In review: Laura Mvula with the LSO

In review: Laura Mvula with the LSO

John Beckett

Friday night was a very special event, as Laura Mvula and the London Symphony Orchestra took to the Barbican for one performance only. In front of the gigantic London Symphony Orchestra, Laura Mvula looked just as at home as if she were in her living room, casually dressed in an extravagant gown that sparkled as she sat at the piano. “I didn’t really think this dress through,” she jokes, as she shuffles the train around the bench.

There are certain trademarks of a singer with a strong vocal technique, all present in Mvula - a beautiful alignment, her low and grounded breaths, and a hint of twang that allows for a vocal efficiency to have her voice soar through the entire program. The thing I like most about Mvula’s voice is her immediate and constant engagement to a core sound, not unlike the engagement you would get from a Verdi singer.

Singing her own songs arranged by Troy Miller, Mvula possesses that truly remarkable quality that has come to be a holy grail for singers of all styles: that when she is performing, you feel like she is looking directly at you, talking to you specifically.

It is extremely heartening to see how the London Symphony Orchestra responds to this music with the same passion and integrity as they would to a Mahler symphony. Under the baton of Miller they never once slipped under the standard that you come to expect from the LSO, showcasing an array of colors and depth that heightened Miller’s arrangements. Mvula’s songs are highly communicative and expressive to begin with, and were only made more poignant by the addition of the LSO.

One of the most touching moments of the evening was when she was joined onstage by her brother, cellist James Douglas. For this instance, the two performed a cover of Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” arranged by Douglas. With clever use of loop pedals and extended techniques on the cello, it was a welcome breath to have a few minutes stripped down amidst the very heavy orchestration of the rest of the program.

Laura Mvula is a performer that we are thrilled to see regardless of the musicians behind her, but at the Barbican we were grateful for the experience of seeing her collaborate one of the greatest orchestras in the world.

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