Review: 2021 Concerts at Borough New Music featuring Mimi Doulton

Mimi Doulton’s 2021/Borough New Music appearance today showcased music performance artworks from the past forty years and the soprano’s considerable vocal dexterity. The all unaccompanied vocal programme was introduced by Mimi as ‘an experiment’. But who was it an experiment for?

Well, possibly Mimi herself. Running at just over 50 minutes with very little break in between, this lunchtime recital was a demanding vocal challenge with punishing vocal writing spanning her register.

Working backwards through the programme (unorthodox I know, but stick with me) Oliver Knussen’s Four late poems and an epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke, in particular, showed Mimi’s considerable stamina and commitment in what is a spikey and often uncompromising work.

Elliot Carter’s La Musique piece that preceded with its expansive melodic line sounded almost like a much-needed massage of the vocal chords after the sing-spiel acrobatics of George Aperghis’ Recitations I & VII that opened the concert. Here, in particular, Mimi opened with an arresting performance that grabbed attention and helpfully established the listening parameters for the audience.

The undeniable strength in programming all unaccompanied material for one singer is the opportunity given to the audience to compare and contrast compositional approaches. For example, a work Judith Weir wrote the year she graduated from Cambridge University in 1976 – King Harald’s Saga – illustrated the compelling characteristics I discovered by accident her 1985 carol for unaccompanied chorus Illuminare Jerusalem during the Nine Lessons and Carols last year. King Harald’s Saga – a lively, descriptive and reflective piece – had entertainment at its heart. That’s one of the key characteristics of Weir’s music I’ve come to appreciate.

Low-key unassuming (and importantly, free) events like this provide a useful framework for ongoing discovery of new music. Go with an open mind and a fierce curiosity, and you’ll see beyond the conventional boundaries of what a concert is and what’s entertaining and what isn’t. Vocal timbres resonate; emotions are triggered; unknown art suddenly becomes real.

The next Borough New Music Series 5 concert is on Tuesday 20 February at St George the Martyr in Borough, London. Borough New Music concerts are on every Tuesday until around June. They’re free with free tea and biscuits at the end too.

Review: Sensation / Julian Anderson / Ben Smith / Borough New Music

When the music is contemporary there’s a reduced likelihood of recordings available to refresh the memory after a performance.

Julian Anderson’s suite for solo piano performed by Ben Smith yesterday at St George the Martyr in Borough, is a case in point.

The opportunity which emerges therefore makes for an entirely refreshing writing experience – one based on memory alone.

We may well approach the modern or unfamiliar with trepidation, but Anderson’s music is surprisingly accessible and Sensation, as the title of the suite suggests, is an illustration of the composer’s intent. The demands placed on the pianist are considerable, but the effects on the listener are electrifying, the bravura sequences in the fifth movement especially so.

All credit to composer and pianist Ben Smith who performed the work, originally composed for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival last year.

This was a glorious celebration of sound performed by a musician who revelled in the tonalities and harmonics created by a robust and defiant instrument. The depiction of ‘near chaos’ in the second movement Sight Lines was a particular favourite.

Borough New Music concerts are staged every Tuesday lunchtime (not during December) and admission is free.