|Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra performing Terry Riley's In C at the Barbican Centre|
In 2015 the London Contemporary Orchestra won the Ensemble category of the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards and the judges' citation aptly convey's the orchestra's distinctive ethic, "London Contemporary Orchestra has become one of Britain’s brightest beacons for new music. Its repertoire is adventurous yet it attracts sell-out crowds to extraordinary venues and has a remarkable online following. It nurtures new audiences, forges fruitful alliances across the stylistic spectrum, and champions challenging scores with virtuosic flair.". The orchestra deliberately has no specific residency, instead it tailors concerts to the audience but they have developed strong relationships with the South Bank Centre, the Barbican and the Round House. And their work this year will take them from collaborations with pop groups to big film scores.
Rather than thinking in terms of labels, Robert and the orchestra put on music they believe in, which the audience can enjoy in its own way. And it is quite an audience, with annual on-line figures of 2.5 million and having recently toured with Jonny Greenwood the orchestra's live audience was 20,000 this last year.
|Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra collaborating|
with producer Darren Cunningham aka Actress
Besides traditional concert halls, the group also performs in more unusual spaces. They will be giving a concert in the loading bay area of the Royal Albert Hall, where they will be performing music by Steve Reich, Michael Gordon, Mica Levi and Caroline Haynes, and recently performed a concert of Steve Reich's music at Edge Hill Station in Liverpool (as part of Reich's 80th birthday celebrations, when Robert also had to interview Reich, something he describes as terrifying). Robert explains that they enjoy going to raw spaces and building a programme around the spaces, which are blank canvases. For performances of Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel at the Roundhouse (where Robert played the viola solo), the group commissioned some extraordinary visuals.
|Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra recording |
the soundtrack for J Naji Abu Nowar's film Theeb
The film is being toured to the Royal Festival Hall, Colston Hall, Bristol, Birmingham Symphony Hall and Brighton Dome. Anderson has collaborated with Greenwood a number of times, and has been known to cut his films to Greenwood's score (rather than the usual process of applying music to the pre-existing film). Robert finds the opening scene of the film extraordinary, it is the music which comes in first some time before the dialogue.
When I ask Robert to describe Jonny Greenwood's score he says that he finds it hard to describe, and adds that he has a passionate dislike of programme notes. The London Contemporary Orchestra does not use programme notes, instead they want their audiences to just listen and make up their own minds. Robert feels that in concerts, when music gets to a difficult emotional moment, people will start reading the programme rather than engaging with the music.
As well as his work with the London Contemporary Orchestra, Robert works as a conductor and a viola player with other groups, and has particular links with India and with Kazakhstan (the former Soviet republic which spans Central Asia and Eastern Europe).
|Robert Ames and Galya Bisengalieva performing in Kazakhstan|
The audiences are always good, and every concert he has ever done in Kazakhstan has had a full audience and amazing energy. Robert comments that it is a very different world, in Kazakhstan a visit to a concert is very much a night out and the members of the audience all dress up, which makes a very different context to his work in London with the London Contemporary Orchestra.
In India he works with the Symphony Orchestra of India, music director Marat Bisengaliev, chairman Khushroo N. Suntook. This is the only professional Western classical orchestra in India, whose home is the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, a space which includes a symphony orchestra auditorium, chamber music recital hall, theatre and an experimental theatre space. Robert originally simply went out to play with them, but now goes back to work as a conductor.
|Robert Ames and Galya Bisengalieva performing in Kazakhstan|
In India, the orchestra plays mainly Western classical music but on a recent visit to Europe, playing in Geneva they played Indian classical music too. A lot of Robert's work with the London Contemporary Orchestra is collaborative, where they take people from outside the classical world and introduce them to the amazing things that an acoustic ensemble can do. So when Robert is in India, he enjoys collaborating with Indian classical musicians and Bollywood musicians too.
|Robert Ames and Hugh Brunt (co-artistic directors of the London Contemporary Orchestra) |
accepting the Ensemble award at the 2015 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards
|Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra|
The London Contemporary Orchestra is not a symphony orchestra in the conventional sense, but rather a collective of musicians and they could easily programme a string quartet followed by a symphony. Working in the ensemble is very much a collaborative experience as many of the instrumentalists are also composers, improvisers and produces, which makes for an amazing rehearsal experience.
Robert thinks that the world of the dictator conductors is no longer the world we live in. With the London Contemporary Orchestra the majority of musicians are under 30 and the level of musicianship is very high, and whilst the rehearsals are not a free for all there is far more debate than is usual. And when they perform in smaller groups the process is even more open. The advantage of this collaborative process is that it gives the musicians a sense of ownership in the concerts, and Robert prefers an environment where people feel they can collaborate and contribute.
London Contemporary Orchestra performs Arthur Russell's Tower of Meaning at Kings Place on 14 January 2017, performs There Will Be Blood:Live at the Royal Festival Hall on 30 January 2017 and performs in the Royal Albert Hall loading bay on 4 March 2017.
See the London Contemporary Orchestra's events page for a full list of future events.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Music at its centre: Peter Schaffer's Amadeus at the National Theatre - theatre review
- Solo viola: Rosalind Ventris in Blake, Bach and Roxburgh - concert review
- Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect: Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Kings Place - concert review
- Lots of taste, not much excess: Le Coucher du Soleil at Kings Place - concert review
- Engaging vitality: La Nuova Musica in Cavalli's La Calisto - concert review
- Re-discovering the saxhorn: The Celebrated Distin Family - CD review
- The American violin concerto: Tamsin Waley-Cohen plays Adams and Harris - CD review
- Radical re-invention: Joyce DiDonato in War & Peace - concert review
- RVW rarities: Purer than pearl from Albion Records - CD review
- Music for a Prussian salon: Boxwood and Brass - CD review
- Balanced musicality:Handel's Serse from Early Opera Company - opera review
- Infinite variety I chat to Anneke Scott about playing the French horn - interview