For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Profile: Susan Yarnall-Monks, soprano, lecturer and voice coach

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

My parents and various teachers were wonderfully supportive – they wouldn’t let me give up till I had got my grade 8 and by then of course I didn’t want to – but it was various performances that made me consider taking up music as a career. While at school I played the part of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, which was hugely challenging but which left me with a love of Mozart. My piano teacher got me into singing but my parents only found out that I had a talent for it when I surprised them by winning a local Eisteddfod!

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

For any woman who wants to combine a professional career with bringing up a family, there will always be sacrifices and compromises to make. I’m not complaining, as I have a wonderful family and have had a wonderful career.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

One of the main challenges is trying to achieve a high quality of music-making in a concert if fellow musicians are stressed or nervous. Quite by contrast, rehearsals are a pleasure, where one can work on different interpretations of the work in a generally more relaxed atmosphere.

I teach on the BMus Vocal Performance degree at Chichester University. I like to give my students the challenge of singing in different languages, in particular French, German and Italian. Last year my students’ repertoire extended to works in Dutch, Finnish, Polish, Swedish and Welsh, which was a challenge for me and them at times!

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have an eclectic musical taste and refuse to be ‘put in a box!’ I love Mozart, Howells, French Romantic composers and Poulenc in particular, but also Scottish songs for Burns night and works by Gershwin.

Which works do you think you perform best?

Art songs, which are miniature narratives capable of picture painting. Oratorio, Opera and Renaissance music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

Singing Fauré’s Requiem, Brahms Requiem and Carmina Burana with the Southampton Choral Society, and Poulenc’s Gloria and Mozart’s Requiem with the Renaissance Choir, because I felt all the musicians were as one with the music.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

When I visited Berlin last year, I was able to attend Daniel Barenboim’s final concert with the Berlin Phil, an incredibly moving performance from a man who has given so much to the musical life of the world. Richard Goode used to perform regularly at Bath Music Festival: he was able to extract so many colours from the piano, you could hardly believe that he was actually playing just one instrument! Also memorable was Eugene Onegin with Susan Chilcott and Thomas Hampson at the Bastille Opera in Paris because I was introduced to Tom afterwards when we were enjoying a post-performance supper and…because the singing was so electrifying.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be flexible and adaptable, remain creative and willing to explore. It’s a tough world out there. Get to know (and perform) music that many people don’t know; there is a lot of good contemporary music around at the moment, and you will get noticed that way. One favourite of mine at the moment is Michael Nyman’s If, with words based on Anne Frank’s diary, because it so poignant and deceptively simple.

How would you define success as a musician?

In my opinion success can be defined by whether you’ve been able to communicate a shared moment. The pianist Malcolm Martineau once spoke about the magic triangle of singer, pianist and audience and the real connection that worked between all three at a masterclass many years ago, and last year heard I him accompanying the soprano Anne Schwanewilms at Wigmore Hall when this was very evident.

Come and hear some of my students sing!

On Tuesday 17 November there will be an English Song Concert given by the University’s B.Mus Vocal Performance degree singers at the University, which will be live-streamed.

Such students need all the help they can get. I am optimistic, though, as although the delivery of musical performance may alter, musicians have shown great adaptability in the current crisis.

Susan Yarnall-Monks is an Associate Lecturer and Vocal Tutor at the University of Chichester Conservatoire. She is a professional soprano and she also enjoys singing with the Renaissance Choir where she is a frequent soloist. She has sung at Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline and in New York as well as European tours of France, Poland, Spain and Italy. Her love of French and English song has led to many recitals and recordings.

She was awarded her PhD (2007) from Sheffield University for her research into the Perception of the Singing Voice. She taught Singing and Music at Kingswood School, Bath for many years and recently retired from teaching voice at St. Paul’s Girls School, London. Susan took part in the Master Teachers Week at Princeton University USA. She is currently President of the European Vocational Training Association (EVTA) which involves organising international conferences for singing teachers from around the world.

She continues to teach singers of all ages and abilities and enjoys the challenge of helping anyone find their voice. She is a Licensed Lay Reader and also runs the Birdham Village Choir, and enjoys sailing, gardening and embroidery.

For her musings, see her blog at https://singunique.com. To view her more than 100 daily video singing exercises, visit The Renaissance Choir’s YouTube channel.

 


Erin on a High Note!

Chichester Music Group welcomed back Erin Alexander [soprano] and Nick Miller [piano] on 29 September to the Society’s first “socially distanced” concert at the University of Chichester, which was also live-streamed. This was a new experience for both the performers and the audience and, given these unusual circumstances, it was an enjoyable experience for all.

This concert was entitled “On a High Note”, which tells the story of soprano Graziella Scuitti, a contemporary of Maria Callas. Erin Alexander played the Italian singer, and she expertly maintained an effective Italian accent when in role. Nick Miller was an adept interviewer and they both created a believable platform, as they developed the life of Graziella Sciutti.

Graziella Scuitti’s stage career began in 1951 as she sang the role of Elisetta, the woman in The Telephone, which Erin performed with humour and skill, and then she sang songs from the characters that became Scuitti’s celebrated favourites, which during her career she performed over a hundred times each, Susanna, Despina, Rosina and Musetta.

The audience therefore enjoyed a wide selection of arias from Bach, Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini. Erin Alexander’s performance was engagingly dramatic, and she sang with a very self-possessed vibrancy, particularly rising to the challenge of singing in the character of another opera singer. This was an extremely rewarding performance.

The accompaniment by Nick Miller was very supportive yet so buoyant that it led to a highly effective performance by both musicians. They are to be congratulated for producing a near to perfection performance both musically, as well as in the acting necessary to make the format of the evening believable. The small audience that was allowed were very appreciative.

At the short interval the Chairman of the Chichester Music Society, Chris Hough, explained that this concert was dedicated to Chris Coote, the Society’s Treasurer, who unfortunately had just tragically died after a short illness. He said, “This was a concert that Chris Coote would have loved. He was especially committed to the development of young, gifted artists and took a keen interest in our Charity and its work. Chris had many friends in the musical world, especially in the Chichester and Bognor Regis music scene. His financial skills as an actuary, and musical temperament gave CMS an excellent treasurer. He was a talented accompanist and a fine musician. We shall miss his wit, his friendship and expertise. Erin and Nick have produced a torrent of lovely music which we have all thoroughly enjoyed. They are to be congratulated.”

Erin Alexander then closed the concert with a poignant performance of the piece when she had first met Chris Coote at a Showcase Concert Competition. This was the competition which Erin had won. She said he was one of those rare individuals who always had time for her, was always ready to provide help and advice, and as she said “he was so generous, with his time, his love, his soul, particularly for all of us young musicians, and even offered accommodation at his home when she was performing.”


Soprano Erin Alexander to sing for Chichester Music Society

Chichester Music Society (formerly Funtington Music Group) welcome back Erin Alexander (soprano) with Nick Miller (piano) for a show which was to have been their first under their new name in June.

Erin and Nick will present On A High Note, the story of soprano Graziella Sciutti. The singer was a contemporary of Maria Callas and helped pioneer the movement of opera singers becoming actors. Erin will sing the arias by Mozart, Verdi, and Rossini which made Sciutti’s career.

The recital will be in Chichester University’s Chapel of the Ascension on Tuesday, September 29 at 7.30pm.

Read more at the link below.

If you click through to the concert page, you can read details about how to access the livestream of this concert.

Read a review.


Profile: Alex Poulton, singer, vocal practitioner and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I started with dance and theatre rather than music, attending Horndean Ballet school, The Royal Ballet associates and then Elmhurst Ballet School from an early age. Watching The Boyfriend at the age of 10 at the Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth had quite an influence on me. I expanded my interests into music when I attended Southdowns College – Liz Lewis was a particular inspiration, introducing me to a wide range of composers and works, and I studied double music specialising in voice there.

After leaving school I went into the entertainment industry, enjoying a variety of roles as a dancer and singer in family entertainment style shows, such as Thorpe Park’s diving show.

Subsequently I studied for 6 years at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I went on many tours round the world during my breaks from college: I especially enjoyed spending time in sunny Dubai, before returning to my digs in grey Birmingham! The Conservatoire gave me so many opportunities to perform: I took major parts in productions such as The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute and Guilio Cesare and performed song cycles such as Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin among other works. I benefited from input from some wonderful teachers, including Julian Pike, Julius Drake and Meriel Dickinson. I was also really fortunate to be awarded scholarships to study in Weimar and Budapest. There I had the opportunity of training with world-class singers such as Sándor Sólyom-Nagy and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

I was given time off from the Conservatoire to go on tour with Colombia Artists to the USA for several months, performing The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly.

I now compose shows, perform in various productions and I am often invited to perform lieder and art song. I feel I am very lucky to have an interesting variety of work. Performing in a recital is particularly important to me. I like the intimate experience it presents. One can be director, m.d. and performer all at once. The music is truly wonderful and a real privilege to perform.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your musical career so far?

I put on my own Jazz musical called Freek Street on Hayling Island a couple of years ago. This piece was written in association with the mental health charity M.I.N.D. I worked on this with my Dad. It was a huge amount of work but a really rewarding experience.

I recently performed the Marquis in Poulenc’s The Carmelites with a 70-piece orchestra in London. It is an extraordinary and challenging piece of music/theatre.

I perform my dramatised version of Schubert’s Winterreise quite regularly. This is a monumental piece both mentally and physically. Unless you feel completely drained afterwards, somehow you haven’t done the work justice.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Schubert, Menotti, Vaughan-Williams, Finzi, Mozart and Wagner all wrote works which best suit the baritone voice. They are all masters at setting words and creating a dramatic scene.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Create your own opportunities: do what you really want to do without distractions, though prepare yourself for the need to change!

What are you busy with at the moment?

I am preparing to perform a somewhat “reduced” Ring Cycle for a socially distanced tour of the South West and a recital of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, a work that I have always been keen to sing. I recently recorded a new song with Valentina Seferinova by Rosalind Rogerson. I am currently writing a Bel Canto opera, and a stage production for baritone and mezzo-soprano.

Go to http://alexbaritone.co.uk to find out more about Alex.


Susan Legg – mezzo soprano and pianist

Since winning the National Mozart Singing Competition, Susan’s flourishing career has taken her to major venues worldwide. Specialising in contemporary song, she has broadcast for BBC Radio 3 and Norwegian Radio. Legendary mezzo Christa Ludwig described Susan’s lyric mezzo as ‘a beautiful voice with a fine coloratura.’ Susan studied singing with Margaret Kingsley at the Royal College of Music and National Opera Studio and piano with Clifford Benson and Phyllis Sellick.

Susan has given vocal and piano recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and St. John, Smith’s Square with pianist Ann Martin-Davis and performed at Glyndebourne, Bayreuth, Wexford and Aldeburgh Festivals and the Walton Trust, Ischia. She has sung all Elgar’s choral works, Bach’s Passions, the Verdi and Mozart Requiems and toured Handel’s Messiah in Mexico.

For cinema and television, Susan recorded composer Stephen Baysted’s soundtracks for celebrated director Phil Grabsky’s feature films: The Impressionists and the man who made them; Renoir: Revered and Reviled; I, Claude Monet and The Young Picasso. For video games, Susan was solo vocalist and pianist on soundtracks for Project Cars and Project Cars 2. She was featured vocalist on Atari’s Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends and Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed.

Recent engagements include a CD for Divine Art Label of Cilia Petridou’s new choral work Byzantine Doxology; world premiere of Nicholas Smith’s Chinese choral work Love, Friendship & Longing in Cadogan Hall; Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in Queen Elizabeth Hall; Verdi’s Requiem in Eastbourne and Beethoven’s Mass in C in Arundel Cathedral. Susan is currently featuring on ITV’s Endeavour as the opera diva.

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I fell into music really! At Springfield Comprehensive School in Drayton I was taught by a wonderful violinist, Sam Coates, who was a musical guru and at that time I also started piano lessons with Barbara Sayer who brought my playing on really quickly. I then went to South Downs College for music A levels where I was a part of a small but really thriving musical community and most of the students in my year went on to the London Conservatoires.

Elizabeth Lewis taught me singing, having first spotted my voice in her sight-singing classes. I met the pianist Clifford Benson whilst still at South Downs College when he visited for a masterclass and he helped to prepare me for the audition process. At the time I was a first study pianist and second study violinist and singing was in the background. Clifford was an extraordinary musician and teacher and with his guidance I soon won places to the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The Royal College was my first choice, to study with the great pianist Phyllis Sellick and there I met Margaret Kingsley who trained my voice. I was extremely fortunate to have been musically shaped by such incredible musicians and also to have had encouragement and fantastic support from my parents.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Balancing everything! Performing and teaching is a constant juggling act.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Musical collaboration is always the ideal musical scenario for me. I have been lucky to work in many exciting collaborations. With my long-standing duo partner pianist Ann Martin-Davis, I have given some exciting vocal recitals, including a food programme inspired and based on Nigella Lawson’s recipes.

We have commissioned song-cycles by Gabriel Jackson, Graham Fitkin and Howard Skempton and have toured Mexico, literary festivals, performed at Henley and Petworth Festivals and on music cruises around the world, including three trips down the Amazon! We have also performed extensively for Lost Chord, giving concerts to people with dementia and in the early years I gave numerous concerts on Menuhin’s Live Music Now! Scheme in schools, hospitals and hospices.

I’ve been lucky to collaborate with my husband Stephen Baysted who is a composer for TV, games and film. I have performed on his scores for Project Cars 3 (2020); Project Cars (2015) and Project Cars 2 (2017). I was featured vocalist on Atari’s Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends (2012) and Electronic Arts Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed (2011).

Our collaboration with Producer & Director Phil Grabsky Exhibition on Screen has been especially enjoyable and we worked together to create the music for Matisse, The Impressionists, Renoir: Revered and Reviled and I, Claude Monet. I also played and sang on his film Young Picasso and his latest film Leonardo: The Works.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

As a student at Royal College of Music, I learned Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Phyllis Sellick and it was always extraordinary to me to think that she and her husband Cyril Smith knew the composer. It was a wonderful challenge for me and I have such vivid memories of performing it in Portsmouth Cathedral with the University Orchestra conducted by William McVicar. Phyllis travelled down for the concert and it was a really memorable occasion for me to be playing it on home turf.

More recently I sang the mezzo solo role in a world premiere of Nicholas Smith’s Chinese choral work Love, Friendship & Longing in Cadogan Hall (Autumn 2018) and was proud to pull off some apparently fairly passable Mandarin!

During Lockdown, with my composer’s hat, on I wrote a song – Hold on Tight – to raise money for the NHS and am proud to say that we are approaching £3000. You may donate here.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have always loved Mozart and perhaps since winning the National Mozart Singing Competition when I was at RCM my love of his music grew even stronger. I love his musical language – Mozart can be simple but profound at the same time. I also love the romantics – Rachmaninov and Brahms and I really love singing the French repertoire.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

The role of the Angel in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius will always be special to me. It sits perfectly in my voice and it’s always a thrill to sing the final aria Softly and Gently.

What is your most memorable concert experience – either as a performer, composer or listener?

After leaving College I went on to sing in the Glyndebourne Chorus which was amazing! Learning stagecraft from Directors such as Trevor Nunn for Britten’s Peter Grimes was a real highlight. Whenever I hear the Four Sea Interludes I am transported back to that stage – we performed it in the last season of the old House -and this production will always be special to me for the wonderful onstage camaraderie in the cast and chorus and the electrifying music that was brought to life that Summer with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was a thrill to join the BBC Singers for the Last Night of the Proms in 2010. Nothing quite prepares you for that atmosphere in the Albert Hall!

Much more recently I had my first taste of performing opera on TV when I was chosen to sing the operatic heroine in ITV’s Endeavour for Series 7 in Summer 2019. It was a thrilling and extraordinary experience. I had to be on set early so was dressed in my Baroque costume, wig and makeup by 6am. Composer Matthew Slater wrote a superb short opera and the story shadowed the on-screen action throughout the series. It was such a buzz to sing that beautiful score on stage although we had to film my fainting scene so many times I thought my wig would fall off!

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

To be disciplined and practise. You really need strength of purpose and determination as well as talent to pursue a career in music.

How would you define success as a musician/composer?

To have the good fortune to be making music thirty years on and still enjoying it!

 


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