Complex, ambient and ‘punk energy’ music: Robert Ames on Radio Rewrite

Posted on: March 12, 2020 in: Comment & Media, Programmes>2019-20 Season>London Season

To give us a flavour of what to expect in Radio Rewrite (16 March), the first of two Worlds Colliding concerts at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, we asked conductor, composer and producer Robert Ames a few questions about his relationships with our orchestra, the composers and the music being performed.

You are making your debut with City of London Sinfonia (CLS) in Radio Rewrite. How did the collaboration come about, and are you looking forward to working with our musicians?

I have had the pleasure of working with Matthew Swann [City of London Sinfonia CEO] during his time at the Roundhouse, London, working on a very special series of concerts called Reverb. I’ve always respected his sincere approach to programming and drawing new audiences into the concert hall.

I have worked with quite a few CLS musicians outside CLS and have really enjoyed watching them perform. The music in this concert is very demanding, and I felt really comfortable programming it knowing that I’m working with some of London’s finest musicians.

City of London Sinfonia
City of London Sinfonia, Bach Remixed, 2018

We’re also joined by multi-instrumentalist Bishi Bhattacharya, who plays tanpura in Jonny Greenwood’s Water. Have you met and/or performed with her before?

We’ve hung out a few times but never worked together. Bishi is a phenomenal musician, and it’s amazing to have her expertise for this piece.

There is some incredible contemporary classical music in this concert – all written by living composers from the US and UK. Can you tell us how you came to curate this programme, and about the composers and music being performed?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with all of the composers that are programmed tonight, personally. I think the music is some of the most exciting being written at the moment. All of the pieces are beautifully crafted but share a bit of punk energy at the same time.

We’re exploring two ‘worlds colliding’ in this concert – the worlds of classical music and popular culture in modern New York. Can you tell us more about this theme and how the pieces fit in?

We’re looking at UK and USA music colliding as well as pop meets classical. Music by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Micachu and the Shapes’s Mica Levi and The National’s Bryce Dessner: all people that play in British and American bands but also have the amazing ability to compose notated music for acoustic instruments.

Despite the title, I really am a bit allergic to labels in music – classical, pop, rock, indie classical, contemporary classical. Music being made now is much more fluid; it’s a really exciting time for music.

You’ve composed a new piece specially for our performance, Metropolis, in which the audience are being encouraged to participate on their phones/tablets. Can you tell us what inspired the composition, and how the audience will be involved?

It’s pretty abstract and ambient. The composition is made up of four parts that should all work together and separately. Each part is inspired by each piece in the programme. The audience all have one of the four parts to play and we will gradually fill out the piece as we go through the concert.

Do you have any great, memorable experiences of performing and/or watching concerts at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall?

Yes, I love the QEH. It’s the perfect combo of a hall where you can put on substantial works, but it still feels intimate.

I’m a violist as well as a conductor and played a string quartet concert on the second night of the week celebrating the reopening of the Hall. It was packed to capacity and the energy was fantastic. We played Levi, Reich and Dessner!

What are you looking forward to most about Radio Rewrite?

Mmmmmm, good question. It’s a combination of really fast, complex, driving movements and ethereal, slow movement. I’m looking forward to finding the right sound and exploring the intricacies of the complex rhythms with CLS. I’m also maybe looking forward to getting to the end of the performance in one piece…

Radio Rewrite takes place at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 16 March 2020, 7.30pm. Limited tickets are available at the Southbank Centre Ticket Office, online at

Worlds Colliding

City of London Sinfonia’s Worlds Colliding series is supported by the John Ellerman Foundation.

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