LONDON CONTEMPORARY ORCHESTRA H
Hugh Brunt (pictured below) is co-founder of the London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO), arguably the most unique group of musicians in the city. Unlike a conventional orchestra, the LCO fuses dynamic performance with smart, quirky locations, where overtones and frequencies can be as important as the scores themselves. Headliner is suitably impressed...
UGH BRUNT STARTED THE LCO IN 2008 with his good friend, Robert Ames (pictured right). The aim was to put on an initial season of orchestral concerts focusing on new music in a slightly different way, and from there, the pair became intrigued with the idea of site-responsive work, taking performances away from the concert hall, and exploring off-site venues. “We wanted to let those spaces lead the way that we program an event, and how we try and shape the narrative performance,” Brunt explains, adding that the first of those gigs were held in Village Underground when it was still a pretty rough and ready space. “We worked with [electronic duo] Matt Moss in May 2009, then a few years later, went to The Old Vic tunnels; and then in 2013, to celebrate our fifth birthday, we put on this site-responsive series called Imagined Occasions, which was produced with Harry Ross and Helen Scarlett O’Neill, who used to work at Secret Cinema – so the best people to work with for immersive, slightly more theatrical presentations.” The LCO used the disused Aldwych underground station for that series, a space which was closed off in 1994, and is now used for emergency training and occasional filming - parts of Skyfall and Atonement were both shot there, for example.
“So we take a space like that as a starting point, and commission works especially for that space,” Hugh continues. “In this case, Gregor Riddell commissioned for a lift shaft, which had amazing resonance – it was a slightly sharp A flat, which produced amazing overtones – and, of course, these are bespoke to those spaces.” The next performance in that series was at the top of Primrose Hill at sunset, and shortly after that, the LCO did a ‘sound walk’ in partnership with Sennheiser, which saw them utilise 200 pairs of headphones en route from Primrose Hill to London’s Roundhouse, where they then put on a big performance of music from Stockhousen. The series came to a close at Oval Space in Bethnal Green, another very rough and ready location. “It’s about amazing history and heritage; visually, they’re striking, and sonically, they’re fascinating, as well. And that’s always the starting point,” Brunt says. “Commission is the first thing we get slotted in, then once we’ve got a sense of how that new work is going to work in that space, we’ll extrapolate a program around that. It’s a very different way of how some contemporary classical site-responsive things are put together; we don’t do it just to be cool, we’re looking way deeper into it. A lot of these are one-offs, but that has a lot of beauty to it.”