“Since moving to Oxford I have spent my time pursing singing as a profession, studying languages, and perfecting Mary Berry’s Banana Bread recipe for my bake-off CV…”
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your training and career to date?
I’m currently a Lay Clerk at Christ Church Cathedral having moved over to the dark side from King’s College, Cambridge in September 2017. I spent three years there as a Choral Scholar under Stephen Cleobury and was lucky enough to perform as a soloist with the choir in venues across the world, as well as on TV and live radio. Art song became a particular interest while at Cambridge, and in my final year I won Second Prize in the Clare College Song Competition. Since moving to Oxford I have spent my time pursing singing as a profession, studying languages, and perfecting Mary Berry’s Banana Bread recipe for my bake-off CV.
How long have you been involved with the Oxford Bach Soloists?
OBS has been a fixture of my musical life since moving to Oxford. I have enjoyed performing both as a soloist and as a chorus member, but the highlight has to have been getting my voice around the extremely virtuosic aria at the beginning of BWV 80a. Singing Bach at his most vivacious gives me such a buzz.
What other musical ensembles are you involved with?
Aside from the regular duties at Christ Church, I’ve been lucky to have pursued some exciting projects with a group called Untune the Sky. The group often focuses on lesser-known and -performed music and has provided an opportunity for me to work on some awesome repertoire, including Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien. I’ve also enjoyed singing on a more ad hoc basis with various other choirs and have performed as a soloist both in Oxford and further afield. Upcoming projects include a recital of John Dove in New College Chapel and, on the opera stage, the role of Dottore in La Traviata at St John’s College.
Wakefield Cathedral, Yorkshire
Tell us some of the highlights of your career to date.
Singing the Baritone solo in Willcocks’s Quelle est cette odeur at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as on the King’s Live Christmas radio broadcast, has to be up there; the excitement of singing to such a huge audience is hard to beat. But singing all began for me at home in Yorkshire’s Wakefield Cathedral, so being invited to return last summer as a soloist with The Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir in Rutter’s Mass of the Children and Fauré’s Requiem was especially enjoyable. Performing Schumann’s epic song cycle Dichterliebe while in Cambridge will also live long in the memory.
What makes Bach’s cantatas remarkable, and what are the challenges?
I think the wonderful thing about Bach’s cantatas is their drama. Repertoire from this era is sometimes written off as being dramatically ‘stodgy’, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! The recitatives in the cantatas, which are often the vehicle for ‘telling the story’, are packed full of dramatic tension and movement. Understanding this dramatic element of the music is so important to bringing Bach to life.
In terms of the cantatas’ relationship with the baritone voice, I think that some of the repertoire can prove quite demanding. Aside from the usual Bachian necessity for extreme vocal dexterity, the tessitura can sometimes lie a little low in the baritone register, while the range can be much greater than in other music. For baritones accustomed to sitting in a high gear towards the top end of the voice in song or operatic repertoire, Bach provides a different challenge that requires vocal sleight of hand and versatility.
Finally, what do you see as the value of the OBS?
The inclusivity of OBS is one of its strongest assets. The performers range from talented aspiring singers to those embarking on the beginnings of a professional career, which means that you can find yourself learning not just from ensemble or conductor, but also from fellow singers. On top of this, OBS gives young singers a priceless taste of what it is to be a professional in the industry: to work with an inspirational conductor, to sing with top class instrumentalists, and to produce music of the highest quality. Delivering all this in a friendly environment that breeds confidence is what makes OBS unique!
Bach, Air on a G String