Sound Unbound

The weekend-long classical music festival takes place 18-19 May and, for the first time, will be completely free. The festival features over 100 short performances in a relaxed festival atmosphere where informality is key. The concerts represent a myriad of different musical styles from across the ages and are performed by artists for whom the boundaries between classical music and contemporary, experimental and pop music have been blurred – or never existed in the first place.

A Culture Mile event programmed by the Barbican, the festival will this year also explore unexpected spaces across Culture Mile, which stretches from Farringdon to Moorgate in the north-west of the Square Mile. The great history and variety of music will be mirrored in the architecture, as concerts take place in more than 20 unique venues: from the medieval St Bartholomew the Great to the brutalism of the Barbican Centre, and from fabric nightclub to The Charterhouse, originally founded in 1348 during the Black Death. Sound Unbound kicks off Play the Mile which takes place across Culture Mile from 18 May – 25 August and explores the value of play and creativity in everyday life.

A detailed Sound Unbound schedule is available here

Festival highlights:

  • A major figure of the American post-modern music scene, pianist Bruce Brubaker collaborates with acclaimed electronica and techno producer Max Cooper on expanded, reworked and reimagined works by Philip Glass. Glassforms takes place in the Barbican Hall
  • A screening of The Artist (2011), the Academy-Award winning French comedy-drama in the style of a black-and-white silent film, with a live performance of the soundtrack by BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican Hall
  • Saxophonist Jess Gillam, one of the most exciting emerging artists in classical music, performs at Milton Court Concert Hall
  • London-based composer, producer, DJ and founder of the nonclassical record label, Gabriel Prokofiev will host his legendary genre-defying club experience at fabric club and at the Barbican Club Stage
  • London Symphony Chorus performs Orff’s classic Carmina Burana accompanied by two pianos and percussion in the Barbican Hall
  • The bold and virtuosic string orchestra, 12 ensemble performs Mendelssohn’s passionately romantic Octet, plus an arrangement of Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ Fljótavík, at St Giles’ Cripplegate, one of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London. The ensemble also welcomes Elena Tonra (Daughter/Ex:Re) for a special collaborative appearance at LSO St Luke’s
  • Zwerm, electric guitar quartet from Belgium performs arrangements of English Tudor music for electric guitar at St Giles’ Cripplegate
  • On the Barbican Lakeside, Zwerm is joined by New York-based electric guitar quartet Dither to perform Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint
  • Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Adès perform one of Beethoven’s most popular works, the Eroica symphony in the Barbican Hall
  • Stalin’s Piano, a multimedia project combines music with video and audio recordings of eminent artists and political figures from the 20th century, in Barbican Cinema 1  
  • Award-winning and record chart topping classical guitarist Miloš, whose repertoire ranges from Rodrigo to The Beatles, performs at Milton Court Concert Hall
  • Barbican Conservatory, a hidden tropical oasis in the heart of the city, will be open throughout the weekend and play host to a range of music, including music inspired by birdsong, performed by musicians from Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first majority-BME orchestra, performs a concert in the Barbican Hall, featuring music by Holst and Britten
  • Two special projects from singer Nora Fischer: HUSH, in which she, together with guitarist Marnix Dorrestein, redefines beautiful 17th-century songs in the spirit of a modern pop-song (at The Charterhouse and Barbican Cinema 1); and The Secret Diary of Nora Plain, where she moves between pop, jazz and classical (Milton Court Concert Hall)
  • Sackbut ensemble Sacred Bones performs music from 16th and 17th centuries in the churchyard of St Bartholomew the Great
  • Junior Guildhall Big Gig! – a free, fun workshop for anyone aged 5 +, and for all abilities. This is an opportunity to play in an ensemble and to perform what will certainly be a world premiere, led by Lincoln Abbotts (ABRSM) and conducted by Spencer Down (Junior Guildhall) at Guildhall School’s Silk Street Music Hall

Music and spaces without boundaries

For the first time as part of Sound Unbound, audiences will be able to discover and enjoy fantastic music alongside the history and heritage of the area, and also discover new spaces in the City of London’s Culture Mile, some of which aren’t usually open to the public. With multiple concerts taking place simultaneously, each festival-goer will be able to pick and choose from a vast range of performances and create their own unique version of Sound Unbound. Further programme details are listed by venue below. Please note that in smaller venues capacity is limited and access will be on first come first served basis.

Barbican Hall

The 1,949-seater Barbican Hall will play host to the London Symphony Chorus performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, accompanied by two pianos and percussion; award-winning classical guitarist Miloš together with virtuosic string orchestra the 12 ensemble; and a screening of The Artist (2011), the Academy-Award winning French comedy-drama in the style of a black-and-white silent film, with a live performance of Ludovic Bource’s score by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday, Barbican Associate Ensemble Britten Sinfonia performs Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, conducted by Thomas Adès; and Chineke! Orchestra plays music by Holst and Britten. Sunday comes to a close with a performance of Glassforms: pianist Bruce Brubaker, a major figure of the American post-modern music scene, collaborates with acclaimed electronica and techno producer Max Cooper on expanded, reworked and reimagined works by Philip Glass.

The Club Stage outside in the foyers of level -1 will be screening a live-relay of performances from the Barbican Hall. During the day the space will feature conversations with Sound Unbound artists. In the evening, the Club Stage will be the venue for Gabriel Prokofiev’s genre-defying nonclassical – a clubnight experience established to bring new music to new audiences, in unconventional spaces. Club nights on Saturday and Sunday feature Tom Richards, Addelam, non-classical DJs and further artists tba.

Barbican Lakeside

Surrounded by the Barbican’s iconic architecture, the Lakeside Terrace will feature electric guitarists from Dither and Zwerm performing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint; as well as Terry Riley’s minimalist masterpiece In C. There will also be pop-up performances from Street Orchestra Live throughout the weekend.

Barbican Conservatory

A hidden tropical oasis in the heart of the city and home to around 2,000 unique species of plant, the Barbican Conservatory will open its doors to the public throughout Sound Unbound for a programme inspired by nature and the environment, featuring talented musicians from Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Clarinettist Isha Crichlow performs a programme of works by Ravel, Messiaen, Marcus Dawe and Jolivet, all inspired by birdsong. Further performances include Mozart’s passionate Gran Partita, the School’s percussion ensemble Three Strange Angels performing a programme which includes music by Fela Kuti, and The Lakeside Clarinet Quartet, performing and dancing to Klezmer Wedding.

Barbican Cinema 1

Voted one of the most comfortable cinemas in London boasting state-of-the-art projection, Barbican Cinema 1 is a popular venue for film screenings and more. Sound Unbound performances include the UK premiere of Stalin’s Piano by Australian composer Robert Davidson. It combines music with video and audio recordings of eminent artists and political figures from Le Corbusier to Shostakovich, Jackson Pollock to Ai Wei Wei, and Julia Gillard to Donald Trump, and will be performed by pianist Sonya Lifschitz. It weaves music, archival video footage and the performer’s own voice to explore big themes in modern history. As part of Framed Film Club, there will be a Show and Tell event hosted by award-winning film composer Laura Rossi, exploring the ins and outs of how composers use music to build a film’s mood. The Cinema 1 programme also includes singer Nora Fischer and guitarist Marnix Dorrestein in HUSH which redefines beautiful 17th-century songs in the spirit of a modern pop-song.

Across all Barbican venues

Musicity x Culture Mile encourages a musical and architectural exploration of the area. Over the course of the summer, ten artists will create ten individual new tracks in response to a building, area or aspect of the city that inspires them. Using data gathered by acoustic experts ARUP, the artists explore the intrinsic connection between architecture and sound. During Sound Unbound, these perception-altering pieces will be free to experience within Barbican Lakeside, Club Stage and Sculpture Court, as well as within superclub fabric. Tracks will be released weekly following the launch at Sound Unbound and will then be available digitally via Geo-tagging technology when audiences are within a 100m range of the site. The variety of genres includes classical, spoken word, soundscapes and electronic music and is matched by the diversity of locations which ranges from ancient stone to modern glass. Part of Play the Mile, Musicity x Culture Mile is commissioned by Culture Mile in association with the Barbican.

The Charterhouse

Opened to the public in 2017, the Charterhouse is both a thriving almshouse and a stunning seven-acre site embracing seven centuries of remarkable lives. Originally founded in 1348 during the Black Death, the Charterhouse is a hidden gem on the edge of the City brimming with extraordinary stories of contemplation, conspiracy and charity. It houses a variety of spaces, indoors and outdoors, that will be used during the festival.

In the chapel, Sound Unbound audiences can hear the BBC Singers performing medieval plainsong; viol player Liam Byrne paying tribute to the experimental spirit of viol player and 17th-century Charterhouse resident Tobias Hume by playing new and old music for viol & electronics from his new album Concrete; singer Nora Fischer and guitarist Marnix Dorrestein in HUSH which redefines beautiful 17th-century songs in the spirit of a modern pop-song; and the Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey.

In the Great Chamber, young American countertenor John Holiday performs together with the Barbican’s Associate Ensemble Academy of Ancient Music.

In the Cloister, viol player Liam Byrne creates an installation from Nico Muhly’s Long Phrases for the Wilton Diptych (inspired by the National Gallery’s The Wilton Diptych from 1395-9).

In the open-air space of Charterhouse Square, a former plague pit, audiences can hear a range of outdoor performances from, among others, Street Orchestra Live, the UK’s first pop-up orchestra with the mission of bringing classical music to everyone, anywhere.

In the secluded Norfolk Garden, there will be an interactive musical installation entitled Pleasure Garden, which combines music and environmental sounds to create an interactive listening garden. Audiences are invited to ‘play the garden’, activating sounds via motion-sensor technology as they stroll with friends. Pleasure Garden is inspired by the story and music of the 17th-century musician, composer, improviser and nobleman Jacob van Eyck, and combines excerpts from his work with newly-composed music by Genevieve Lacey and Jan Bang. Pleasure Garden is part of Play the Mile and will move to Salter’s Garden from 25 May to 14 June.


On Saturday, one of London’s most iconic bass-driven dance music venues, fabric opens its doors to Gabriel Prokofiev’s genre-defying club experience nonclassical. Conceived to bring new classical and electronic music to new and existing audiences, and to support emerging artists, nonclassical will run all day on Saturday 18 May, interspersing live music from Shiva Feshareki, Addelam and Mira Calix with films and DJ sets from BBC Radio 3 Late Junction’s Nick Luscombe and nonclassical’s Tom Richards.

The Gresham Centre
This international centre for vocal excellence, outreach and performance is located at St Anne & St Agnes Church, a beautiful Wren Church dating from the mid-1400s. It is home of the VCM Foundation, a music education foundation which works to inspire people through music. Harnessing the sound of four Culture Mile Bells, Guildhall School singers and musicians from the Electronic Music department present a new song cycle at Sound Unbound, exploring the juxtaposition, morphing and manipulation of two diverse yet historically related sound-worlds.

LSO St Luke’s

An 18th-century Grade 1 listed Hawksmoor church on Old Street, LSO St Luke’s was restored to become the home of the LSO’s community and music education programme in 2003. On Saturday 18 May, Amir Konjani transforms the church with an atmospheric and immersive new experience, To Be Someone Else is a Battle – a rusty, metallic soundworld inspired by concepts of otherness and displacement. It will be a combination of contemporary classical music with spatialisation, video art, performance sculpture and movement over a 66-metre graphic score carpet. On Sunday, the Ragazze Quartet perform repertoire from their recent album project Radio Russia. Montreal-based cutting-edge classical string band collectif9 will perform rearrangements of Mahler symphonies, combining the power of an orchestra with the crispness of a chamber ensemble. London-based Australian pianist Jayson Gillham plays music of hope, joy and optimism from Handel, Bach, Chopin and Debussy. The 12 ensemble brings new perspectives to some of its major contemporary influences from across the musical spectrum. The performance includes a suite from the score to There Will be Blood by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), music by Tavener and Prokofiev, plus the world premiere of a new commission: Honey Siren from young British composer Oliver Leith. The ensemble also welcomes indie-folk star Elena Tonra (Daughter/Ex:Re) for a special collaborative appearance.

Milton Court Concert Hall

Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s state-of-the-art, 608-seat concert hall will play host to a range of eclectic performances and musical styles. Singer Nora Fischer collaborates with the Dutch Ragazze Quartet in her semi-autobiographical song cycle The Secret Diary of Nora Plain in which she moves between pop, jazz and classical and tells the story of Nora Plain, trying to live as an individual in the increasingly monitored society of today. Award-winning American countertenor John Holiday has the ability to move effortlessly between Baroque arias and standards from the American Songbook. At Milton Court he performs a programme of works examining sleep, dreams and waking from them, with Fauré’s Après un rêve, parts of H. Leslie Adams’ Nightsongs, three Langston Hughes-based Dream Portraits by mid-century African-American composer Margaret Bonds, and jazz. The acclaimed period instrument ensemble Academy of Ancient Music collaborates with rising-star percussionist Christoph Sietzen and renowned marimba player Bogdan Bacanu from the Wave Quartet in a performance of Bach for two marimbas and orchestra, and makes its first collaboration with internationally renowned saxophonist, Amy Dickson. Guitarist Miloš and saxophonist Jess Gillam each give a solo recital showcasing their repertoire in programmes that defy categorisation.

Piano Smithfield

The intimate cocktail and champagne bar tucked away below Long Lane in Smithfield will feature a Braziliana bossa nova performance by guitarist Andrey Lebedev and singer Lotte Betts-Dean, and a tango concert by Polish accordionist Bartosz Glowacki.

St Bartholomew the Great

Situated in the heart of Smithfields, the 12th-century Anglican church of St Bartholomew the Great will have a programme of not only sacred music in a historically significant venue, but works inspired by the history of St Bartholomew. The BBC Singers begin the weekend’s programme with choral music through the ages. Winchester-based a cappella choir Sansara presents music for choir and electronics exploring mysticism, death and loss, including chants by Hildegard von Bingen, the world premiere of a new work by Joe Bates, and Arvo Pärt’s meditative Virgencita.

Famous for its inclusion as one of the wedding venues in Richard Curtis’ cult Rom-Com Four Weddings and a Funeral, St Bart’s will play host to a new project by organist James McVinnie: For Weddings and a Funeral is a collection of music composed for and performed on church organ by an organist renowned for his boundless approach to music. In and around St Barts, sackbut ensemble Sacred Bones performs music from 16th and 17th centuries, and on Cloth Fair there will be a promenade operatic adventure entitled These Wondering Stones: created by composer Anna Pool, it uses live music, electronics and found sounds from around the Smithfield area and is based on stories of the Londoners whose lives make up a rich tapestry of the City of London’s history.

St Bartholomew the Less

St Bartholomew the Less, a beautiful 15th-century church inside Barts Hospital, will host performances by City Music Foundation artists. CMF’s strap-line is ‘turning talent into success’. CMF is a pioneer in providing tools, networks, skills and experience for professionals early in their careers at a stage when managing ‘the business of music’ in real life can be a challenge. Its broader aim is that CMF artists are ready for four decades or more of contributing to society’s culture and wellbeing – reaching hundreds of thousands through live performance, CDs, streaming, broadcast, teaching and mentoring – giving back a thousand-fold what CMF has given them. City Music Foundation is based in the City of London and is part of the Culture Mile Network.

St Giles’ Cripplegate

One of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London, St Giles’ Cripplegate was founded in 1394. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and is still a functioning parish church in the heart of the Barbican estate. Fitting in with the surroundings, Zwerm, an exciting electric guitar quartet from Belgium, performs arrangements of 17th-century music for electric guitar in a concert entitled Electric Renaissance. The 12 ensemble, a string orchestra known for their bold and virtuosic projects, performs Mendelssohn’s passionately romantic Octet, plus an arrangement of Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ Fljótavík.

Family Activities

Around Smithfield there will be a range of pop-up performances, including a variety of outdoor and drop-in activities in the Smithfield Rotunda and Charterhouse Square. This area also caters for places to eat, drink and hang out. All Sound Unbound performances are family-friendly, but there will also be a programme specifically designed for families: Saturday morning sees a special Sound Unbound edition of Framed Film Club (Cinema 1), with a Show and Tell event hosted by award-winning film composer Laura Rossi, exploring how composers write film music. At the Museum of London, families can go on an interactive, musical time-travelling journey from the Victorian era into the future with Victorian Punk It Up! Young ones have a chance to get to know the sounds of the cello and the clarinet and to immerse themselves in an eclectic mixture of London sounds. At Guildhall Silk Street Music Hall, Junior Guildhall Big Gig! gives everyone an opportunity to play in an ensemble and to perform; and the Barbican’s Level G foyers will present further activities for families and children aged 5+.