Our choral scholars form a crucial part of the Oxford Bach Soloists’ commitment to developing the talents of young aspiring soloists. In our fourth Choral Scholar Focus of 2023, we chatted with Louise Ashdown about her experiences with OBS so far…
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your musical training to date
I am from Edmonton, Canada and grew up listening to Baroque music with my dad (gotta to start ’em young!). After years of piano, voice, and oboe lessons as well as participating in many choirs and bands/orchestras, I completed my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Alberta.
In 2019 I moved to Manchester to pursue my Master of Music in Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music and am now based in Berkshire, studying with Welsh contralto Hilary Summers. I love spending time outdoors, rock climbing, playing ukulele, reading, travelling, and occasionally watercolour painting.
How do you prepare when stepping out to perform a solo during a concert?
I prepare by first thoroughly learning and understanding the piece. This includes translating the text, researching its context in the overall work and liturgy, listening to good recordings, and of course coaching the German with the wonderful Gerhard Gall. I also try to create a dramatic journey for the aria or recit and play with different variations in tempo, dynamics, word-stress, etc. This keeps me flexible and allows for spontaneity and vulnerability in the performance.
What has been your favourite moment as an OBS choral scholar so far?
Two moments really stick out to me. The first was our December motet concert based around Singet dem Herrn. Leading up to the concert many of us were feeling quite nervous as Singet is very challenging and we worried that it wouldn’t come together. However, after walking offstage at the end of the concert, we were all glowing! Everything came together and we had so much fun that we wanted to do it again. It was such a rewarding performance and we really felt like a team.
My other favourite moment was covering Hugh Cutting for The Christmas Oratorio. As he wouldn’t be arriving until the day of the concert, I was asked to sing ‘Bereite dich Zion’ in rehearsal. It was the first time we were singing with the orchestra for this concert and it was also the biggest group we had performed with so far. As soon as the orchestra started up, I immediately felt pure joy and so much gratitude for this opportunity; I felt completely confident that this was where I was meant to be and what I was meant to be doing.
What do you see as the value of ensembles like OBS to young aspiring musicians?
OBS has created such a valuable programme for young musicians. It’s so wonderful to receive focused tuition in Baroque music, particularly that of Bach, and to be able to learn from and perform with professionals.
Singing with OBS over the past year has also helped me to develop my ensemble and collaboration skills, discover my artistic voice, and of course polish my German. The camaraderie I’ve experienced and connections I’ve made during my time with OBS are irreplaceable and I hope to sing with my fellow choral scholars for years to come!
What do you plan to do after the scholarship has ended?
I plan to continue freelancing and hope to perform much more early music both in ensemble and as a soloist. I also plan to explore more opera and art song, integrating the musicianship, performance, and language skills I’ve gained throughout my scholarship into my work with those genres.