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12 Nov 2016

Step 1

On Friday 11 November at St John's Smith Square we enter the sound world of Beat Furrer's FAMA. We asked composer Beat Furrer, who joins us on the night to conduct the sound masterpiece that is FAMA, to provide a selection of music that inspires him as a composer:

Step 2

We look forward to the long-awaited UK premiere of Beat Furrer's FAMA on Friday 11 November at St John's Smith Square. Ahead of the immersive aural theatre experience, Eva Furrer, who performs the contrabass flute solo in FAMA this Friday, faced our quickfire questions. Read on to discover some interesting facts about the musician.

What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?
To be still hungry, interested and astonished about music.

What do you fear? 
To lose my curiosity and passion.

Which piece of music has had the biggest effect on you?
The music I was not allowed to listen to when I was young.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?
Playing Syrinx by Claude Debussy for my Tibetan Master, Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?
Always a flower from my garden.

What was the first recording you ever bought?
Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan.

Describe yourself in three words.
Not yet arrived.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?
A writer.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My son David.

Tell us your best musical joke.
Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny (Zappa).

Step 3

Hailed as a miracle after its German premiere in 2005, FAMA finally arrives to the UK. This intriguing piece of aural theatre follows the story of a distressed young woman forced into prostitution in order to pay her father’s debts. London Sinfonietta are privileged to have composer Beat Furrer join them to conduct this long-overdue UK premiere of his 21st century masterwork, along with actress Isabelle Menke and soloist Eva Furrer on contrabass flute. They are also pleased to welcome choral group EXAUDI who will perform the eight-part vocal line.

In preparation for Friday's performance of FAMA, we asked Philip Cashian (composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music) to create an audio guide for Furrer's work. Made up of 8 scenes in total, Philip presents an introduction to the work along with a detailed analysis of the fifth scene which should prepare your listening for the entire work .

Sound theatre in eight scenes for 22 instrumentalists, 8 singers, and one actress.



Swiss composer Beat Furrer was 51 when he wrote FAMA in 2005 and already well established as one of Europe’s leading composers as well as having a considerable reputation as a conductor (he was the founder of cutting edge new music ensemble Klangforum Wien).

FAMA is the fifth of seven works Furrer has written for the theatre.

The concept behind FAMA - which he more precisely describes as sound theatre – is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses:  ‘of the home of the goddess Fama, Goddess of Rumour, a place to which all the events and sounds of the world come and find resonance. This space has an overwhelming sensuality where, there is no shouting, but a murmur, like the sea, that sounds from a distance, or the last echoing rumble of thunder.

Writing in 2001 about his Orpheus Books for chorus and orchestra. Furrer offers an interesting insight into how he considers his music; the narrative, compressed into a single instant and captured in endless repetition, is projected into changing spaces. Filtering processes cause individual layers to recede into the background or come to the fore, thereby generating contrasting perspectives.

I find this way of thinking about narrative is clearly audible in Scene 5 which stretches a minimal amount of music out over 14 minutes and within which musical fragments constantly recur. The drama and tension of the scene, however, never dips for a moment, creating an eerie and sinister soundscape that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s almost cinematic even when listening, as I am, to a recording.




Opening – 53” single, isolated very high harmonics create an immediate sense of isolation.

53” (and recurring throughout) an extremely high pedal that is a disturbing presence for most of the scene.

1’13” clarinet glissandi: this is a recurring gesture in various forms throughout (i.e. 2’57”)

3’29” The first entry of the voice, which over time becomes another recurring element placed in subtly different contexts.

5’49” – 8’40” (and recurring later) Two low, slow moving bass clarinets which create an extremes in register ( in the music. From here on the two clarinets are very much in the foreground.

8’43” Bass Drum roll

9’16” Brief, resonant string pizzicatos and tremolo which punctuate the passing of time.

11’06” pulsing clarinets triggered by a brief stab in the piano which echoes the string pizzicatos. The pulsing clarinet figure is heard at other times in the scene.

14’00”-14’03” A very short flurry of activity that ‘switches off’ the scene.



© Philip Cashian

Step 4

Welcome to Step 4 of our online step-by-step guide to Friday's performance of FAMA by Beat Furrer - who joins us on the night to conduct his 21st century masterpiece in its long-awaited UK premiere, along with actress Isabelle Menke and soloist Eva Furrer on contrabass flute. We are also pleased to welcome choral group EXAUDI who will perform the eight-part vocal line.

This step offers a sneak peak into the score of FAMA ahead of its performance on Friday. Note the instrumentation of each of the eight scenes, and the instructions outlined by Furrer – and join us on the night to experience this remarkable piece of sound theatre in the flesh.

Step 5

Last Friday night we were delighted to welcome Beat Furrer to conduct the UK premiere of his aural theatre masterpiece FAMA at St John's Smith Square, where he was joined by actress Isabelle Menkes, soloist Eva Furrer on contrabass flute and the wonderful musicians of London Sinfonietta. Throughout the night we snapped some pics of the performance.

Due to the success of the evening and what turned out to be a very busy and very full concert hall, we don't have an abundance of 'backstage' photos but if you missed the live performance, you can certainly get a glimpse into the evening by taking a look at our gallery. More photos will be appearing on our instagram page throughout the week so make sure to follow us here.

Step 6

In our debrief for last Friday's aural theatre performance at St John's Smith Square, we have chosen to include a blog post from composer Deborah Pritchard who created our very first music map! In Deborah's own composition, she uses her synaesthesia to create coloured images that outline the structure of her work.

We asked Deborah to invert her usual process and to produce a visual map of Furrer's FAMA as a listening guide for our audience. The results were both beautiful and informative, and Deborah has kindly put in words the process behind her creation. Scroll down to see some photographs of the creative process and read on to find out more about her approach.

The music map has received some amazing feedback, at the event on Friday night and on social media. It is the first of a new initiative by the London Sinfonietta and we are excited to see what comes next. Look out for another installation by Deborah in December, when she will be guiding you through the sound world of Hans Abrahamsen's Schnee.