London Sinfonietta

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London Sinfonietta
Chamber orchestra
Logo of the London Sinfonietta
Founded 1968 (1968)
Location London, England
Concert hall Southbank Centre

The London Sinfonietta is an English contemporary chamber orchestra founded in 1968 and based in London.

The London Sinfonietta’s mission is to place the best contemporary classical music at the heart of today’s culture; engaging and challenging the public through inspiring performances of the highest standard, and taking risks to develop new work and talent.[1]

The ensemble is Resident Orchestra at Southbank Centre with headquarters at Kings Place, and continues to take the best contemporary music to venues and festivals across the UK and worldwide with a busy touring schedule. Since its inaugural concert in 1968 – giving the world premiere of Sir John Tavener’s The Whale – the London Sinfonietta’s commitment to making new music has seen it commission over 300 works, and premiere many hundreds more.

The core of the London Sinfonietta is 18 Principal Players, representing some of the best solo and ensemble musicians in the world. In September 2013 the ensemble launched its Emerging Artists Programme, which gives brilliant professional musicians at the start of their careers the opportunity to work alongside those Principal Players on stage across the season.

The London Sinfonietta’s recordings present a catalogue of 20th-century classics, on numerous prestigious labels as well as the ensemble's own London Sinfonietta Label.


David Atherton and Nicholas Snowman founded the orchestra in 1968. Atherton was its first Music Director, from 1968-1973 and again from 1989-1991. Snowman was its general manager from 1968-1972.[2]

Michael Vyner served as the Artistic Director from 1973-1989. Paul Crossley took over and served from 1989-1994. Markus Stenz served as Music Director from 1994-1998. The composer Oliver Knussen was Music Director from 1998–2002. The Artistic Director of the ensemble from 1998-2006 was Gillian Moore following 10 years as the ensemble's Education Officer. Since 2007, Andrew Burke has been the Chief Executive.

Repertoire and Commissions

The ensemble has commissioned and performed many works by both emerging and established composers. In its first concert on 24 January 1968 conducted by its co-founder David Atherton, the ensemble premiered John Tavener's The Whale. In 1970 it recorded the work for The Beatles' label Apple Records. Since then, its list of over 300 commissions reaches from its early support of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Iannis Xenakis and Luciano Berio to pieces from Magnus Lindberg, Thomas Adès, George Benjamin, Steve Reich, Tansy Davies, Dai Fujikura, Jonny Greenwood, Django Bates, Roberto Carnevale, Kenneth Hesketh and Mark-Anthony Turnage. In more recent years the ensemble has continued its commissioning relationship with a diverse range of composers including Birtwistle, Colin Matthews and Steve Reich, while giving numerous opportunities to early career composers such as Martin Suckling, Luke Bedford, Edmund Finnis and Elspeth Brooke through concert commissions and cross-art form development programmes.

The London Sinfonietta champions the music of today from around the world. In its early years, the ensemble also included classical music in its eclectic programming, before its focus moved mainly to music of the latter 20th century. In the early 2000s the ensemble’s programming embraced collaborations with pop and electronica artists as it sought to connect the sound-worlds across different genres of contemporary music. Most recently, the ensemble has again updated its focus, placing a priority on music of the 21st century and its connections with other art forms. In recent years its commissions have included Gerald Barry, Bryn Harrison, and Michal van der Aa, it has worked and recorded with experimental musicians such as Mica Levi and Matthew Herbert and produced collaborations with contemporary artists such as Martin Creed and Christian Marclay.

The London Sinfonietta has worked with a range of conductors, not least its past music directors David Atherton, Markus Stenz and Oliver Knussen. It has had long-standing relationships with Sir Simon Rattle (in his early career), Elgar Howarth, Diego Masson, George Benjamin and Martyn Brabbins. It now appears regularly with Thierry Fischer, Sian Edwards, Baldur Bronnimann and André de Ridder.


The London Sinfonietta consciously aims to blur the boundaries between an artistic experience and an educational one, acknowledging that much of its work – whether on the platform or off – embraces an element of both. This results in an innovative strand of collaborative work with young artists, enabling the ensemble to introduce its music to new audiences and partners.

London Sinfonietta concert performances are increasingly being conceived as the centrepiece of a cluster of related projects and events. These often combine new technology and new media with live music-making in both educational and performance contexts, giving a platform for artistic work inspired by the ensemble’s repertoire.

Innovative ways of promoting contemporary music to new audiences include collaborations with Warp Records (with concerts seen by over 25,000 people across Europe) and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. The ensemble’s young ambassadors scheme won the 2006 Royal Philharmonic Society Audience Development award for its success in bringing large and diverse audiences to performances of Luigi Nono and Iannis Xenakis among others.

The ensemble has always supported the early careers of composer and musicians. In 2009, the ensemble launched its own summer Academy programme training college musicians and conductors in the repertoire and techniques of contemporary music. The course has been led by Elgar Howarth, Pierre-Andre Valade and (in 2015) David Atherton. The development of the scheme contributed to the ensemble being awarded the 2010 Royal Philharmonic Society Best Ensemble award.

Residence and Festivals

The ensemble is a resident ensemble of the Southbank Centre, where it performs much of its London season producing events in the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Halls and Purcell Room. Since August 2008, the ensemble's headquarters have been based at the new Kings Place complex in Kings Cross, London, also home to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Guardian. The ensemble has been performing concerts at the venue since October 2008.[3] The London Sinfonietta is also a regular fixture at the BBC Proms. Concerts in London are complemented by a busy national and international touring schedule, with a priority of taking the best of British and international music to venues and festivals worldwide.


An acclaimed discography includes seminal recordings of many 20th-century classics, including the premiere recording of Hans Werner Henze's song cycle Voices under the baton of the composer. The ensemble was featured on EMI's 1988 3-CD authentic recording of Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat. It made a 1991 recording of Gorecki’s Third Symphony for Nonesuch which sold over 700,000 copies in its first two years of release. It has recently been expanded by releases on the London Sinfonietta Label, focussing on live performances of otherwise unavailable repertoire. These CDs include 50th birthday tributes to Oliver Knussen, and Toru Takemitsu’s Arc and Green. Between 2006 and 2009, the London Sinfonietta Label in conjunction with the Jerwood Foundation and NMC Recordings released the Jerwood Series: 6 CDs featuring London Sinfonietta players' performances of new compositions by young composers, which include Richard Causton, Dai Fujikura, Ian Vine and Larry Goves.[4] In 2006 a collaboration with Warp Records, featuring recordings of the music of Warp Records artists, such as Aphex Twin, as well as modern classical music composers, such as John Cage, was released as Warp Works & Twentieth Century Masters.

The ensemble now releases recordings in partnership with different labels which recently have included Thomas Adès In Seven Days and Louis Andriessen Anaiis Nin (on Signum), music by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (on Da Capo) and a collaboration with Mica Levi Chopped and Screwed (on Rough Trade)


  1. About us page on London Sinfonietta website.
  2. "(Michael) Nicholas SNOWMAN". Debrett's People of Today. Retrieved 3 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Erica Jeal (7 October 2008). "Kings Place opening concerts Days 3 & 4". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-11-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Jerwood Series page on London Sinfonietta website.

External links