Take a look at the pictures from last Saturday’s public workshop below.

We’d also like to congratulate the nine high scorers who took part in our masterclass on Saturday, from which Wolfram Winkel and Nick Franglen were selected as winner and runner up respectively of the very first Clapping Music Competition!


Sunday marked the end of our seventh London Sinfonietta Academy after a stunning performance by the players on Saturday 11 July, led by Pierre-André Valade. Below, flautist Emma Halnan and clarinettist Matthew Scott share their final diary entries from the week. We’d like to thank both of them for providing such a terrific insight and also send our congratulations to them and the rest of the ensemble on a beautiful final performance.



Time flew during the London Sinfonietta Academy! Before we knew it, it was Friday, day 5. This was a full day of rehearsals – final preparation for Saturday’s concert. It was very satisfying to return to works which we had already rehearsed; everything felt significantly more comfortable. We had time to go into lots of detail, and really learn to understand the music. We were extremely fortunate to still have many London Sinfonietta players sitting in on all of our rehearsals. By the end of the day, we definitely felt very well-prepared for the concert.

5The concert itself was a fantastic experience. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to perform the works in full, after rehearsing them in such detail. LSO St. Luke’s was the ideal venue; the right size for the ensemble, and a good acoustic. We watched any pieces we were not playing in from the side of the stage. I really enjoyed listening to the Simpson and Pritchard; the Pritchard was particularly exciting, being a world premiere. I was very pleased with the result, especially considering that it was entirely new programme for all of us and we only met as an ensemble five days before!

The final day of the course on Sunday was mostly dedicated to the conducting students. It was quite unusual and very nice to rehearse a programme the day after performing it! Each conductor had one hour to rehearse the Ligeti and Birtwistle with us. Throughout the rehearsals, they received invaluable advice from both Pierre-André and the London Sinfonietta players. The conducting lessons were also fascinating for us instrumentalists, and enabled us to get to know the repertoire even better.

Participating in the London Sinfonietta Academy has been a wonderful and unique experience. It is rare to have so much time to rehearse new works, and really get to know them intimately. With the help of all of the tutors, I feel I am now in a much better position to approach a new work myself, without panicking, if it were to appear on an orchestral schedule. I have optimistically taken lots of notes on this week’s scores, in the hope that I will have the opportunity to perform them again in the near future!



So, the final few days of the London Sinfonietta Academy have been and gone. It’s been a fantastic week of high-level contemporary music-making and we have all thoroughly enjoyed working under the guidance of the London Sinfonietta players and conductor Pierre-André Valade – whose combined experience and knowledge of this repertoire have been invaluable.

I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say, Friday’s rehearsals went smoothly; starting in the morning touching up the Birtwistle with Joan Atherton (Principal Violin), Michael Thompson (Principal French Horn) and John Orford (Principal Bassoon). In the afternoon, we moved on to the Ligeti and Simpson, joined also by Lionel Handy (cello). As we had begun to settle into the pieces by this point, much of the work involved fine tuning details and ensemble balance.

On the morning of the concert we met for the first time at LSO St Luke’s; a marvellous space to perform in. The dress rehearsal was our first complete run of the programme (in concert order), but we also spent time checking various transition points between tempo/time signature changes and ensuring the seating shifts between pieces would run smoothly!


I feel the concert itself ran as well as we could have hoped; there are always little things that might have gone better a second time, but such is the nature of live performance and being a musician! To have put together such a challenging programme in the space of one week with an ensemble that have never performed as a unit before is a big achievement. We are extremely grateful to Pierre-André and all the London Sinfonietta team for their encouragement, inspiration and coaching over the week.

On the Sunday morning we returned to the Trinity Laban Studios for one final session; this time working with the conductors. Whereas the masterclasses earlier in the week had participants conducting London Sinfonietta players, this time they conducted us for the first time. We focused first on the Ligeti, then the Birtwistle again (which they conducted earlier in the week). It was great to see what they had learned over the week and for us to play these pieces under another’s baton – every conductor has a different style, so to try these pieces for the last time under three different conductors was a useful exercise for us as well as them. It was an interesting contrast; with the Ligeti perhaps the more demanding for us as players, but remaining entirely in 4/4, and the Birtwistle requiring extremely accurate conducting with its constantly shifting time signatures. Each piece needed a different skill set from the conductors, with Pierre-André encouraging a more drawn out style in the Ligeti, and focused precision in the Birtwistle. Although difficult to put into words, the entire body language of the conductor affects what we as musicians deliver; so if we get mixed messages from the conductor, it is more confusing than helpful and can hinder the flow of the music. Pierre-André had a lot of interesting points to make and really helped the conductors correctly convey what they wanted from us as the players, as well as giving us some insight into the thought and intentions behind the conducting.

The week was a fantastic experience and I hope those of you who came enjoyed the performance. I would encourage anyone looking for high-level contemporary music performance experience, or simply looking to gain a better understanding of contemporary music, to apply to the London Sinfonietta Academy in the future. Thanks again to Pierre-André Valade, all the London Sinfonietta team and tutors and to all their sponsors for making this week happen, and have a great summer!


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