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HOW TO SET THE SCENE (Tues 6 December 2016)



This instalment of ‘How to Set the Scene’ features a selection of works to get you in the mood for our performance of Schnee by Hans Abrahamsen (Tuesday 6 December at St John’s Smith Square). The playlist features Abrahamsen’s own work alongside pieces from 20th century composers George Crumb and Morton Feldman, whose work might help to prepare you for the sound-world of the canonic Schnee.


Abrahamsen: Double Concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra 

Abrahamsen: Let me tell you 

Abrahamsen: String Quartet No. 4 

Abrahamsen: Piano Concerto

Abrahamsen: Flowersongs, for Recorders

Feldman: Rothko Chapel

Crumb: Dream Sequence (Images II)

Feldman: Violin & String Quartet

Crumb: Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes II) 



The London Sinfonietta Emerging Artist Programme is a unique opportunity for the next generation of exceptional musicians to get involved in the working life of the world’s leading new music ensemble.

Generously supported by the Mercers’ Company and the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, the scheme constitutes a series of professional experiences performing contemporary classical music: including a guarantee of two on-stage engagements as part of the London Sinfonietta’s season and working alongside the ensemble’s Principal Players.

We’ve been talking to our Emerging Artists to find out a little more about them and their experiences as part of the programme. This time violinist Bas Treub faces our quickfire questions:

Bas TreubWhat do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement so far?
Difficult question! There have been a few occasions during my career in which it felt like everything that is important to me came together. One of them was playing Enescu’s String Octet back as a student amongst some incredible players. It was one of the most vibrant, inspiring and moving performances I’ve had the honour to be part of. It reminds me to always strive for performances in which music really becomes something alive and created, rather than something that is merely reproduced.

Which piece of music or theatre has had the biggest effect on you as a musician?
For me it’s actually the variety in music that affects me most! Every time period brings us different music works we can learn from and be inspired by and I therefore wouldn’t want to trade one piece for another… But to at least name something: I’ve always loved to study the solo violin sonatas by Ysaÿe. Together with Bach’s solo violin works they will be always be an essential part of my musical development.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?
I once gave a performance of this really crazy string quartet by Hindemith, which is called Overture to the “Flying Dutchman” as played at first sight by a second-rate concert orchestra at the village well at 7 o’clock in the morning. The piece is basically a parody on Wagner’s original version, with obvious mistakes all over the place and being completely provocative. We decided to make a bit of a theatre act out of it and to really try and explore the boundaries in the music. Apart from that, just before going on stage, I accidentally smashed myself against a glass door, which left me with a half bleeding nose while playing. In the end it was this kind of performance that you don’t easily forget, full of adrenaline for various reasons…

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?
At the moment, there are a lot of business cards from bow makers from all over the world on my table, as there recently was a big exposition in Amsterdam. Next to that there are several invoices and tax papers that have been there for way too long. There’s also a schedule for the new season with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra; I have a 50% job with them, which is the reason that I’m based in Amsterdam. Then there’s some tissues, ballpoints, earphones, my wallet; it basically is a big mess! I use my “coffee table” for everything but coffee.

Describe yourself in three words.
Intense, loyal, humorous.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?
If I was unable to play the violin anymore, I think I’d like to be a therapist. I always felt a natural curiosity towards the psychological side of people and I enjoy finding out how they work.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Depends on which part of my life I focus. Musically, I’m eternally grateful that I got to learn with Philippe Graffin, my last violin teacher. He was and will always be a big inspiration to me in many ways. Personally, it may sound cheesy, but I’m lucky to have a great family that support me with everything I do.

What has been your most valuable experience during your time with London Sinfonietta on the Emerging Artist Programme?
I loved working on Stockhausen’s Hymnen last December. It was my first Stockhausen piece ever and a real adventure to get to know his way of notation and his sound structures. It sure was very different from many things I’ve played before!

What advice would you give to musicians starting their careers now?
I would advise early-stage musicians to always keep developing your own personal sound and never lose touch with what you hear inside. Finding your inner voice is for me one of the most important things in music and something that I feel doesn’t get enough attention in music education.

Tell us your best musical joke.
A string trio dies in a car crash and goes to heaven.
St. Peter asks them all, “What did you do with your life?”
The cellist says, “I taught people the beauty of music,” and is allowed to enter.
The violist says, “I taught people the joy of music,” and is allowed to enter.
The violinist says, “I was a concertmaster and I believe you’re in my seat.”


Since 1968, the London Sinfonietta has commissioned and premiered over 20 extraordinary works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (22 to be precise!). His music has been a golden thread through our history and we hope you will join us for the world premiere of his newest commission Five Lessons in a Frame, which will feature in our concert Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June at St John’s Smith Square.

duets strip

Below is a complete list of pieces commissioned or co-commissioned by or for the London Sinfonietta:

Birtwistle History

Take a listen to some of our favourite works from the above list:

For more information on our concert Duets in a Frame and to book tickets click here.


On Sunday 3 April genres collide, when pioneering curator Ilan Volkov takes the helm of our London Sinfonietta Mix. Ilan – known for his unique approach to programming and sheer passion for new music – talks us through his handpicked bill, describing who he’s chosen and why:

georgelewis6b EmilyPeragine credit V2 crop

George Lewis

It’s a real pleasure to work with the London Sinfonietta again, this time at the wonderful Coronet Theatre. I have chosen some of my favourite artists for this special project – both composers and improvisers. I have worked with many of these artists over the last few years and we continue to develop our collaborations.

George Lewis is one heck of a guy – a free jazz legend who played with all the main cats in his early teens and was an early pioneer of electronic and interactive music. His new work for guitarist Fred Frith will put the improviser against a conducted classical ensemble.

Photo by Dr. J Caldwell

Christian Marclay

Christian Marclay is better known as a visual artist but has been playing  turntables since the 80s with much of his artistic output combining  music and video or sculpture. We have collaborated before at the BBC Proms in 2012 and I am excited about this new work, which combines Christian playing turntables and the ensemble playing loops transcribed from his LP Groove.

Cassandra Miller and Martin Smolka’s work is full of witand precision. Both use minimal music techniques but arrive at very different and powerful conclusions. We perform two moving and beautiful pieces that are rarely played in the UK.


Martin Smolka

CMiller2013_IEC launch_photo credit Nicolas Hyatt

Cassandra Miller

Romitelli credit Marco Delogu

Fausto Romitelli

We finish with the cult figure Fausto Romitelli and his well-known ensemble work Professor Bad Trip, which juxtaposes rock-like rhythms and sound with spectral harmonies and detail. Sometimes reminiscent of Progressive Rock and Gérard Grisey, his music is definitely a highlight of the late 20th century.

It felt only natural to have a group of improvisers that explore their instruments and acoustics within this Mix: Common Objects. This collective includes John Butcher, Rhodri Davies, Lee Patterson, Lina Lapelyte, Angharad Davies and Pat Thomas.


Common Objects


Before performing the UK premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Book of Disquiet on Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 February we wanted to delve further into the mysterious figure that is Fernando Pessoa, on whose words the piece is based.

Below, Professor Paulo de Medeiros from the University of Warwick explains his life, work and many faces.

Book of Disquiet


Fernando Pessoa is not a ghost. The fame that has been attached to his name as Portugal’s most celebrated 20th century author, as well as his own investment in the process of mythologizing, have done much to dematerialise him and to render his texts as some sort of rarefied poetic expression. Every epoch needs its own heroes and modernity was no different, except that neither was its rupture with the past so definitive, nor the future’s rapture with it so predictable.

Born in 1888, Pessoa lived through a frightful period in European history, with most great and small nations fighting for hegemony in the continent. An age, moreover, which, as he so bluntly put it, had inherited nothing but the impossibility of believing in transcendental grand narratives. In their place, the attempted substitution for the belief in humanity proved to be yet another delusion that would come crashing down in 1914 and again in 1939. Even though Pessoa did not live through that other, almost final blow to any form of belief at all, either in the gods or their puppets, in civilization and nobility of spirit, or even in crass materialism and the greed and blindness of the masses, he certainly saw it start to take shape. The contortions of the First Republic in Portugal after the King and his eldest son were assassinated in the streets of Lisbon in 1908, the continuous bankruptcies of the State, the take over of government by the military, the formation of the national dictatorship and the rise of Salazar and his ‘New State’ were all harbingers of the spread of totalitarianism.

On 8 March 1914 Pessoa had his triumphal day. As he recalls with incredible precision in a letter to his friend, the noted critic Adolfo Casais Monteiro, dated 13 January 1935, on that day he had not only written a large number of poems, but had also discovered a multitude of voices. These were his heteronyms: Álvaro de Campos, an iconoclastic modernist poet trained as a naval engineer in Glasgow; Ricardo Reis, a paganist poet, adept of the monarchy who goes into self-exile and never returns; Bernardo Soares, more properly a semi-heteronym as he is almost Pessoa himself. And of course above all Alberto Caieiro, the bucolic poet-philosopher who disdained any sort of metaphysics. These, besides Pessoa himself, would constitute the main names under which the vast oeuvre would be written.

Pessoa had entertained fictional personalities since early childhood and although there is no agreement as to their total number it is safe to say that at least a hundred of them were at one point or another active, usually with very specific functions, such as Mr Cross who was addicted to English cross-word puzzles. The importance of the main heteronyms for an understanding of the complexity of Pessoa’s writing cannot be underestimated. Comparing Pessoa to other writers such as Kierkegaard, who also wrote under different names, George Steiner writing in The Guardian still singles Pessoa out: “‘Heteronyms’, as Pessoa called and defined them, are something different and exceedingly strange. For each of his ‘voices’, Pessoa conceived a highly distinctive poetic idiom and technique, a complex biography, a context of literary influence and polemics and, most arrestingly of all, subtle interrelations and reciprocities of awareness.”

Although he published much in dispersed and ephemeral magazines throughout his adult life, Pessoa also left much more unpublished. One could say that the most important works were those he never brought to print, in a sense very much like Kafka. Both are posthumous writers whose importance for Modernism and European literature in general has few rivals. Pessoa’s fame has been slower in gathering, due in part to a poorer rate of translation into other languages such as French, German and English. Furthermore, one of his most magnificent works, the incomparable Book of Disquiet, was only published for the first time in 1982. Since then a myriad of different editions in Portuguese have appeared as Pessoa had not left a finished manuscript and editors have had to try to piece together what they imagine The Book of Disquiet to be from hundreds and hundreds of fragments. Add to this the different, sometimes competing translations, and it is fair to say that the The Book of Disquiet not only is composed of a multitude of often disparate fragments but that it has become itself multiple, metamorphosing into a new assemblage every time a new edition comes out.

Richard Zenith, one of Pessoa’s editors in Portuguese and also up-to-now his most important English translator, first ventured the notion of it as a sort of non-book, even an anti-book. One should seize and expand on that notion of an anti-book. That is, The Book of Disquiet should not be seen as an unfinished book but rather as a text without limits and thus also without a possible end. A reader who approaches it conventionally will be fascinated by some of its passages, perhaps annoyed by others, but will begrudge the lack of a conclusion. Instead of such a conventional approach, however, a first protocol of reading would demand an acceptance of the impossibility of any conclusion for The Book of Disquiet. That is, instead of regarding the text as lacking, one should see it as a form of excess. Boundless, the text refuses to be tamed into a whole as if writing were indeed an infinite task. Alain Badiou, the noted French philosopher, has written at some length on Pessoa and has enjoined us to rise up to the challenge of Pessoa’s thought. In his view, becoming contemporaries of Pessoa would be one of the key tasks for philosophy. Obviously Pessoa was not directly a philosopher. Yet his writing, and The Book of Disquiet in particular, should be seen as a compelling, powerful, intensely beautiful inquiry into the meaning of life in all its contradictions, absurdities and splendor. The reader should beware though, for there is a price to be paid for such haunting beauty. Once one starts reading it, if one has any feeling at all, one will be irreversibly changed for life.

Professor Paulo de Medeiros
University of Warwick


Badiou, Alain. “A Philosophical Task: To Be Contemporaries of Pessoa”. Handbook of
Inaesthetics. Transl. Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005)

Dix, Stephen and Jerónimo Pizarro. Eds. Portuguese Modernisms: Multiple Perspectives on Literature and the Visual Arts (Oxford: Legenda, 2011)

Jackson, K. David. Adverse Genres on Fernando Pessoa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Ramalho, Maria Irene. Atlantic Poets: Fernando Pessoa’s Turn in Anglo-American Modernism (Hannover and London: Dartmouth College/ University Press of New England, 2003)

Sadlier, Darlene J. An Introduction to Fernando Pessoa: Modernism and the Paradoxes of Authorship (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998)


On Thursday 11 and Friday 12 February we premiere The Journey Between Us at Southwark Playhouse. Four short stories will be read be acclaimed actress Lisa Dwan, interspersed with music from Samantha Fernando.

Ahead of next week, we wanted to introduce you to her life and work.

Lisa Dwan

Lisa Dwan is a producer, performer and director originally from Ireland. Having trained in the UK as a ballet dancer, including dancing with Rudolf Nureyev in Coppelia in Dublin, she began acting professionally in her teens.

She has worked extensively in theatre, film and television, both internationally and in her native Ireland. Most recently she performed her own sell out adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Text for Nothing entitled NO’s Knife at the Lincoln Centre in New York last autumn. She has also toured all over the world to great audience and critical acclaim in the Beckett Trilogy of Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby. She has been hailed as “a Beckett prodigy” (New York Times), with Ben Brantley noting that “Ms. Dwan… is an instrument of Beckett, in the way saints and martyrs are said to be instruments of God”.

She was coached by Billie Whitelaw and has collaborated with Walter Asmus since 2012. Originating at the Royal Court Theatre in London, the Beckett Trilogy’s engagements include the Barbican Centre, Southbank Centre, West End, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Perth Festival, Paris, Hong Kong and Toronto, with an upcoming United States tour including a return to New York.

Film credits include An Afterthought directed by Matteo Bernardini, Oliver Twist, John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama and Bhopal – A Prayer for Rain. In 2012, she adapted, produced and performed the critically acclaimed one-woman play Beside the Sea at Southbank Centre and on tour, and starred in Goran Bregovic’s new music drama, Margot, Diary of an Unhappy Queen at the Barbican. Recent theatre credits also include Ramin Gray’s production of Illusions by Ivan Viripaev at the Bush Theatre and Dear Bessie: Letters Live with Benedict Cumberbatch (Hay Festival and West End).

Dwan writes, presents, lectures and teaches regularly on theatre, culture and Beckett (BBC radio and television, NPR, the Guardian, the Telegraph, École Normale Supérieure, Princeton University and Trinity College Dublin).

Here is one of her acclaimed performances of Samuel Beckett:


In the run up to our performances of Michel van der Aa’s The Book of Disquiet on Wednesday 24 & Thursday 25 February we are exploring the writing of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet on whose words the piece is based.

crop bod

From the US Premiere of ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Photo by Marina Levitskaya, courtesy of Peak Performances at Montclair State University.

When he died in 1935 he left behind a trunk filled with unfinished fragments – a treasure trove of scribbled anecdotes and idle thoughts. These included the pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece The Book of Disquiet, the autobiography of one of his many alter egos Bernando Soares, a Lisbon book-keeper.

“More than 400 texts make up The Book of Disquiet, a mixture of aphorisms and autobiography, philosophy and dream diary, which gradually coheres into a portrait of their solitary, misanthropic writer.” The Guardian

One of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century, Pessoa was a prolific writer both under his own name and that of 75 other imaginary characters. Inspired by this, we decided to go behind the scenes and reveal the many different characters, and alter egos, that make up the London Sinfonietta team. We asked them to answer any or all of the following…


  1. What pseudonym would you use?
  2. If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?
  3. What’s your guilty pleasure?
  4. Tell us something about yourself that we would never guess.


Emeritus Principal Pianist John Constable
Joe Root and bat no.4 for England
3. Good food and drink.
4. I havent run anywhere since I left school as it was the one thing I hated doing.

Development Manager Harriet Findlay
1. Yaldnif Asiuol Teirrah
2. Beyoncé – so I could learn how to sing, dance and perform like Queen Bee
3. Hollyoaks

Council Member Régis Cochefert
1. Arthur Bling
2. James Bond
3. Chocolate
4. I trained as an Accountant

Development Assistant Max Heanue
1. Maria Hernandez 
Matthieu Ricard (The happiest man in the world)
3. Shakira
4. I eat around 6-10 satsumas a day (I don’t think it’s an addiction…)

Chief Executive Andrew Burke
 At the moment, Einstein.  Then perhaps I could fully understand Relativity.

Council Member Richard Lewis Jones
1. Roger Federer
2. Roger Federer
3. South Park (TV show)

Principal Violinist Joan Atherton
. I am a lifetime fan of Blackpool FC and attend their away matches in the south when possible.

An Anonymous Mother…
. For a proper sensory guilty pleasure: a single home-made fairy cake with buttercream icing and a glass of freezing cold dry white wine in the corner of a children’s party when no-one is looking
4. I do ballet classes every week

Got an especially good answer to one of the questions? We’d love to hear it. Email

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