Continuing our series of #SundaySoundtrack Isolation Playlists, Royal Ballet Sinfonia Second Violin Robert Simmons talks us through his selection. 'I could have made this a double album for sure! I think it’s eclectic and I hope you enjoy it. Music makes a difference and I’m missing playing with the Sinfonia and Birmingham Royal Ballet.'
1) Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee
I didn’t want my isolation playlist to be filled with the melancholy, so I’m getting this one in early. I first heard this song when it appeared in the final season of the incredible TV show Mad Men. Apparently the show’s creator Matthew Weiner considered using it as the show’s theme. Although the song harks back to an earlier era, it was released in 1969 and captures some of the disillusionment of the end of the decade. It couldn’t have been delivered so perfectly by anyone except Peggy Lee with her lifetime of hardship, and four failed marriages behind her!
2) Apollo - Stravinsky
I was on trial when I first played this with Birmingham Royal Ballet, around 2003. The Company used to dance Apollo a lot back then and it is one of my favourite ballets. It’s breathtakingly beautiful music with some really special moments. I’ve especially enjoyed playing it on small-scale mini tours. I especially remember Robert Parker dancing this piece.
3) Are You in Love – Basia Bulat
A week or two before lockdown my quartet Estilo String Quartet worked with this Canadian singer songwriter and played an intimate press gig in Dalston with her. We hadn’t met before but she came straight to our house to rehearse these fabulous string arrangements that had been made by a big string arranger in the States. It was such a joy and the final quartet date I did before isolation. I’ve really missed playing music with people during this period and this album and this wonderful singer will always remind me of this time.
4) Largo from Sonata No.3 in C – J.S. Bach
One of the opportunities that lockdown has enabled is time to devote to some personal practise. Freed from the rigours of rehearsal and travelling. I’ve been re-learning this sonata with the aim of being able to play it in its entirety by the summer. This movement is a beautiful one and Milstein’s Bach playing is some of the best.
5) When You’re Smiling and Astride Me – Father John Misty
I could have chosen anything from the FJM album I Love You Honeybear. It’s an intimate love album - his lyrics are visceral and raw rather than sentimental. He is a brilliant live performer and lush string arrangements too.
6) Two Pigeons - Messager
I love this ballet. I first played it on trial in around 2004. I remember practising along to the CD A Tribute to Sir Fred brilliantly played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Barry Wordsworth.
7) Uskudar – She’koyokh
She’koyokh are an incredible klezmer/traditional Balkans band that played at my wedding. They’re a compelling live act.
8) Noah – Frank Sinatra
This track is from the Sinatra comeback album from 1973 Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back. It’s Gordon Jenkins/Don Costa arrangements are ridiculously good. Totally over the top. The playing is incredible. I think a lot of people prefer early Frank but I prefer Sinatra’s voice later in his career. You can hear a life well lived in his voice!
9) Gan to the Kye – The Unthanks
I led an orchestral tour playing with the Unthanks a couple of years ago. Rachel and Becky Unthank are sisters with incredible folk voices. Their stuff is pretty mournful (it’s folk music so I think that’s a given!) and much of their music including this song is Northumberland border folk music. It’s about the times when the English-Scottish borders were debatable and lawless and run by local families.
10) People – Funny Girl, Original London Cast
My favourite track from Funny Girl. Sheridan Smith was an incredible lead in Funny Girl at The Savoy. My wife played cello on that show and it was a nice summer.
11) Love You So Bad – Ezra Furman
A great, catchy, simple American rock song. Features on the Netflix Sex Education (good watch for lockdown BTW) soundtrack too.
12) Juliet’s Death - Romeo and Juliet – Prokofiev
Probably the most beautiful ending of any ballet. Often have something in my eye at this point.
13) Into my Arms – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
This is such a beautiful song, lyrically and musically. So my suggestion for the end of this playlist is to lie down and listen to this for four minutes. It will make you feel a bit better!