Tell us a bit about yourself, and your training and career to date?
I’m a countertenor from Maldon in Essex and I have just completed my first year of studying music at New College, Oxford. I started singing at the age of nine in my local parish church choir. When I started my A Levels I began singing lessons with Colin Baldy and continued to do so when I held a choral scholarship at Chelmsford Cathedral for a year.
How long have you been involved in Oxford Bach Soloists and in what role?
I have been involved with OBS for just under a year, ever since Tom Hammond-Davies asked me if I would be interested in singing a concert of Bach every month – of course I said yes! At New College we already perform a reasonable amount of Bach’s music, however performing with OBS has opened me to even more of Bach’s exceptional compositional output. Over the past year I have been fortunate to have opportunities in the chorus and as a soloist, both proving to be a great joy.
Which other musical ensembles are you involved with?
My principal ensemble is the choir of New College, around which all my other musical activities lie. Last year I set up the Wykeham Consort, a vocal and ensemble specialising in Baroque music. Next year I will be the principal conductor of the University Chorus.
Tell us some highlights of your career to date
I have been fortunate to sing the alto solos in Bach’s St Matthew Passion and St John Passion, as well as Bach’s B Minor Mass. In Hilary term I was greatly honoured to participate in a series of masterclasses with arguably the most famous countertenor in the world, Andreas Scholl. For me, many of the greatest experiences in my musical career have been in the form of my contribution to the daily liturgy. There is nothing quite like performing music in the specific situation for which it was composed.
Tell us about Bach’s writing for altos. What are the challenges? How does his approach compare to other composers?
It is a great pleasure to sing Bach’s music, particularly given the fact that he writes such excellent alto parts. When one considers the role of the alto voice in his greatest works, one is struck by the way in which Bach tends to give the moment of the culmination of the entire work to the alto. In the St John Passion it is ‘Es ist vollbracht’, and in the St Matthew Passion he gives the centrally placed aria ‘Erbarme dich’ to the alto and, of course, the alto is given the ‘Agnus Dei’ in the B Minor, arguably one of the greatest arias ever written.
Bach’s writing is remarkable for it’s elasticity; it’s simultaneous sense of weight and yet extreme lightness. It has the capacity to be ebullient on one hand and then shockingly venomous on the other. While some composers can often seem somewhat four-square, I never find this to be the case for Bach. His music is so finely wrought but never excessive or self-absorbed and, in my opinion, covers the whole gamut of human emotion.
What do you see as a value of ensembles like OBS to young aspiring musicians?
I believe that ensembles like OBS thrive off the input of young performers. As a younger musician, it is also wonderful to have the involvement of more experienced professionals who offer an unflappable sense of being at ease with the music. It is a joy to have a conductor in Tom Hammond-Davies who takes great care in the preparation of the music and evidently loves being involved in the corporate act of performance. I thoroughly enjoy singing alongside people who clearly relish performing such exciting music and I look forward to future opportunities with the ensemble.