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The future of City of London Sinfonia

As we all start to emerge from lockdown, a little bleary-eyed as we look forward to socialising, attending concerts and reuniting with friends, we’re all aware that things are still uncertain and that it is highly unlikely that we will return to ‘as was’.

Even before the last 12 months, the last ten years have been a time of wide and fundamental change in the wider world, and for City of London Sinfonia (CLS). Music ensembles (rightly) face calls for greater diversity and inclusion. Brexit, even without the pandemic, has brought chaos to international touring. The performing arts are waking to the role we can play in healthcare and building communities.

Ten years ago, CLS was an orchestra that performed interesting but largely traditional concerts. We had a busy and growing programme in schools, hospitals and care homes, but it was nevertheless a programme that was secondary to the performances we gave.

Fast forward to five years ago: many of you will remember us performing in venues such as Village Underground and experimenting with the way audiences moved around a space at Southwark Cathedral. Meanwhile, our participation programme was changing tack; becoming more in-depth, led more by our musicians, and focusing more on healthcare.

The past 12 months have given us opportunity to reflect on that journey with our musicians, audiences, management, board of directors, supporters, and partners. What vision and mission for our orchestra did we want to emerge from this period of unprecedented change?

Those many conversations have transpired into a detailed, comprehensive, five-year Way Ahead that delivers sustainability, inclusion, and creativity. It is a radical and transformative model, reversing the traditional philosophy of an orchestra by making our participation programme the driving force behind everything we do.

Our vision is of a world where musicians are an integral part of every community, meeting people across all of aspects of society and fully reflecting the communities where they are active.

City of London Sinfonia’s musicians are at the forefront of our vision, engaging with people from all backgrounds in shared moments of connection wherever we meet them. Our collaborative approach and practice in healthcare, wellbeing and social care settings underpins all our activity.

What does this vision and mission mean in reality? What will change for our musicians and audiences?

We will meet all our audiences, whether in healthcare, community, family, or performance settings in the same way – responsive, in-the-moment, meeting people wherever they are and inviting them into our music-making. This will make us a more inclusive orchestra that engages with audiences from all backgrounds and across the UK.

Our Way Ahead builds conversations with our musicians and audiences, whether we meet them in a hospital, care home, hospice, school or a community. It invites audiences into our performances and immerses them in our music-making. It recognises and develops our musicians as creative artists. It builds on the recognition for our participation activity and innovative performance models – for example, our recent Royal Philharmonic Society Award success for our activity in mental health.

While we continue to face uncertain times across our society and economy, we are confident that the Way Ahead meets the objectives of our supporters and ensures not just that we will survive, but also thrive.

We invite all you – audiences and supporters – to join our vision of a world where musicians are an integral part of every community, meeting people across all of aspects of society and fully reflecting the communities where they are active.

Published 9 April 2021

How you can help CLS

We are currently facing uncertain times. If you are in a position to make a donation to CLS, this would be greatly appreciated to ensure that we are ready to go as soon as public performances and group gatherings are allowed again.

Make a donation to CLS >>


Previous updates

Update - 5 November

Following the Government's recent announcement of a second national lockdown starting on Thursday, we have unfortunately had to cancel the next instalment of our Restore and Revive series, Strauss and Mozart, due to take place on Thursday 26 November at Southwark Cathedral. Depending on what guidelines allow, we are hoping to be able to film and broadcast this programme online. Sign up to our mailing list and follow us online for further news.

Our members of staff continue to work from home as they have been since March. The City of London Sinfonia office is currently closed and we are therefore unable to pick up the phone or post. For general enquiries, please email us (info(at)cls.co(dot)uk). If you wish to get in touch with a member of staff directly, visit the Executive team page for contact details.

Update - 31 July

At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, we announced, along with the rest of our friends and colleagues across the arts, that there would be no more performances in person for a while, and our vital activity with already vulnerable and socially isolated people would be on hiatus.

These past few months have been difficult, but through the creativity of our musicians, determination of our producing team and trustees, and the generosity of our funders, we have managed to continue to bring music to those who need it most through our Comfortable Classical at Home series and wider audiences through our Mindful Music sessions and Lockdown chats. These have attracted thousands of viewers and listeners and, importantly, have kept up that sense of ‘live’, with our musicians interacting with audiences as they've performed. In the last week, we have taken another step on the road to recovery with an outdoor performance with our friends at Opera Holland Park.

We have much to be positive about as we start to emerge from lockdown and think about the road back to performance. This is not to say that difficult and uncertain times are gone. We will still rely on the generosity of those who support us, our musicians will be making music in new settings and our producing team will be working harder than ever to ensure that everyone remains safe and healthy. In many cases, particularly those vulnerable individuals we make music with in psychiatric units and in care homes for those with advanced dementias, music-making will continue to be remote for a while longer.

We are pleased to say, though, that we are very much getting back to the live, the interactive and the in-person. We have live performances planned for early Autumn with our friends at Southwark Cathedral. Colleagues who have been on furlough for four months are returning. We have taken proactive steps to start our journey to be a more diverse, inclusive and equitable orchestra. And even though we are unable to meet some of those people we make music with in the same room, we are creating new ways of engaging with them that go beyond the usual digital platforms, allowing those people who find spoken communication difficult to once again be ‘in the moment’ with our musicians.

If you are reading this, there is every chance that you are part of the story of how we overcame the challenges of lockdown and continued to make music, by watching, listening, supporting and engaging with us – thank you. If you are new to City of London Sinfonia, then welcome. We look forward to seeing all of you very, very soon.

– Matthew Swann, Chief Executive
Published 30 July



Update - 18 March

Thank you to our Radio Rewrite audience, at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 16 March, for making it to our concert and supporting our musicians on the last day before social distancing measures were introduced. At the end of our rehearsal, an hour before doors opened, we took the decision to go ahead with the performance with the unanimous support of our musicians and our colleagues at Southbank Centre, knowing that it would be one of the last performances in the UK for a while.

We face uncertain times over the next few weeks and months. For the moment, we are suspending all public projects and performances taking place in the next few weeks until we have more details from government, our partners and venues. We are sorry to announce that 1920s Paris, the Crazy Years (28 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall) has been cancelled and that I’m a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star (20-23 May, Wilton’s Music Hall) has been postponed. More information will be sent to those who have already bought tickets for these events in the coming weeks – there is more information for ticket holders below.

It is particularly uncertain times for our musicians, and in fact all musicians and artists in London and across the UK. They are the lifeblood of this country’s cultural life and produce astonishing art every day. We’re relieved that Arts Council England and the Government are providing support for the cultural sector and its many freelance artists. We have also supported them by arranging for practical advice sessions with leading self-employment finance professionals, and through our Comfortable Classical at Home video series. We also ask all audiences that have booked tickets for any concerts, gigs and shows in the next few weeks – whether bought through us or elsewhere – to consider, if they can, donating their ticket price or more to help support musicians and artists in this difficult time.

To protect the health and wellbeing of our staff, the CLS office is now closed with all staff working from home, and some members of the team have been furloughed until such a time performances can recommence. Should you need to get in touch with me [Matthew], along with my colleagues Elaine, Emily, Fiona and Tasha, you can find contact details on the Executive Team page.

We hope to be making music with you all again in person very soon. In the meantime, stay safe and well, tune in to Comfortable Classical at Home, and we’ll send updates on future activity as and when we can.

- Matthew Swann, Chief Executive
Published 18 March | Updated 14 April