Soon to launch its second season of concerts, Borough New Music kicks off with a Rob Keeley Portrait Concert Tues 2nd October. Dan Goren caught up with Artistic Directors Clare Simmonds and Hollie Harding to find out more.
DG Congratulations on putting together another impressive set of events for October ’18 to June ’19. Two things first really impress about Borough New Music. First, its elegance – no grand statements, just new and recent music being made available every Tuesday lunchtime (for free!) to all. The second is the quality of the performers combined with the shear number of composers work on offer. Tell me about how it came about.
CS Thank you! It started in the kitchen of a retired GP and keen bass clarinettist called Nick King who had met me on a CoMA summer school where I was teaching improvisation. Over a cup of tea, Nick proposed to hold a concert of new music at his local church, St George the Martyr, and asked me to find performers and organise it, which I thought was a great idea. Plans soon developed into a ‘trial’ series of four concerts (Series 1, February 2017). We were delighted to receive a warm reception for these and to break even (with the aid of RVW Trust funding), and so thought to organise more! The composer Hollie Harding then joined us as a Trustee and Guest Artistic Director and we’ve been keeping going since then. By June 2019 we will have organised over 70 concerts. We have been delighted with the enthusiasm of the audience, performers and composers involved and also the support of funding bodies in helping to make this happen.
It’s great to see how much new music is included in concert programmes in the UK. However, it was our feeling that there are plenty of interesting performers and composers who don’t get the exposure they deserve and don’t get the chance to have their work heard. Our mission is to provide a platform for performers and composers (specifically, living composers, as much as possible) and to promote the enjoyment and appreciation of the music of today to a wider audience – providing an ongoing, accessible opportunity to hear this repertoire.
DG I think a lot of musicians will recognise the kitchen as a key place for hatching creative plans! You’ve got an interesting mix of distinctive programmes, what guides this?
HH Our programmes come from a variety of different places. We accept programme proposals through our website (boroughnewmusic.co.uk/concert-proposal) and encourage those interested in being Guest Artistic Directors and performers with an interest in contemporary music to apply. Our only programme requirement is that each 45-minute recital proposal should consist of music solely written by living composers, though in special circumstances or if there are no viable alternatives we might compromise and allow up to 10% of the duration to be by composers that are no longer with us….
Programmes and performers are also put forward by our Guest Artistic Directors who change year upon year – which helps to keeps things exciting, varied and interesting. As a rule we aim for as much variety as possible to reflect the wealth of different styles of contemporary music that are out there. It’s a part of our mission to be deliberately open-minded and non-prescriptive.
DG Lunchtime classical concerts can attract a wider audience. Are you finding the same true for new music?
CS Absolutely! We’ve been really staggered by the diversity of our audience. Of course the concerts appeal because they’re free to attend and there’s tea and coffee afterwards, but many of those who attend are complimentary about the experiencing the music. In the audience there are usually friends and contacts of the performers and composers involved, but also there are often others who have heard about the music through word of mouth, a radio broadcast or they simply saw a poster. The audience often includes passers-by, office-workers and tourists who happen to be in the area; mothers and children; homeless people; those who have never been to a formal concert before; students; those who live and work nearby, and those who are interested in the instruments involved. Certainly those composers and performers who would like to participate in future stand a better chance of involvement if they attend a concert and introduce themselves. We’re always looking for front-of-house volunteers, for example (see our advert here: london-se1.co.uk/volunteering/role/38 )
DG It’s great to see Composers Edition composers Philip Cashian, Kirsty Devaney, Michael Finnissy, Colin Riley & Francis Pott (as featured composer) in programmes over the next 9 months. It’s a strong statement of both the series and Rob Keeley’s music that you open with him as featured composer on Tuesday 2 October with three very fine musicians: Lore Lixenberg, Victoria Samek and Chris Brannick. Tell me what attracted you to lead with this programme?
HH It’s great that Composer’s Edition supports so many composers! The opening recital of the 2018-19 season is a high-profile, prestigious event which we hope will appeal to many. We had initially approached Rob as a possible Guest Artistic Director and though that wasn’t to be, this concert was the outcome of those discussions. We are delighted to be hosting a world premiere of his revised version of Joyful Mysteries and are looking forward to hearing all the musicians involved perform with their usual panache!
DG Indeed! Thank you both for chatting with me, I’ll leave you to get on with preparations and look forward to the series kicking off Tuesday 2nd October. No doubt we’ll catch up again as the other CE composer peformances take place.
Tuesday 2 October 2018, 1pm: Featured Composer: Rob Keeley
Lore Lixenberg (mezzo-soprano), Victoria Samek (clarinet), Chris Brannick (percussion), Rob Keeley (Piano)