Ayanna Witter-Johnson & LSO Percussion Ensemble

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This Evening's Programme

Sat 20 November 2021 8- 9.30pm

Gwilym Simcock Barber Blues
Joe Locke Her Sanctuary
Ayanna Witter-Johnson Unconditionally
Gwilym Simcock Holding
Makoto Ozone arr Simon Carrington Kato’s Revenge
Ayanna Witter-Johnson Forever* (world premiere)
Gwilym Simcock Third Movement from 'Quintet'

Please note that there will be no interval

Ayanna Witter-Johnson cello, voice & composer
LSO Percussion Ensemble
Neil Percy, David Jackson, Sam Walton, Jacob Brown & Gwilym Simcock

With thanks to the Huo Family Foundation and Yamaha Music Europe, for their support of today’s concert.

*Commissioned for the LSO Percussion Ensemble, supported by Yamaha Music Europe.

This performance is streamed live on the LSO's YouTube channel and will be available to watch on demand afterwards.

Gwilym Simcock

Barber Blues

✒️ 2012 | ⏰ 6 minutes

Gwilym Simcock originally composed Barber Blues (2012) for his Anglo-American jazz supergroup The Impossible Gentlemen. It features on their 2013 album Internationally Recognised Aliens. The title refers not to hairdressing but to the composer Samuel Barber, whose piano work Excursions – a fusion of classical forms and American folk idioms – inspired Simcock’s merging of jazz and classical styles here.

The piece combines a 16-bar repeated bass-line structure associated with the Blues with intricate counterpoint reminiscent of the keyboard music of Bach. As it progresses the textures become increasingly elaborate, until the final bars return to the opening’s relative simplicity.

Barber Blues exists in several versions, including ones for piano, percussion, electric guitar and electric bass, and for two pianos. Today’s version received its premiere in 2019. It was recorded by the LSO Percussion Ensemble in 2020 and released on LSO Live in May earlier this year.

Note by Kate Hopkins

Keep scrolling for Gwilym Simcock's biography

Joe Locke

Her Sanctuary

✒️ 2012 | ⏰8 minutes

A beautiful composition from the great American vibraphone maestro Joe Locke, the composer created this arrangement specially for the LSO Percussion Ensemble. The haunting melody floats over a 13/8 figure, and is a tour de force of keyboard virtuosity.

Note by Neil Percy

Joe Locke
b 1959

© Richard Conde

© Richard Conde

Known for many years as a master of the vibraphone, Joe Locke has emerged over the last decade as a leading composer and bandleader. Locke is a five-time recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s ‘Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year’ Award, has received two Earshot Golden Ear Awards for ‘Concert of the Year’, the 2013 Hot House NYC Jazz Awards for Best Vibes Player, and continues to top critics' and readers’ polls. In 2016 he was honoured with the induction into the Music Hall of Fame of his hometown Rochester, NY.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson


✒️ 2010 | ⏰5 minutes

Cellist, singer-songwriter and composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson has described her songs as influenced by ‘soul, hip-hop and reggae’. Her classical cello training is also vital to her musical idiom.

Witter-Johnson wrote Unconditionally as a tribute to her mother. It was originally scored for voice, cello and cowbell – with Witter-Johnson accompanying herself on both instruments, playing the cowbell with her foot. The cello part employs techniques including pizzicato (plucking the strings), clapping on the body of the instrument, and col legno (tapping the strings with the stick of the bow). The bowed passages are reminiscent of the famous moto perpetuo opening of Bach’s first cello suite. The lyrics describe mother and daughter’s mutual love (‘nothing comes between me and you’) and Witter-Johnson’s recognition of her mother’s generosity (‘the hard roads you walked so I could fly’). The song ends in an ecstatic repeated affirmation: ‘I see you in me’.

Unconditionally featured on Witter-Johnson’s 2019 album Road Runner. This is the premiere of her new version for voice, cello, piano and percussion.  

Note by Kate Hopkins

Gwilym Simcock


✒️ 2021 | ⏰5 minutes

Our performance this summer of my piece Holding was a world premiere, although I've actually performed it dozens of times before! To explain, my son Rowan was born a few months ago, and part of the daily routine is for me to take him for a walk round our local park in Berlin. This can take up to two hours – depending on how successfully I can get him to sleep! – so I started thinking about how to use that time creatively, getting into the habit of trying to invent melodies and various musical things in my head, and then writing them down when I get back home. 

One of the routes in the park is a circular running track. Whilst on this I thought I'd write the most incredibly simple thing I could, something that would seem like it had a constant cycle – going round and round – with the connections being disguised by the piece having an irregular length. Each bar has exactly the same rhythm, and I realised that this never-ending cycle would hopefully be most useful in the (considerable!) efforts to put little Rowan to sleep each night … so I have sung this to him dozens of times, but never actually played it on an instrument – hence a world premiere but not a first performance! 

Usually I like the pieces I write to have an arc and a clear narrative journey, but this one is just meant to exist and hopefully be pleasing to listen to. I hope you enjoy it, but please do try to remain awake!

Note by Gwilym Simcock

Makoto Ozone arr Simon Carrington

Kato’s Revenge

✒️ 2018 | ⏰6 minutes

Pianist Makoto Ozone is equally at home in jazz and classical idioms. Kato’s Revenge dates from the jazz-focused early part of Makoto Ozone's career. Ozone first recorded the work in 1986 for his album After. It later featured on his 1995 album with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Face to Face.

‘Kato’ is an abbreviation of the composer’s first name. The piece is notable for its catchy melodies, its rhythmic ingenuity and energy and – despite the title’s mention of revenge – its playful mood. Simon Carrington’s arrangement makes inventive use of the shimmering timbre of marimbas and vibraphones. It can be heard on the LSO Percussion Ensemble’s 2020 album Quartet Quintet (LSO Live).

Note by Kate Hopkins

Makoto Ozone
b 1961

© Kazashito Nakamura

© Kazashito Nakamura

Majoring in jazz composition and arrangement, Makoto Ozone graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1983. The same year, he gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall and released his first album OZONE. His album with Gary Burton, Virtuosi, was nominated for a Grammy in 2003. He was awarded the Shiju-HouShyou (The Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon) in 2018.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Forever (world premiere)

✒️ 2021 | ⏰10 minutes

'I composed Forever as an accompanying piece to my song Unconditionally (a song dedicated to my mother). Forever expands upon the gratitude that I express to her for nurturing my musicality in my early childhood.  When I was three years old, my mother was a dancer in a Ghanaian West African Dance Troupe, and I would dance with them on a few of their shows, becoming the ‘baby’ of the troupe.  Those dances are embedded in my soul, especially the grounding drumming rhythms of the Atsiagbekor dance of the Ewe-speaking people of Southern Ghana, Togo and Benin.  It is this sound that opens the piece, forever combining my earliest memories of my love for dance and music.'

Note by Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Gwilym Simcock

Third Movement from 'Quintet'

✒️ 2019 | ⏰6 minutes

It was a great privilege to be asked by Neil Percy to write some music for a concert in 2019, and especially exciting to write for a group of such fantastic musicians. I had a bit of a ‘blank canvas’, so in the interests of variety I decided to compose a suite for us to play, choosing the theme of some of my favourite groups from the history of jazz, including Weather Report, The Yellowjackets and Steps Ahead.

I wanted to write something that conveyed the energy and joy of these bands. Those two elements are definitely right at the top of my list of musical priorities when I choose the music I like to listen to myself. The suite includes some space for me to improvise, as this juxtaposition of through-composed and improvised music is what feels musically ‘home’ for me. The idea is to make the composed element feel open and spontaneous, and to give the improvisations form and structure. Hopefully it isn’t always obvious which parts are improvised and which parts have been composed. I hope you enjoy it!

Note by Gwilym Simcock

© David Forman

© David Forman

Gwilym Simcock
b 1981

Winner of many awards for his playing and composition Gwilym Simcock moves effortlessly between jazz and classical, creating a sound that is very much his own. He works with orchestras, choirs, big bands, small ensembles and musicians from all areas of music including jazz, folk, pop and classical combining through-composed elements with improvisation.

Recommended Listening

Gwilym Simcock Suite for Percussion Quintet: IV

On Stage

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Some composers defy succinct definition, and shoehorning Ayanna Witter-Johnson into a tidy profile is no mean feat. Her music blurs boundaries between classical and alternative RnB - two genres that rarely coexist -and you are just as likely to find her singing while playing the cello, as you are to find her poring over an orchestral score. This remarkable confluence of styles stems from a childhood that was saturated with music of every shape and colour. ‘My Dad and Uncle are DJs and my Mum loves to sing,’ says Ayanna, ‘so I embraced a pretty healthy diet of classical piano and cello studies while absorbing pop culture, soul, jazz, reggae, hip-hop and RnB music throughout my childhood and until now.’  

Witter-Johnson was just three years old when her mother spotted an aptitude for music and took her to her first piano lesson, and she took up the cello as her second instrument (now very much her first) when she was thirteen. She went on to graduate with a first from both Trinity Laban and the Manhattan School of Music, and in 2009 was featured as an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre.  Since then, she has been commissioned by the Ligeti Quartet, Kronos Quartet and London Symphony Orchestra, collaborated with Anoushka Shankar and Courtney Pine, and been nominated for a MOBO award. She cites Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder among her greatest influences as readily as she does Bach and Debussy, and while many of her works chronicle her experience as a female artist in the 21st century, she is also no stranger to tackling issues of social oppression and globalisation. Her music is impossible to label (and why should we?) but its guiding principle is one of authenticity and personal truth.  

Profile by Jo Kirkbride

Recommended Listening

Ayanna Witter-Johnson Rise Up

LSO Percussion Ensemble

On stage today: Neil Percy, David Jackson, Sam Walton, Jacob Brown, Gwilym Simcock

L to R: David Jackson, Simon Carrington, Neil Percy, Sam Walton ©kevinleighton.com

L to R: David Jackson, Simon Carrington, Neil Percy, Sam Walton ©kevinleighton.com

The LSO Percussion Ensemble comprises members of the London Symphony Orchestra’s percussion section as well as distinguished orchestral players with enviable reputations. If you are a classical music lover you will have heard them on countless LSO recordings as well as in the concert hall. The Ensemble enjoys an international following and embarked on a tour of Japan in 2018.

Their highly successful recording of music by Steve Reich for LSO Live has become the best-selling physical product on the label in the United States. Critics have been quick to praise this album with rave reviews.

‘The LSO percussion’s performance of Sextet builds up in energy and momentum to a quite thrilling climax.’ (Gramophone)

‘A wonderfully transparent weave through which the bowed vibe notes shine like rays of light through water.’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘The performances and the recorded sound are so outstanding … unreservedly recommended.’ (HR Audio)

If you are a film buff, you will have heard these same players on the soundtracks of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Braveheart, Notting Hill, The Shape of Water and hundreds more movies for which the LSO has provided the music.

The LSO Percussion Ensemble’s live performance of Music for Pieces of Wood has also been licensed for use in season eight of AMC’s Walking Dead. All this takes place within the context of performing numerous concerts a year at the Barbican Centre as members of the London Symphony Orchestra, plus touring with the LSO around the world, with eminent conductors such as Sir Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra’s Music Director Sir Simon Rattle.

Thank You for Watching

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Visit our website to find out more.

Musicians of the LSO performing in LSO St Luke's

© kevinleighton.com

© kevinleighton.com

Still To Come This Winter

A Choral Winter Celebration
with the London Symphony Chorus

Sunday 28 November 2021 3-5pm

Barbican, London

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! O come all ye faithful for a chance to sing along and celebrate with the LSO, in a concert packed with festive favourites.