Hi Brian, We’re really excited about the 12 March! I was so happy to get the message from you about putting on a workshop together. Can you explain a bit about how the idea for the day came about?
That could turn into a long story, and it’s mostly your fault! You remember how hard we worked on Bach’s wonderful Jesu meine Freude in our 10 voice group at the 2014 Zêzerearts Festival. I am sure you will agree that when you live together and work together in such an intensive way over a short period of time you make strong connections with people very quickly, and often it seems a shame to leave it at that.
Anyhow, I heard a rumour that you had been talking about trying to reunite the group, so, when we began planning the idea of organising choral workshops to extend the scope of the Zêzerearts Choral Programme, I thought about that idea and wondered if a workshop might provide the opportunity to get the some of the team back together. It hasn’t worked out quite like that (another time perhaps it will!), but as so often happens, we have ended up with a new and exciting project. A great venue and a wonderful formula for an unusual musical day. I love the idea of combining an intensive day of music with an evening meal with live music. The venue will be perfect for setting the atmosphere, relaxed and friendly and with the space and time for positive concentration.
So, what’s in store for us on a technical level? What do you hope we’re all going to get from the workshop?
Well, lots of singing! Concentration on vocal health, good vocal production. How to sing technically well within a choir. Interpretation, communication. The individual contribution to the choral whole. Music!
Will you tell us a bit about you? How did you get into music?
My mother used to tell the story that when I was three I would turn the waste paper bin upside down to make a stand, put a book on it, take a knitting needle and conduct the music on the television. Scary! Actually, I did the normal things, had piano lessons and so on. It became serious for me suddenly when I was about 16. I started get up to practice oboe before going to school and stop at the church to play the organ on the way home. I got lucky and had the chance to conduct a few performances around about the same time, including our school chamber choir. I think the bug got pretty much stuck in. I have done and do other things with my life but music never goes away.
What are your earliest memories of music?
The singing in church and then when we got a record player for Christmas one year and each of us got a different record. LPs or ‘old fashioned black CDs’ as my niece later called them! I played them over and over and carry the sounds in my head still.
What is your favourite thing to sing? Are there any particular pieces which draw you back time and again?
I have spent a huge part of my musical life with singers, coaching, conducting opera and working with choirs. But I have never been a singer! What draws me back time and again? Among many others – Bach, Singet dem Herrn. I want to say Messiah too! As a friend of mine used to say after ‘yet another performance’ – “It’s still a good piece.”
Who or what is your biggest musical influence?
That’s a tough one. I am tempted to say ‘everything I hear’. (I remember once I was in one of the greatest art galleries in the world and realised at the end of the morning that I had spent most of my time listening to the amateur music group who were performing in the foyer…)
So, tell us a bit about what’s in store for this year’s Zêzerearts Festival in Portugal…
It started in Ireland with an annual summer course run by Irish Vocal Masterclasses. They ran for fifteen years and IVM is the organisation which is behind the Zêzerearts Festival. I moved to Portugal and found I was in an environment which would welcome the idea of a summer course. Given the facilities available and the enthusiasm for our ideas it seemed obvious to expand the public performance element of the course and it very quickly became a full summer festival programme including opera productions, recitals, choral and orchestral concerts.
We are in our sixth year now and the 2016 programme is well under way. We will have three choral groups, orchestra, string quartets and other chamber groups and will be making a welcome return to opera production after a year off. Highlights will include the Tallis 40 part motet, Spem in Alium at the Convento de Cristo in Tomar and the Monastery in Batalha, both world heritage sites.
There will be a performance of the 4 Seasons of Vivaldi alongside the Ástor Piazzolla / Desyatnikov, Las cuatro estaciones porteñas played by advanced students of the strings masterclasses and interpreted by local dance groups. Haydn’s ‘Little Organ Mass’ in Dornes, sung by the Zêzerearts Choir and played on the historic Iberian organ and much more. The great thing about the Zêzerearts Festival is the mixture of quality music-making with Portugues sunshine and hospitality in the true positive atmosphere of a summer festival.
What do you do for fun?
At the moment my hobby is playing squash, I’m a late starter with a lot of catching up to do but I love it. After that, three children under nine keep me pretty busy when I am not working!