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. The ensemble has just launched its Emerging Artists Programme, which will give professional musicians at the start of promising and brilliant 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. Most recently, a performance of Philip Cashian’s Piano Concerto was released on NMC Recordings.


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 and is now the Sinfonietta's Conductor Laureate. The Artistic Director of the ensemble from 1998-2006 was Gillian Moore following 10 years as the ensemble's Education Officer.


The ensemble has commissioned and performed many works by both emerging and established composers. Its list of over 200 commissions reaches from its early support of Harrison Birtwistle, Iannis Xenakis and Luciano Berio to the more recent additions of 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 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.


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.

Residence and Festivals[edit]

The ensemble is a resident ensemble of the Southbank Centre, where it performs much of its London season under both its Conductor Laureate Oliver Knussen and guest conductors such as Diego Masson, Pierre-André Valade, Martyn Brabbins and George Benjamin. 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 orchestra was featured on EMI's 1988 3-CD authentic recording of Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat. 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.

London Sinfonietta Label[edit]

The London Sinfonietta Label is the official record label of the London Sinfonietta. To date, nine recordings have been released, including Arc and Green by Tōru Takemitsu, a 50th birthday tribute to Oliver Knussen, Cyclops 2000/A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky by Charles Wuorinen, and the 6 CDs in the Jerwood Series, a project supported by the Jerwood Foundation which showcases new works by young and emerging contemporary composers.

All recordings on the London Sinfonietta Label are distributed and sold in partnership with NMC Recordings, a British label which specialises in recordings by living composers.


  1. ^ About us page on London Sinfonietta website.
  2. ^ "(Michael) Nicholas SNOWMAN". Debrett's People of Today. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  3. ^ Erica Jeal (7 October 2008). "Kings Place opening concerts Days 3 & 4". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  4. ^ Jerwood Series page on London Sinfonietta website.

External links[edit]