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

Review: Chichester Music Society – The Champagne Quartet

The Champagne Quartet was welcomed by the Chichester Music Society on 15 September 2021 at the University of Chichester as their opening autumn concert. The Quartet is an operatic vocal quartet established in 2016, made up of graduates of the Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama, delighting the audience as their programme of well-known opera favourites, often from Italian composers, unfolded.

The programme opened with the four musicians performing the fun and rather exuberant Drinking Song “Brindisi” from Verdi’s La Traviata. This was sung with a boisterous raucous flavour that set the tone for an enjoyable evening that the audience certainly appreciated in person.

After that, the programme was spread between either solos, duets or three of the Quartet, moving through Donizetti and Rossini, and then on to The Flower Duet from Lakme by Leo Delibes, which was sung by Erin Alexander, who had previously sung for the Society, and Clare Eccles. This was a delightful, often nuanced, performance by both singers. Both musicians were throughout technically assured, and Erin particularly had a lovely clean sound that projects strongly.

Later in the evening Clare Eccles was joined by Ross Wilson in a performance of Franz Lehar’s Lippen Scheweigen from The Merry Widow. The dynamic between the singers was natural and effortless and was played to maximum effect. In fact, the acting of the whole Quartet was effortless and effective throughout, and substantially added to the overall enjoyable atmosphere that was being created by the music.

Sam Young and Ross Wilson sang the duet O Mimi, tu piu non tourni from Puccini’s La Boheme, both delivering a moving performance of remarkable control and sensitivity.

The accompaniment on the piano by Guy Murgatroyd was throughout the concert understated, yet acutely judged according to the demands of each composer. A thoroughly outstanding example of how important it is for any singer to have a sympathetic and understanding musician at the piano.

The concert concluded, after some Mozart songs from The Magic Flute, with a rendering of the whole Quartet singing Goodnight Quartet from Martha by Frederich Ferdinand Flotow, a simple, calm conclusion to the concert. Chris Hough, Chairman of Chichester Music Society, said, “This was a fabulous evening with some marvellous singing of many well-loved opera favourites. The Quartet and Guy are to be heartily congratulated!”


Profile: Adrian Green, singer, teacher, composer and producer

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

I’ve always wanted to sing and I was fortunate that the school I went to had a strong ethos when it came to music. Choral singing was part of day-to-day life and although the school wasn’t exclusively a Christian institution, assemblies throughout my education included hymn singing and whole school performances of major classical works, from Handel’s Messiah to Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Haydn’s Creation. The School choir also worked on annual opera productions, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more opportunities to sing and perform, especially given that my school wasn’t a music specialist institution.

My music and singing teachers have all helped me to discover my voice over the years and, especially in the context of choral music, my time as a scholar at Royal Holloway College with Rupert Gough was critical in preparing me to take up a Lay Clerk position at Portsmouth Cathedral, which I’ve held since 2008.

In terms of music education, I spent a gap year working in Sydney at a primary school in 2004. Whilst I decided at the time not to go into full-time teaching, this role did inspire me to continue to work in music education, specifically through administrating and delivering Portsmouth Cathedral’s singing partnership programme (2008-), Cathedral Sing. This work involves inspiring primary children to sing in classrooms and choir stalls and it continues to flourish with the support of Portsmouth Cathedral and support from many other charities and trusts.

What are the greatest challenges to being a musician?

From a career perspective, you’ve got to be good at many different things. You cannot afford to always say “no” to new things or avoid things unnecessarily. Whether it’s solo performance work, composing, music or singing teaching, choir tour management, website design, accounting, or even tidying the office, all these things are part of a musical career. They can all be done musically.

From a performance perspective, I find one of the greatest challenges is to practise humility in making music. It’s easy when you’re singing to have opinions or ideas about what you’re singing or who you’re singing with etc…, and the ability to see these ideas and drop them when they are irrelevant (they usually are!) is really important. To quote Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” It’s the same with music and keeping this approach in mind helps me to be continually re-inspired by what I do (rather than expired!), whether it’s the first time I sing something or the thousandth time.

In summary, the challenges to being a musician are all about keeping an open mind and being present in what do you.

And what about Convivium Records?

Being a musician is about sharing music with others. When I first came to Portsmouth Cathedral in 2008, I was keenly aware of many of my friends and colleagues who were trying to establish careers in music. I’d developed an interest in recording at school and also at university where The Choir of Royal Holloway had worked with a number of top British Labels on commercial recording projects. With all of this in mind, I established Convivium Records in 2009. The aim was for this to be a self-publishing house for young artists and composers to be able to record and release music commercially. Over the past decade, Convivium Records has developed into a more traditional Label and works with both amateur and professional musicians and composers all over the world, whilst retaining a focus on the quality of production and a commitment to helping performers to share what inspires them.

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

As a singer, I especially like performing Baroque and 20th Century music. Vaughan Williams is a composer who I’ve found particularly inspirational and, of course, alongside his significant compositional output, he was one of the editors of (and contributed heavily towards) The English Hymnal, which was and is a significant publication in the history of Anglican Church Music. It was initially in learning to play hymns from this publication that I taught myself to play piano.

What are your most memorable experiences as a musician?

Not so long ago I performed the tenor solos from Handel’s Messiah in a performance at Portsmouth Cathedral, directed by David Price. I first came across the work at the age of 10, when I was asked to sing some recit passages as part of a whole school production and it was during that performance that I decided I was going to be a singer. Some 20 years later, performing Comfort Ye, and Every Valley with Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, I experienced a being completely myself for a few moments and it’s in moments like these that I’m reminded why I do what I do.

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

Be adaptable and willing to try out new things. Keep an open mind. Learn to play the piano.

How would you define success as a musician?

Contentment in your life. (Not necessarily all the time, but at least some of the time!).

What’s your next event?

During term time, my next event is likely to be singing evensong at Portsmouth Cathedral, as this happens up to five evenings every week! Of course, there are concerts and events and recordings and performances too, but if you want to discover something new and different, challenge yourself to turn up for a choral service in the building. They are free of charge and the music presented is wide-ranging and generally inspiring. (Most of the evening services start at 5.45pm, but you can always find out exactly what’s on and when through the Portsmouth Cathedral website!).

About Adrian

Adrian is a tenor Lay Clerk at Portsmouth Cathedral and also performs with Convivium Singers and the Charpentier Ensemble, as well as various other groups. As a soloist, Adrian sings with choirs across the UK and, occasionally, further afield. Adrian manages Portsmouth Cathedral’s “Cathedral Sing” music education programme across Hampshire and also teaches solo singing to people of all ages and abilities, both at Portsmouth Grammar School, and privately. As the managing director of Convivium Records, Adrian oversees the day to day running of the classical Label.

Visit: https://adrian-green.co.uk
https://conviviumrecords.co.uk
https://www.planethugill.com/2017/03/balancing-commercial-and-artistic.html


Review of Holy Trinity Gosport tea-time concert: Catherine Bilton

Today’s concert can only be described as ‘a triumph’ for Music and the Arts at Holy Trinity!

Catherine Bilton, soprano, brought us great joy this afternoon: to listen to her remarkable voice is a joy in itself and we were transported from an ordinary Sunday to an extraordinary one whilst listening to her sing. Her voice evoked a wide range of emotions from coquetry to anguish (and I felt them all)! Add to all this her delightfully playful introductions and we were all smitten.

It was a beautiful programme of music and, although Catherine had her own favourite in the Brahms, I would find it impossible to claim one above the others as I was delighted with each new song; one, however, stands out in my memory: ‘When I have sung my songs’ by Ernest Charles. Catherine’s rendering of this held such pathos it was impossible not to be moved and brought me close to tears.

Family and friends turned out to support Catherine in her first public performance since the beginning of the pandemic; I am certain she will have many more fans following today’s concert. We thanked Catherine and her very able accompanist, Nickie Tabeart, for their superb performance. If you missed her this time, she hopes to return in 2023!


Review: Chichester Music Society: Tanya Ursova (piano) & Anna Gorbachyova (soprano)

See associated Noticeboard item.

The Chichester Music Society had their first 2021 Concert that finally had a live audience, and as usual the Society met at the University of Chichester, where 30 members and guests attended on 9 June. The artists were Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie [soprano – right in photo] and Tanya Ursova [piano].

The programme was a fascinating mixture of Russian, German and French songs, involving music by well-known composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, Richard Strauss and Poulenc. Interestingly they also included music by other lesser-known composers such as Henri Duparc, and Anna chose his Chanson Triste to open this concert. Immediately the audience was captivated by her confident and dramatic conviction, her volume, which, when needed, was impressive, and her ability to temper this appropriately according to the demands of the music.

Another particularly interesting choice was In the Autumn, a piece which was written by Georgy Sviridov who only died in 1998. Much of his career had been spent working in the Soviet era, but this piece was part of the New Folk Wave, and Anna and Tanya together created a memorable performance which demanded both sensitivity and emotional musical scene painting.

Anna sang throughout with both technical fluidity and produced some highly polished singing with a voice full of emotional intensity, which was particularly noticeable in her rendition of Richard Strauss’ Three Songs of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Opus 67.

Tanya Ursova’s accompaniment was fluid and at times fiery, at times breathtakingly haunting, always anticipating the mood of each piece, and she was a perfect instrumental companion. She also played a piano solo by Rachmaninov that was well chosen to demonstrate her ability to articulate both poignant, moving music, as well as light-hearted crescendos and more melodic themes.

The concert programme ended with a sensitive performance of Poulenc’s Fiancailles pour Rire where much of the music was anxious and wistful. The Duo ended the concert with an encore by Gershwin that certainly lightened the mood.

This concert was a prime example of what the Chichester Music Society does best, which is to introduce our members to new music, as well as reminding them of old favourites. Chairman, Chris Hough, thanked the two musicians “for giving the Society a wonderful evening of marvellous music”, also thanking Tanya Ursova for her valuable work on the detailed programme notes and translations which greatly added to the audiences understanding & enjoyment of the music.


Profile: Cordelia Hobbs, soprano

What have been the most important influences on your interest in music?

I think it started with my Dad’s love for anything from Flanders and Swan – the music and text play off each other so well, which is something I can well relate to. More recently, Anna Lapwood has been a great inspiration to me in terms of being a champion of equal opportunities for women and girls in classical music. I had the honour of being interviewed by her for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire show in 2019.

The music department at Portsmouth Grammar School encouraged an incredible variety of musical interests in me – from jazz, a cappella, singing with the big band through to choral singing. An opportunity that was most notable was with jazz pianist Jason Rebello. The school’s close relationship with the Cathedral set me up as a chorister and led me to organist Oliver Hancock and singing teacher Lucy Cronin – both had a knack for striking the balance between challenging and encouraging me during the tumultuous time that is secondary school!

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

The pandemic. I’m now at York University reading Philosophy and English, though doing as much singing making as Covid will afford me. I’m singing with The 24, conducted by Robert Hollingworth, also founder/director of I Fagiolini. We’re supposed to rehearse twice a week but we’ve not been able to access the practice rooms, let alone perform, these past few months although I am looking forward to finally singing again this term.

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

It’s wonderful singing in a choir of great listeners where there are only 1 or 2 voices to a part, where all your vowel sounds are matched and everyone is strictly in tune, and where your efforts are appreciated. I find that I am often walking on air!

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

I studied Pagodes by Debussy at A level and it has a wonderful calming effect on me. Madeleine Dring’s cabaret songs and West End Revue material are full of clever writing, both musically and textually. Dove’s For an Unknown Soldier is immensely powerful. Being a chorister, of course, the Gloucester Service is the best Howells Mag and Nunc.

Which works do you think you perform best?

Most works where I can get behind the text and create something unique, especially with solo pieces.

(I feel that I give an extra 20% when I can get behind the text of a piece I’m singing.  I love singing poetry or any text that moves me in any way. If I can find a way to relate anything to my own experience, then I stand the best chance of nailing a piece especially if it’s a solo.)

Which performances are you most proud of?

In secondary school I used to perform Messiah every year. The most memorable performance was singing the soprano solo If God be for us in Portsmouth Cathedral with a full Baroque orchestra. Quite by contrast, as a young chorister I was immensely proud of singing short solo plainsong pieces in quiet evensongs – terrifying but satisfying. Singing with the cathedral, I performed in the Royal Albert Hall for Remembrance which was attended by the Queen.

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

I’m still considering my options as regards pursuing such a career! Nevertheless the only thing I feel qualified to say is that you need to practise your art, keep your options open, and sing all different kinds of genres – if you sing in a healthy way it can only do you good!

What are your current music-related academic interests?

I have a special interest in war poetry and am researching the music written for the poems by Christina Rosetti and Wilfred Owen. Next year I will be researching aesthetics – what influences an individual’s musical taste – why we like some pieces and not others. I’m a huge advocate of joint honours and exploring the inbetweens of different academic avenues.

I’m extremely passionate about equal opportunities and developing singing opportunities for girls and women, particularly in church and cathedral settings. Irrevocably, girls’ choirs deserve the same treatment as boys’ choirs. Being a chorister set me up to be the musician I am today and it’s extremely important to me that everyone gets an equal opportunity to get that start regardless of background or gender.

Cordelia Hobbs is a current student at the University of York who began her musical career at The Portsmouth Grammar School and as a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral. She now sings for Robert Hollingworth’s choir The 24 and continues to engage in wider discussions surrounding gender and choral music.


Profile: Erin Alexander, soprano

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

My parents are pretty musical! Mum plays clarinet and recorder, and Dad plays guitar and ukulele. They brought me and my brother up on some fab 80s rock like Queen, Europe, and Bon Jovi. We would see musicals when they toured up to Liverpool and Manchester, and I fell madly in love with Musical Theatre. Oddly enough my brother went the other way, and our poor parents had to live with an odd medley of me singing Phantom of the Opera in my room, and my brother screaming along to heavy metal in his! But it was Phantom of the Opera that really sparked my interest in classical music, because I saw someone who sang like I could, and I thought “wow”, that could be me.

My wonderfully supportive parents offered me classical singing lessons when I was 15, and for a long time I kept it a secret from my friends. When I was 17 one of my teachers saw that I had won a competition in Alderley Edge near Manchester, and “outed” me to my friends at Priestley College in Warrington. My friends were amazed, and so happy for me! I have been very lucky to be so wonderfully encouraged.

I went to the University of Chichester and studied a Bachelor of Music. I was absolutely spoiled for performance opportunities there, I remember Crispin Ward asking me to step in for Catherine Bott at the last minute at the Chichester Assembly Rooms, and touring Guernsey, Romania, Budapest, Switzerland, Austria, and Rome!

The endless encouragement from my wonderful singing teacher Ian Baar fuelled my dreams. He inspired me to reach far higher than I ever thought possible, and encouraged me to see as much opera as I could.

I saw my first live operas ever during my time in Chichester; I got £5 student tickets for the WNO tours down in Southampton, and I somehow managed to get £25 box seats at the Royal Opera House on another student initiative. Suddenly opera houses were making opera and classical music accessible to all, and it made a huge difference to my interest. Opera became something obtainable, and not only for the very rich.

I then studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where I was a Choral Scholar for the BBC National Chorus of Wales, and cast in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus with Opera’r Ddraig. It was wonderful to be a part of something greater than myself in both of these, and they introduced me to a lot of new music.

Likewise, in the final part of my education which was with the European Opera Academy at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence, the more musicians I met the more inspired I became and the more influence on my musical interests.

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

THE PANDEMIC. I remember vividly when all of my work was cancelled, I had a huge existential crisis. I am a singer – if I cannot sing, then what am I? What is my purpose? I know that sounds silly and dramatic, but that is truly how I felt, and I did a lot of crying.

It took some time for me to reconsider this; as a singer, my purpose is to share. I get to tell the stories of these great composers and librettists, I get reveal secrets and plot twists, impart knowledge and inspire. As a singer, my purpose and gifts are in communication and sharing.

While I couldn’t perform, I decided to use my communication and musical training to take up positions in schools teaching music, and used my knowledge of languages to teach French and Italian too. Alongside this I of course also taught singing lessons and piano online. I am glad that I used the time during the pandemic to continue sharing, communicating, and inspiring people – even if they weren’t my usual audience!

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

There is always something to learn from collaboration. As a singer I am melody-focussed in my practice, so working with pianists, chamber ensembles and orchestras gives me a whole new sound world of rich and lush harmony. Learning and hearing how the voice and harmony create a duet and weave together is one of my favourite parts of collaboration.

It is also important to note that singers are not able to hear themselves properly! If you would like to test this theory out, you can record yourself talking and listen back to it – I guarantee you will cringe! It is very different to how you think you sound, so it is important to have someone else’s ears listening for nuances and helping you.

Of course, my favourite part of any collaboration with other musicians, whether it be just me and an accompanist, or a whole opera company, is the sense of being a part of something much larger than myself.

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

Oh, Mozart! For a while I avoided Mozart; those “in the know” had always expressed how Mozart’s music was perfect, and that really scared me off! It wasn’t until I was doing my Masters that I learned how playfully and mischievously he writes, and now singing Mozart’s operatic work is like laughing with an old friend. He really speaks to my objective of taking the elitism out of classical music by allowing the “lower class” characters so much beautiful music, and has so many clever plot twists!

I really enjoy singing Debussy; all the dreamy harmony and lyrical lines, everything about that era of music and art and poetry really appeals to me, and when all of this is over I hope to visit Paris for the first time and relish in my little French fantasie!

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why?

I love character, I love storytelling and human emotion. I think that anything with a great character that I can really get my teeth into is something I perform best.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

During my Masters I wrote my own piece of Operatic Theatre with the sponsorship and help of the Cooper Hall Emerging Artists Award. It is called On A High Note, and it is an opera specifically designed to break down these barriers of elitism in classical music, and is perfect for opera buffs and newbies alike. I performed it for two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2019, and it received 5-star reviews!

I am really proud of the achievement; not only did I research and write this new piece of theatre, but I took it to this huge theatrical festival, performed it myself, and people loved it. That was huge for me. I have since taken this production touring, and locally I performed it for the Chichester Music Society, and at the Bognor Music Club. Before the pandemic, there was talk of it touring around America too! I would love to get it touring again, it is such a rush performing something I have given so much love to.

What are your most memorable experiences as a performer?

While on tour with the University of Chichester Chamber Choir in Rome, there was a complete power cut and a huge thunderstorm. A few of us walked to the colosseum during the storm and sang a few of our pieces while we watched the rain lashing down and the colosseum be lit up by lightning.

There are so many instances of me performing on big stages to lots of people and they’re of course memorable, but that one highlights music and friendship to me. The next day we performed in the Vatican, and enjoyed some lovely chianti afterwards!

One of my more memorable performances has to be singing as the soloist in The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins at Chichester Cathedral in my first year of University – I wore a big gold dress and felt so at home.

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

You are a person first, and your music is a facet of who you are. Nurture yourself, and your music will benefit from that.

How would you define success as a musician?

If you are improving in your practising, I would say that you are succeeding as a musician.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

I moved to London! Now that things are opening up again, I no longer teach French in schools, but I will be starting as a part-time music teacher and choir director at the Merlin School in Putney in September. I am also very interested in herbalism, and you can quite often find me foraging in forests for edible or medicinal herbs and plants!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Firstly, I would like to feel like I had in some way made a difference to the elitism around opera and classical music, and somehow made it more accessible to the masses. That could mean I will write another operatic theatre piece, or it could mean developing outreach projects in schools. Currently I am working with Champagne Opera on a Mini Magic Flute that will give choirs the opportunity to sing opera choruses, and school children a playful and encouraging introduction to operatic music.

Secondly, since my studies in Florence my wanderlust has burned intensely! Within the next ten years I would like to have performed on every continent. With On A High Note tours possibly going to America, who knows where it might go next? The possibilities are endless!

Lastly, I would also very much like to adopt a kitten, so if you know any that are going or if you would like to get in touch with me, please go to my website at www.erin-alexander.com.

Alternatively, you can see me on 15th September when I will be performing with the Champagne Quartet for the Chichester Music Society a programme of Operatic Favourites at the University of Chichester Chapel. There will be snippets from La Boheme, Magic Flute, Lakme, and more!

If people would like to get in touch with me to go to my website www.erin-alexander.com

Here are some videos of me performing:

Chi il bel sogno di DorettaLa Rondine, Puccini

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoGMqr6Gi6Q

Una Voce Poco Fa from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRnrk-bFDF8

Award-winning soprano Erin Alexander did her training on a full scholarship at the European Opera Academy at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence, Italy. While there, she performed the roles of Despina (Cosi fan Tutte), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro), and Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia).

Prior to this, Erin read music at the University of Chichester under Ian Baar, graduating with First Class Honours, the Chichester Music Group Robert Headley Music Prize, the Tosti Italian Art Song Prize, and the Sondheim Song Prize. In 2018, she graduated with a Master of Music from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama under Gail Pearson, after having received a scholarship from the RWCMD and the BBC National Chorus as Wales, where she performed as a choral scholar. While in Wales, Erin performed the operatic roles of Adele (Die Fledermaus), Mrs Fiorentino (Street Scene), and Gretel (Hansel & Gretel).

As the first-ever recipient of the Cooper Hall Emerging Artists Bursary Award, Erin has performed the roles of Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with assistant director at Royal Opera House, Greg Eldridge, and Mimi (La Boheme) for the editor of Opera Now. Cooper Hall commissioned Erin to write and perform a new one-woman piece of operatic theatre, called On a High Note. It has been touring around the UK, and Cooper Hall was thrilled to learn of On a High Note’s 5* reviews and successes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2019.

 In Oratorio, Erin made her debut deputising for Catherine Bott performing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. She has performed the soprano solos in Mozart’s virtuosic Mass in C Minor, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, and recently sang the world premiere of Ian Lawson’s One World Cantata. Erin’s Oratorio highlights include performing Palestrina at the Museo San Columbano in Bologna and Byrd at the Vatican in Rome. 

Erin also thrives on the concert stage; she has performed at the British Embassy in Romania for Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations, The Virginia McKenna Born Free Foundation at Goodwood House, and The Savoy Hotel in London. When Erin is not singing, you can find her dabbling in herbalism or napping with her cat!

Read about Erin as featured on Music in Portsmouth.


Profile: Stefanie Kemball-Read, soprano

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

I’ve always sung – right from My old man said follow the van on television at the age of seven, through being a ‘chorister’ in my local church (in a non official capacity as there weren’t girl choristers in those days!). Completing my chorister medals gave me a sense of pride and focus in my singing and it slowly became a driving passion. There was a very active music department at my secondary school and it was here, where Andrew Fardell, the choirmaster there, encouraged and inspired me greatly to develop my voice and sing solos. I started taking singing lessons and went on to perform as one of the choir’s lead soloists.  This culminated in a choir tour to Belgium where I sang a number of solos in various sacred works at the tender age of 17.

That feeling of performance was to stay with me and inspire me over the coming years.  It is wonderful to have gone full circle and now also be coaching and hopefully inspiring a new generation of choristers and singers in my work as a teacher of singing and as a vocal coach.

But I was late to professional singing; I did a business degree at Royal Holloway, University of London (although I was busy on the extra curricular music scene both in the ‘serious’ choir there and also on stage finding my Gilbert & Sullivan feet!) and went on to become a City banker initially working all hours and so music had to take a back seat for a while.

Once I’d married and moved to Devon, I joined the South West Chamber Choir and the Plymouth Gilbert & Sullivan Fellowship (I was bitten by the bug!) and once again my passion for music ignited.  I did a number of lead roles in many shows at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and met some wonderful people along the way.

It was my new singing teacher Ian Comboy who started to further develop my voice and who persuaded me there was really something there to take forward. He encouraged me to apply to Conservatoire and so it was that after auditioning, I obtained a place to study as a postgraduate at Trinity College of Music and found myself back as a student in my late twenties. It was a truly magical experience.  The entire place, the staff and my many wonderful talented friends and colleagues inspired me daily to express myself and to learn more and be better. The course was totally immersive and I was able to further my learning and knowledge performing in many different styles, from cabaret to grand opera and everything in between. I have to thank Eugene Asti and Mary Hill, in particular, for encouraging my belief in my ability to succeed and for all they did to enhance my technique and performance. Also a special word here for my wonderful baroque coach Robert Aldwinckle, who died recently and taught me an immeasurable amount about ornamentation and baroque expression with such acerbic wit and fun! I was honoured to sing the solo in the Brahms Requiem at his memorial service and could just imagine him saying ‘where’s the Handel?!’

I also must thank my hugely supportive and patient husband John, for supporting me through this enormous career change and for his unwavering belief in my talent and tenacity. In such a competitive world where resilience is a minimum standard, he helped me to believe in myself.

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

There are too many good singers out there! 50 years ago, one went to Conservatoire, graduated and went into a musical career where there were opportunities for performance and more regular work. Nowadays there are many, many singers and musicians out there, which can make it difficult to carve out a niche.

One of the greatest challenges for me, without doubt, must be combining a family with a professional music career. It is very hard to maintain your contacts and position through maternity leave and particularly when the children are young. There is also often a perception that because you have had a child you would not want to travel or be away from home, or you might have issues with childcare, and so the phone call goes to someone else on the list often without you having the opportunity to say that you have a plan in place! I feel so fortunate to have managed to do a bit of both. My children remind me daily of the beauty and innocent joy in the world and they appreciate music in many different ways. Children are grounding and family life a special gift.  It is lovely seeing one’s children enjoying music in their own ways.

Then there’s the issue of feast or famine: you have to be flexible, and keep yourself in shape physically and mentally – you never quite know what’s round the corner. You always seem to be offered more work when you’re at your busiest and then suddenly everything goes quiet and you wonder if you will ever work again… until the feast rolls back around and so it continues!

No matter how resilient you are, your self-belief can take a knock; auditions can go the wrong way and frequently do! But you have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Keep doing the work, maintain your self-belief and then just occasionally the most wonderful offer can roll in and make all the interim heartache worthwhile.

I couldn’t end by not talking about… Lockdown – in one day, everything in the diary was cancelled. Some companies and arts organisations won’t survive this. Theatres are struggling beyond belief and so many people who work in The Arts are now out of work with no end in sight. But you need to set yourself goals that work for the current environment. I found that during this period or in any lean work period actually, breaking up vocal conditioning done at home into small chunks works well for me. I also try to identify the mood I am in to suit the style of singing and if necessary let rip appropriately!

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

It is so rewarding to collaborate with others to create an event or a show. The bond and spirit of camaraderie and connection this brings is difficult to quantify. It’s as if you create your own family for the duration of the event. Post-show blues is a recognised phenomenon! There’s the wonderful potential for new interpretation and for learning from others. You are an absolute team in the truest sense and the passion that you all have is palpable and electrifying. It is the ultimate collective achievement to be able to bring pleasure to your audience.

As making music is such a collaborative effort, it could be challenging if one of the team isn’t properly prepared – is perhaps unwell, though this is something I’ve come across rarely. But that is when we are there for each other to support, to encourage and to lift them up. The show, after all, must go on.

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

I’ve got very eclectic tastes, enjoying oratorio and opera through to music theatre. But specifically I discovered Mozart in my teens and his music remains important to me. I’ve performed many of his operas, oratorios, concert arias and songs and despite his inimitable style there is always something new to discover. Some say that Verdi is like Mozart for bigger voices! Certainly for me as my voice has grown and developed I do see how this simplistic statement can ring true. My love for Verdi began when I first saw La traviata many years ago.  I found the character of ‘Violetta’ mesmerising and it was in that instant that I knew I simply had to sing this role and that opera was my natural ‘singing home,’ where I could use my whole physicality to convey a character’s journey and emotions. It was this which spearheaded my foray into opera. Performing this role for the first time with Kentish Opera was a culminating moment for me that will always have a large place in the memory bank.

Set against these iconic composers, I also have a love of more modern iconic composers – Britten, Bernstein, Schumann, (R.) Strauss and Poulenc, of course, whom I return to regularly in my performance life.

Which performances are you most proud of?

To be honest, I’m proud of most things I do. I think it is fundamental as a musician to foster pride in all you do; to prepare completely and be able to inhabit the glory of the music to express it to others. I guess I am at my most expressive with opera, art song or musical theatre. As a coloratura soprano, I have always been renowned for my vocal acrobatics and extremely high, powerful notes and as time has gone by I continue to sing the vocal acrobatics but with a richer and more dramatic sound which has broadened my repertoire. The role I am asked to perform most often is ‘Queen of the Night’ from Mozart’s The magic flute. I have also been particularly proud of my role as ‘Violetta’ in Verdi’s La traviata and my recent Poulenc performances…

 What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Whilst at Trinity College of Music I had a lead role in Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites. An opera depicting the true, albeit fictionalised story of the brutal act of slaughtering the Carmelite nuns by guillotine, as they would not renounce their vocation.  It has such visceral textures and stunningly intricate harmonies. The opera finale has to be one of the most moving experiences I have ever seen, let alone been part of on stage, as each nun is guillotined until they all lie dead.

By contrast was a performance of Britten’s War Requiem with the 110 piece Trinity Orchestra under the baton of Jan Latham König at Southwark Cathedral – the atmosphere was electrifying and the enormity of the sound and textures produced is again something difficult to quantify and firmly in the memory bank.  A truly collaborative piece.

Other memorable experiences:

  • Performing La Bohème in a horse stud in northern France whilst staying nearby at a convent!
  • Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and Gloria in Chelmsford Cathedral. Poulenc creates an atmosphere unlike any other, I have discovered over my many years performing.
  • Recording the single as Musical Director for the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir number one album with Decca Records.
  • My recent Lockdown performance of Poulenc’s La voix humaine at the Reform Club – a fascinating, nuanced psychological story which examines many themes of mid life, love, loss, acceptance, death; performing it in a 21st Century context using the medium of Zoom to tell the story rather than the telephone brought a fresh perspective to the piece. This enabled me to perform it to camera for online delivery to the audience, which was a whole new experience. I look forward to bringing it to the Portsmouth area soon. Watch this space!
  • Producing, directing and performing a series of both Opera and Musical Theatre Galas in Spain. The latter production involved flying the entire orchestra as well as us singers and a choreographer over from the West End to Southern Spain. A connection and collaboration forged between the client and myself when we met at the hairdresser during my Spanish holiday two years previously!

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

Do it but only if you can’t not do it! It is not enough to want to do it. You have to have the talent and inner drive and passion to make it happen. It is always possible to come later on into a professional career, as I did, so long as you have tenacity, resilience and support, though your expectations may need to be slightly different.

Practise, practise, practise – and perform often!  Join local groups in the first instance. Examine national schemes such as the National Youth Choir or National Youth Orchestra. If you live near enough, the Saturday music schools at the London Conservatoires offer a very high level of musicianship and training from a young age.

Find yourself a good teacher who can inspire you and help you develop your technique and artistry. Can they offer opportunities for shadowing of their professional productions perhaps? I offered some of my singing students the opportunity to attend one of my orchestra/singer rehearsals in London prior to a show, to see what being a professional musician looked like in reality. A mentor can also be a great help.

If you can, consider another string to your bow, such as teaching, Arts administration, accountancy, a provider of complementary therapies, to even out the peaks and troughs and further your own life experience, which you can then bring to your performances.

Do your continuing professional development, so that you keep on learning and improving. There are always new developments and new techniques to be explored.  We never stop learning.

Be flexible and maintain your level of proficiency and practice: you may be asked to stand in for someone at the last minute.

Be on time and be well prepared – this really gets noticed. And courtesy goes a VERY long way.

It’s helpful to find your own preferred angle, niche, genre or production style. I’ve done this in a number of ways over the years, as you can see from my bio. I enjoyed a foray into Spanish song at one point, and was honoured to perform the premiere of a number of Venezuelan songs at the Venezuelan embassy Bolívar Hall.

It’s useful to be able to effectively market yourself and the production you are in. The ever-expanding world of social media is a huge asset to the new musician.

Ultimately, it is the most rewarding and fulfilling career if you can make it work.

How would you define success as a musician?

Reaching a level of technique and performance that you feel can express the beauty of the music and communicate the text or story, which ideally moves your audience. There is something truly humbling about someone who listened to your performance and was moved in some way by it enough to seek you out and tell you.

Making it all work and earning something at the same time.

Feeling fulfilled: giving happiness to yourself and others.

So, what about the current situation?

The Mozart Requiem that was cancelled three times in 2020 (!) is due to be performed in Portsmouth Cathedral on Wednesday 24th March 2021, though it might have to be livestreamed. Again watch this space for more information on a date. This performance is led by Portsmouth Grammar School with the professional musicians who teach at the school making up the orchestra together with some senior school players, the Portsmouth Grammar School choirs, the ‘gapper’ choral scholars performing the male solos and yours truly as the soprano soloist.

It is still too soon for many other places to be opening up with any certainty given the fact that the virus is still rampaging, but in the coming months with the vaccine roll-out we hope that diaries will slowly start to open and live performances will return. I think both performers and spectators have all missed them immensely! More details on my personal performances will be posted on my website once confirmed.

I hope that people will continue to support The Arts: they have kept most of us going in some shape or form through Lockdown! And there’s little Government help available regardless of what you hear in the media. Musicians and all those involved in the delivery of shows, performances, running theatres, backstage crews, orchestra players are falling by the wayside in droves. The training we all go through is long and costly and the preparation behind every performance is far greater than what is seen as the finished article. Music is as professional an occupation as all paid-for services and what’s more one can guarantee that it is always performed with love, passion and integrity.

You can see and hear me perform Rejoice Greatly recorded in my kitchen during Lockdown, in the Musical Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve.

I have a selection of audio clips on my website or you can go on YouTube and watch/listen to some of my past live performances.

For any queries in relation to private singing tuition, you can contact me through my website or via my email: stefanie.read@sky.com.

Links

Stefanie Kemball Read website: www.stefanieread.com

Portsmouth Music Festival: www.portsmouthmusicfestival.co.uk

National Youth Choir www.nycgb.org.uk

National Youth Orchestra www.nyo.org.uk

Trinity Laban www.trinitylaban.ac.uk

Royal College of Music www.rcm.ac.uk

Royal Academy of Music www.ram.ac.uk

Guildhall School of Speech and Drama www.gsmd.ac.uk

Guildford School of Acting www.gsauk.org

Association of Teachers of Singing (AOTOS) www.aotos.org.uk

For details of choirs / choral groups in the Portsmouth area: www.gerontius.net and Music in Portsmouth, of course!

For information on becoming a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral: www.portsmouthcathedral.org.uk

Dramatic coloratura soprano Stefanie trained at Trinity College of Music, London graduating with distinction from their postgraduate diploma programme.  During her time there, she performed lead roles in every college production, her portrayal of nun Constance in Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites earning her the Paul Simm opera prize. She was also selected to perform the Britten Song cycle ‘On this Island’ at the W.H. Auden centenary concert at the Greenwich Old Royal Naval College Chapel and gained accolades for her performance in both Lieder and French song.  Her vocal dexterity and magnetic stage presence have enabled her to perform across a number of genres from cabaret to coloratura: musical theatre to opera. She excels in exciting and diverse repertoire, ranging from the vocally virtuosic to the delicately expressive – and a bit of comedy added in here and there!

Stefanie has performed extensively throughout Europe and the UK with a variety of opera companies and has appeared in more than 20 leading operatic soprano roles, most recently Violetta in La traviata, Königin der Nacht, Die Zauberflöte, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Adina, L’elisir d’amore and as Nedda in I Pagliacci. She is a regular soloist on the oratorio platform having recently performed as the soloist in Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Messiah, Orff’s Carmina Burana and Brahms’ Requiem. She has also given many solo recitals at London’s most celebrated performance venues including St Martin-in-the-Fields, St John’s Smith Square and St James’ Piccadilly. In musical theatre, Stefanie has previously played the roles of Eliza in My Fair Lady and Maria in West Side Story, reprising her role as Maria most recently in November 2018. She has performed much of the leading musical theatre repertoire in concerts across the United Kingdom. She has also performed most of the Gilbert and Sullivan leading lady roles in the repertoire.  Most recently, she has just completed a Lockdown performance of Poulenc’s one woman opera La voix humaine; an intense, introspective exploration of the mid-life psyche, which usually takes place entirely on the telephone.  In this unique online live-streamed performance to the audience, it utilised the modern setting of zoom thus creating a new immersive approach mirroring current society.

Stefanie was the inaugural Musical Director for the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir and conducted them to chart topping success after recording a track for their number one album ‘In my Dreams’ from Decca Records.  Stefanie is currently the Artistic Director for the Asociación Arturo Darch, directing, producing and performing in a series of productions in Spain.  Her recent full production for them in July 2018 ‘From Broadway to Hollywood’ with an all star international cast of singers and full orchestra from London’s West End for Patricia Darch in Sotogrande was a highly successful and award winning event.  Like most of the Performing Arts industry, Stefanie has been very hard-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, however she also has a busy teaching portfolio as a private singing teacher, a coach to the Junior Choristers at Portsmouth Cathedral and teacher of singing at Portsmouth Grammar School and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, teaching singing to the next generation of performers. All her recent students have gained places at leading Conservatoires and drama schools.  She plans to return to Spain to produce the next Spanish Gala, which will be a unique production of Carmen, when the world is a safer place.  She is also hoping to perform as soloist in Mozart’s Requiem at Portsmouth Cathedral in March 2021 and to bring her Poulenc one-woman opera to the Portsmouth area.

Stefanie continues her vocal training and development with renowned soprano Cathy Pope in the Swedish / Italian school of singing technique.


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 (1927–2001), a contemporary of Maria Callas. Erin Alexander played the Italian singer, and she expertly maintained an effective Italian accent when in the role. Nick Miller was an adept interviewer and they both created a believable platform, as they developed the life of Graziella Sciutti.

Graziella Sciuitti’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 was 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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