Who or what inspired you to take up you singing and make it your career?
My mother is a violinist, and one of my earliest childhood memories involves being asked what I wanted for my 4th birthday. My answer (“A violin!”, or hopefully “A violin, please!”) precipitated more than a decade of torment for everyone within earshot, but it also led me to choir school (for free violin lessons) and from there to singing. Since I first started singing in earnest, I’ve never wanted any other profession.
Who or what are the most important influences on your singing?
As a boy treble I was taught every day by the great Simon Preston. Those of us who grew up under his direction now aspire to make music with the same ferocious energy and personality, however exhausting it may be. Then I fell under the influence of Dr Richard Marlow at Cambridge University and his musical personality could not have been more different – a scholar-musician of great humility who taught his students to place themselves in the service of the music score and allow it to speak for itself. I hope I carry a little of both in me.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I would say that learning to adapt to the needs of my American students has presented me with my biggest career challenges and greatest pleasures. I conducted Princeton University’s staging of Britten’s Albert Herring recently, and for someone with zero experience in the world of opera this was absolutely terrifying. The score is mind-bendingly complicated, and when one is attempting to unite two groups of musicians who can’t see each other, and can only partially hear each other… well, I know why opera conductors get the big bucks.
What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?
Never mind the clichés – it really is greater than the sum of its parts. My colleagues are some of the best in the field and each one has something to ‘teach’ the group. When the ensemble is socially harmonious, learning from its members, discovering things together, and making wonderful sounds… I don’t know anything that beats it.
Which recordings are you most proud of?
‘Dialogues of Sorrow’ is the recording that defines what I would like our group to be. It involves a little scholarship and a lot of adventure. Much of the music is completely unheard but it’s all ravishing and I hope our love for it comes across. The story behind the music is compelling too…
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
The main hall at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. It’s a beautiful hall and a great acoustic, but that has nothing to do with this answer. I have never felt such warmth from an audience, willing us to give our very very best. They are enlightened and educated, but completely unfettered by any sense of etiquette or propriety. They show their feelings in a way which makes them part of the music-making process. Being on stage there makes me realize what live performance could and should be. It’s been years since I was there so I hope it’s still the same!
Who are your favourite musicians?
I will travel a very long way to watch Martha Argerich play. The late Anthony Rolfe Johnson was the first singer I ever enjoyed listening to as a little boy, and I remain haunted by his singing. Closer to my own field, I love the way Robert Hollingworth talks about, thinks about, and makes music and I rejoice in all his latest crazy schemes. I don’t want to sound like the proverbial Geography teacher at the school disco, but Thom Yorke, Sufjan Stevens and James Blake have all made me wish I was a different kind of musician at various times…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are several King’s Singers concerts that stand out. There was the gig in Heidelberg where the audience were so insistent that we deliver that 7th encore that they were still yelling for it when most of us were changed and packed and ready to go. We went out to sing for one last time, and our bass strode out in immaculate jacket and tie, shoes and socks… but no trousers. The audience blew the roof off. At the more serious end, I can remember quite clearly the concert in Calgary where Simon Preston (see above) was in the audience. We knew he was there and were all desperately anxious to win his approval but we couldn’t pick him out in the audience. But towards the end of the concert, after we finished a piece by Byrd, there was a gasp of rapture from the balcony, and the voice was unmistakeably his. I think we were all ecstatic at this moment.
What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
I’m a terrible pianist but I love Brahms piano music and will often hack away at an intermezzo if nobody is listening. The second part of your question is impossible to answer I’m afraid. I don’t restrict my musical diet at all.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
As a student (a brash one, with quite an ego) I thought it was all about me imposing my musical will and proving myself. I’m embarrassed to remember all that now, and I try my best to ward my own students away from this approach. Being truly ‘musical’ is not about the concentration of your musical ideas, rather it is about the empathy with which you interpret and deliver the score.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lassus – the ‘Lagrime di San Pietro’. It’s astonishing music – his last work, and what a way to finish.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I’ll be nearly 50… perhaps planning my eventual return to England??
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
How embarrassing and worrying that I have no answer to this question! I hope I’ll have worked this out by the time I next have to answer it…
What is your most treasured possession?
My dog, Moses (a pug who came with my fiancée as part of the deal…)
What do you enjoy doing most?
Standing at the counter of Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, taking in the smells and waiting for my first free sample of cheese.
What is your present state of mind?
Well you’ve made me think about cheese now. I’m hungry.
Gabriel Crouch is a Senior Lecturer in music at Princeton University, USA, and has been musical director of Gallicantus since its inception in 2008. He began his musical career as an eight-year-old in the choir of Westminster Abbey, where he served as Head Chorister and performed a solo at the wedding of HRH Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. After taking up a choral scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, he co-founded and directed the male vocal ensemble Henry’s Eight, and was offered a place in The King’s Singers in 1996. In the next eight years he made a dozen recordings with the King’s Singers on the BMG label (including a grammy nomination), and gave more than 900 performances in almost every major concert venue in the world, from New York’s Lincoln Center to the Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
In 2005 Gabriel was appointed ‘Director of Choral Activities’ at DePauw University in Indiana, since when he has maintained an active career on three fronts, as choral conductor, singer and record producer. In the last twelve months he has conducted at Choral Festivals in Washington DC (Chorworks Festival), Illinois (ECICF festival), Oregon, and at the University of Queensland’s Renaissance Choral Festival in Brisbane, Australia. In January 2008, the Gabrieli Choir’s CD The Road to Paradise, which Gabriel produced, was nominated for the title of ‘Best Choral Recording’ in the BBC Music Awards.
About the group
The core of Gallicantus is six highly motivated and skilled singers. Their will to found a specialist six-man group came from many years singing together in ensembles which include The King’s Singers, the choirs of Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, but above all the virtuoso ensemble, Tenebrae.
GALLICANTUS – ‘COCK CROW’ From the Aberdeen Bestiary – 12th Century
‘The crowing of the cockerel at night is a sweet sound, not only sweet but useful; like a good partner, the cockerel wakes you when asleep, encourages you when worried, comforts you on the road, marking with its melodious call the progress of the night. With the crowing of the cockerel, the robber calls off his ambush; the morning star itself is awakened, rises and lights up the sky; the anxious sailor sets aside his cares, and very often each tempest and storm whipped up by evening winds moderates.’