classical music

Absolute Bird: Translating Nature

Part of Classical Season 2018/19

In an evening of three parts, City of London Sinfonia and guests present chamber works inspired by birdsong, plus a pre-concert talk and an improvised set.

Many 20th- and 21st-century composers have famously translated birdsong in their music, including in the suites for chamber forces by Respighi (The Birds) and more recently John Luther Adams (Songbirdsongs) – and not least the French composer Messiaen, who painstakingly transcribed birdsong in his inspiring compositions.

Adding another naturalist perspective to the performance, Alice Zawadzki lends her voice to the nest, performing songs with City of London Sinfonia and a capella.


City of London Sinfonia
Sian Edwards conductor
Alice Zawadzki vocalist
Huw Watkins piano
Alexandra Wood violin


John Luther Adams: Morningfieldsong from Songbirdsongs
Delius: On hearing the first cuckoo in spring
Respighi: Il cucù (The Cuckoo) from Gli Uccelli (The Birds) Suite
Messiaen: Le merle bleu (The blue rock thrush) from Catalogue d'oiseaux
Respighi: La colomba (The dove) from Gli Uccelli (The Birds) Suite
John Luther Adams: Woodthrush from Songbirdsongs
Respighi: L'usignuolo (The nightingale) from Gli Uccelli (The Birds) Suite
Messiaen: L'alouette calandrelle (The greater short-toed lark) from Catalogue d'oiseaux
John Luther Adams: Meadowdance from Songbirdsongs
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

Dates & times

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Queen Elizabeth Hall


£10 - £30
Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)
£10, £20, £30


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Queen Elizabeth Hall at 7pm, pre-concert talk.

TV and radio presenter and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) President Miranda Krestovnikoff recounts her amazing experiences of creating musical conversations with wrens. We’re also joined by Huw Watkins and Roderick Chadwick who discuss classical composers' use of birdsong in their compositions. Admission free to ticket holders.

Queen Elizabeth Hall at 10pm, post-concert performance.

Folk singer and naturalist Sam Lee has been inviting audiences to hear the most mercurial of songbirds, nightingales, for the past few years in England’s few remaining ancient woodlands. Nightingales were at one time the ever-present background music to this country’s crisp spring nights, but their numbers and habitats have fallen sharply in the last 50 years, with fewer than 5,000 breeding pairs remaining.

In this late-night post-concert performance, musicians from City of London Sinfonia join Sam Lee and Alice Zawadzki in an improvised set in response to a live broadcast from special winged guests singing in an ancient English woodland. Admission free to ticket holders.