CLS MEMORIES: Michael Waggett remembers

Posted on: January 11, 2022 in: CLS Memories

Michael Waggett, CLS chairman from 1996 until 2010 recounts some of his memories of CLS…


My relationship with CLS now spans some 40 happy years. It started with one of the first concerts at the (then brand spanking new) Barbican in the early 1980s. I had been urged by a friend to attend a live performance  by this exciting new chamber orchestra and its charismatic founder and conductor, Richard Hickox. An added attraction of that concert was that Joanna Lumley, who had volunteered to guide CLS on orchestra presentation, would be meeting new supporters in the Green Room. How could one resist!  I duly signed up as a CLS Friend and, somehow, persuaded the famously public spirited Joanna to be guest speaker at a CLS fund-raising lunch for business leaders that I would organise at the Park Lane Hotel. And that’s how it began.


Richard, as founder, was the heart and soul of CLS.  He was greatly admired by Dame Janet Baker who was our ambassadorial President and he was loved by CLS musicians and staff to whom, in return, he showed much love and loyalty. It was probably this that fostered the “family aura” for which CLS is famous – a sort of “mother ship” among orchestras to which a wide group of highly talented musicians has been attracted.  The shock of Richard’s death still lingers and I was touched when a long-standing viola player with CLS told me that she still found it difficult to play music that brings back memories of Richard.  I recall, shortly after Richard’s death, gathering the players together in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral and saying the best tribute we could pay to Richard would be to keep the Orchestra going and find a new way forward.  Back in 1996, when I had just started my years as Orchestra chairman, much of Richard’s early achievement with CLS was reflected in CLS receiving the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Large Ensemble award whist CLS leader Andrew Watkinson scooped the same year’s Small Ensemble Award for his Endellion Quartet.  It speaks volumes for our current chairman John Singer, his board, management team and the CLS players that the earlier RPS recognition was repeated last year with the new RPS Impact Award  (reflecting new CLS initiatives) and as Runner-up for the Ensemble Award.  Richard would have been proud of those achievements.


I have always believed that channels will exist for corporate sponsorship of Music and the Arts – even though the incentives for sponsorship may change as society changes between generations. And in the case of our China Tour, it was a confluence of corporate and other influences that helped us find the vital support. One of my business clients, Bentley Motors, found that China had become a key market as that country opened up to the world. The City of London was developing its China links and Sir David Brewer, then Lord Mayor and a CLS board member, was keen to be involved. With help from Virgin Atlantic (and huge efforts by CLS’s Elaine Baines and her admin team) the tour became a reality.

The tour involved CLS with soloist Nicola Benedetti playing the popular Mendelssohn violin concerto at concerts in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai; so we had a fascinating glimpse of a modernising China.  The first concert was in the Forbidden City Concert Hall when David Brewer and I made welcome speeches at the reception before the concert. Our speeches were broken into sections after which an interpreter would repeat the words in Mandarin Chinese – for the benefit of an audience well represented by Bentley owning entrepreneurs!

Our second concert, in Hangzhou, was in an enormous concert hall in the City centre although we stayed at a small hotel in a well-heeled suburb next to the famous and very attractive West Lake.

The third and final concert was in Shanghai where we played in a strikingly modern concert hall and later enjoyed the hospitality of the old Peace Hotel where Noel Coward resided in the 1930s.  The trad jazz band in the basement looked elderly and seemed from a bygone age (surely not?!); but they welcomed being joined by at least one CLS musician for an impromptu “final night” jam session.  Happy days!  My only regret is that I missed the Orchestra’s follow-on tour to Cartagena, Colombia, arranged by my next CLS CEO and friend, Barry Kempton. But one can’t have everything.


I think the family aura created in the Hickox years still prevails and helps to link us to players in other orchestras because of our flexibility and the connection that exists across the London music scene.  So I would identify a warm friendliness and flexibility as two distinctive features of CLS.  Perhaps in addition there is a strong wish to explore different approaches to music making and concert giving: and the informality of the Village Underground gigs together with the innovative Southwark Cathedral concerts (where we can explore the space as well as exploring musical themes) has been worthwhile. The CLS work in hospitals,and in particular in relation to mental health, has been especially worthwhile; and we were early starters where others have followed.  I think these approaches equipped us well for the strange challenge of lockdown when conventional concerts were impossible to put on; and they will have helped in securing our RPS awards. So, warmth, friendliness and flexibility combined with an appetite for exploration and innovation are features that make CLS distinctive.


There are memorable moments galore.  But to select just a few that stand out:

  • The 9/11 Memorial Service at Southwark Cathedral

A sad note to start on: The Twin Towers terrorist atrocity in New York horrified us all. It occurred at the very beginning of our exceptionally successful sponsorship by Marsh that spanned the decade that followed. A large group of Marsh employees lost their lives in the attack and before anything had been decided formally our CLS musicians had sent a spontaneous message that they wished to donate their services to honour the Marsh employees who had died. It reflected the humanity, kindness and decency of our lovely musicians who didn’t wait to be asked. Marsh representatives never forgot that.

  • United Nations: 50th Anniversary Ceremony, Westminster Hall

It was thanks to former CLS board member Dame Glynne Evans (former UK Ambassador to Chile and Portugal) that CLS played before Her Majesty The Queen at Westminster Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UN’s founding in London in 1946.  It reminds us of the quiet contributions our Board and other CLS members often make without fuss or publicity.

  • A Tale of Two Ports: Monte Carlo and Barrow

We played the same programme a few days apart at these two famous ports – one noted for “glamour and gambling”, the other for building submarines and manufacturing, yet with some of Europe’s most stunning scenery in its adjacent Lake District.  Our then Leader, Andrew Watkinson, directed a popular Tchaikovsky/Vivaldi programme: and a leading insurance group had agreed to sponsor Monte Carlo.  So we asked a leading UK ports management group if they would sponsor Barrow, and they did.  It brought a certain symmetry to this brace of concerts – and the views on the return rail journey from Barrow were enchanting!

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Memorable CLS/RSC Collaboration

This series of concerts, combining music and theatre, of Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream began at the Barbican in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company to mark CLS’s 20th birthday. It was such a success that further runs were arranged; and it was a joy to experience this magical production, invariably playing to packed houses, around the main UK concert halls.  Aptly, Richard Hickox conducted a special concert version at the Montreux Music Festival in Switzerland with his wife Pamela Helen Stephen and Susan Gritton in the soprano roles.  It delighted the Stravinsky Theatre audience and encore calls for Nocturne repeats showed Principal Horn Steve Stirling at his immaculate (and durable) best!

  • My Daughter’s Wedding Reception in the Long Room at Lords

The presence of a small CLS orchestra added a magical touch to a special day for my family.  By coincidence the reception was on the same day that England had won the World Rugby Cup in Sydney.  Inevitably, in addition to the agreed music, versions of Swing Low Sweet Chariot were heard. And familiar names from CLS past and present graced the occasion – including Nick Ward, Matthew Souter, Sue Dory, Joely Koos, Lynda Houghton, Karen Jones, Nick Betts and dear Charles Fullbrook. Stephen Carpenter and Elaine Baines managed the music and the ever-gracious ladies offered use of England’s dressing room to the boys!

  • ORIGIN Concert at Southwark Cathedral on 27 October 2021

This was my latest CLS concert and, again, a memorable one. It gives me an opportunity to applaud the work of Orchestra chairman John Singer and his Board, Matthew Swann and his management team and CLS Leader Alexandra Wood alongside her exceptionally gifted CLS musicians.  They are to be applauded for presenting this concert in such an engagingly attractive and innovative way.  The concept of a “musical hors d’ oeuvres” in which the audience has an opportunity to explore the space in in which the concert will be performed (whilst hearing pockets of music en route to the main course of the concert) is an imaginative one and most apt for this delightful cathedral venue.  The lovely string playing of the Elgar and Holst reminded me of that same special quality for which CLS was renowned in the 1970s and 80s; the new Huw Watkins work for violin and clarinet was beautifully revealed by Alexandra Wood and Katherine Spencer and, of course, Roderick Williams (a Hickox favourite) delighted us with his Vaughan Williams and Butterworth folksong selections.  CLS sparkles in all its sections and has reached new heights.

Michael Waggett