Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

I had been a chorister in kings college choir and after my voice broke, kindly, my then head of music encouraged me to think about going for a choral scholarship back to kings choir as an undergraduate. So in many respects it’s all David Petit’s fault I suppose

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There are always so many people who pass through a singer’s life, teachers and coaches, conductors and choir directors, that in a way the influences are myriad. But I’d say listening and talking to Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and taking his advice, was probably the most influential period of my career. He ordered me out of the back row of the chorus and encouraged me to go solo.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think going from a bass to a bass/baritone and even to baritone was the most significant challenge of my career. I used to sing the arias with all the low notes but never found huge satisfaction from them. My then teacher Diane Forlano just said to me that she’d never thought I was a bass so we started working on my upper register and I began to find vocal happiness.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

The performances/recordings of which I’m most proud will always be those that have been the hardest for me to fulfil. My two solo discs have brought me delight and shredded nerves in equal measure. Falstaff, Wozzeck, Beckmesser and Alberich in das Rheingold have presented me more problems and sleepless nights than I care to remember but the most fun to have achieved and to look back upon.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Usually the evil bastards give me the most enjoyment, but then I love those roles like the Protector in Written on Skin and Golaud in Pelleas and Melisande, which have a complex psychological component to them. Having said that, I love the comedy of Falstaff and the sincerity of Sharpless in Butterfly and Balstrode in Grimes. The pot of gold lies in the combination of all these characters.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I wish I could say that I make choices of which repertoire to sing and when, but my career to date has been a bit more director led than that. If a director with whom I have a good relationship asks me for a role I’ll generally accept it as I know it’ll be interesting and challenging and that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I think most of us singers tend to like to perform in halls that have provided us with wonderful memories. Berlin Philharmonie because I got to sing with the peerless Berlin Philharmonic, de Doelen in Rotterdam because of three unforgettable Bach Matthew Passions with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Then there was the exceptional experience of Alan Gilbert’s farewell concert of das Rheingold in David Geffin Hall with the NYPHIL. I could go on…

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians tend to be the ones who challenge me the most, from Jonny Cohen with whom I’ve recorded my two solo discs to Vladimir Jurowski who showed me the brilliance of Wozzeck. Leonard Bernstein who explained the symphony orchestra to all us nerds in 70’s to Emmanuelle Haim, my baroque fairy godmother. Sir Simon Rattle for his never ending quest for the soul to Aaron Neville’s simple sincerity.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think my most memorable concerts in recent times were these: The concert that Arcangelo and I gave at Milton Court was a great experience for me as it reminded me so powerfully the importance of communication. I found myself almost choked with emotion as I sang the most beautiful of Handel’s arias(Fra l’ombre) and really for the first time wholly connecting with it emotionally. Then there was das Rheingold with NYPHIL last June which was a personal triumph. Never have I felt so utterly engaged in a performance.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Communicating the meaning/substance – the “everything” of the role or song to an audience in the most imaginative, creative and truthful way possible. If you can do all that and make it sound ravishing as well, you’ve done your job!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I always say to all aspiring musicians/singers alike, never stop using your imagination. Never stop digging, leave no stone unturned in finding something more to say. Just singing the words and the tune is never enough.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I’d still like to be digging away trying to keep folk entertained and stimulated.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It would have to be just being with my wonderful family, walking with the dog or cooking, or just laughing and making great memories.

Christopher Purves’ new disc of Handel’s Finest Aria’s for Base Voice, Vol 2, with Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, is available now on the Hyperion label. Further information


Christopher Purves has received much praise for his acclaimed interpretations of a diverse and eclectic range of roles and repertoire. A choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, Purves went on to become a member of experimental rock group Harvey and the Wallbangers. He has since developed a highly successful career on both the operatic and concert stages, in great demand with leading opera houses and orchestras around the world.

christopherpurves.com

(photo: Chris Gloag)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

When I was a student at university I was expecting to begin a career as a classroom music teacher.  It was only through watching fellow choral scholars begin their professional lives in London choirs that awoke me to the idea that you could sing for a living.  My colleagues and I often have people ask us, post concert, “so what’s your day job?” but that could so easily have been me asking that question.  It was when I observed the early career paths of ex-students like John Mark Ainsley and Paul Agnew that it dawned on me that this was an actual profession and that I might have a go at it.  I have my wife to thank for giving me the impetus and courage in my early twenties to give up my teaching job and try becoming a freelance singer.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My musical education has been fairly sponge-like and I have been happy to learn from anyone.  My earliest singing teachers gave me a grounding which I never forget: Valerie Heath Davis was a chorus member at ENO who gave me my first singing lessons outside school and taught me how to breath for singing.  She prepared me for my choral trials.  Janet Edmunds looked after me during university and introduced me to this thing called Lieder.  One of her mantra’s was ‘Sing for the joy of singing’.  I never understood it at the time but I most certainly do now.  Then came David Mason and David Pollard, the latter introducing me to the idea that I could be a soloist and that I might consider retraining at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.  All these people have had a huge influence on the direction of my life and career.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I don’t feel my career has been that full of challenges in all honesty.  It’s not that I’ve taken the easy road, but that I have enjoyed myself in practically everything I do.  I try not to commit to work that I think I am unable to fulfil – something that is too high, too low, to heavy a voice type or whatever – and so far I think I have sung within my comfort zone. I have been surrounded by people who support what I do, especially my family, and this has made my life pretty easy, in the scheme of things.  I have no complaints.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have very warm memories of Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadlers Wells with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Richard Hickox.  The cast was magnificent and made up pretty much of my friendliest colleagues.  I hugely enjoyed that experience.  I also treasured being Billy in Britten’s Billy Budd at Opera North last year, directed by my sister-in-law Orpha Phelan and conducted by Garry Walker.  That was also a perfect storm of artistic elements.  I try not to listen to my own recordings in general; I’m very glad other people enjoy them but it’s too much like listening to your own voice on your answer-phone message.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I like the ambiguity of this question because it implies that, although you might think you play or sing something especially well, others listening might shake their head in disbelief.  One’s own perception of a performance is often at odds with how others witness it.  Sometimes I have been in vocal difficulties, have managed to make it through a show on a wing and a prayer, and people have come up afterwards and said how wonderfully they thought I had performed.  On the other hand, times when I’ve thought I was in glorious voice have sometimes been met with a friendly nod.  I have no real answer to this question otherwise.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Repertoire choice is not always something over which one has final control.  In terms of recital programmes, I can offer promoters my current choice (and my Schubert cycle project at the moment is very palatable, it would seem) but even then music societies and festivals often have a particular theme or composer’s anniversary that they would like you to match and I do my best to accommodate that.  As for opera roles, I have very little choice in what is offered to me.  I can accept or decline the work; that’s where my power ends.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are two recital venues I have sung in recently that have stood out in my mind as being exceptional and for different reasons.  One is the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, one of the wood-panelled, upstairs officers’ quarters that are used for recitals.  The acoustic was so generous to me as a singer, without being too washy, that I hardly felt I needed to sing at all.  The other is the small studio at the Crucible, Sheffield, home of Music-in-the-Round where I am singer in residence.  I love the intimacy of this venue and its re-invention of the concert space.  It re-defines one’s relationship with the audience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The 2014 Last Night of the Proms was very memorable although, when I think back on it, my time on stage was a bit of a blur.  What I remember most is finishing my last item, rushing back to my dressing room as the post-adrenalin hysteria began to kick in, changing out of my tails and into normal clothes and slipping back into the hall, high up in the audience, so that I could witness the last few pieces on the programme.  The atmosphere was electric.  I also vividly recall Peter Sellar’s semi-staging of Bach’s St John Passion at the Philharmonie in Berlin, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.  I didn’t have all that much to sing in fact but the experience of performing Christus right in the centre of that drama was overwhelmingly intense.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

This is a question I sometimes ask of conservatoire students – otherwise we may not always be sure what it is we are aiming for.  I’ve decided my goal is to be happy, to be able to work with wonderful musicians at a high level, enough to live comfortably but not so much that the stress becomes a burden.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

All the predictable things, really: professionalism, which means decent preparation, time keeping (as in one’s diary rather than being on the beat!), being an open, supportive colleague, self-discipline, that sort of thing.  Those things form the basic grounding that I would hope any musician, any person, would value as being important.  The idea that being an extraordinary artist allows one to overlook these ‘because you’re special’ doesn’t really wash with me.  Other than that, for singers especially I would promote honesty of communication with one’s audience as being something worthwhile fostering.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still working at the highest level I can manage but also ready for approaching retirement, whatever that may mean.  If that means teaching/coaching a little more, perhaps writing more music, then so be it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The knowledge that the people I love are safe, comfortable and happy.  A beautiful view on a glorious day with me striding through the middle of it.  I don’t even need to be with my loved ones, I am happy to be on my own in peace and quiet, but to know that they are content while I’m out and about puts me in my best head-space.

What is your most treasured possession?

I thought a lot about this question; in the end, I guess I’m not so keen on the idea of a possession being that important to me.  People are important but of course I do not own any of them.  So my answer has to be my voice.

What do you enjoy doing most?

This is a really hard question too; doing something for fun, like hiking a beautiful trail in wonderful scenery or doing professionally?  The most enjoyable thing?  I don’t know.  But It’s very likely to be singing, especially in rehearsals.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m content.  That’s what Billy says in Billy Budd and it struck quite a chord with me then.  “That’s all right, Sir, I’m content”.  Yup, that’s me right now.

RW: Here’s an extra question for fun.

If I weren’t a singer, what would I like to have been?

In my next life, I want to come back as a dancer.  I wish I could move like those amazing dancers, classical ballet, jazz, tap, latin, I don’t mind what.  And I wish I could lead my partner with confidence rather than have them tut, give up on me and just take over.  Happens every time!

RW: And another – is there anything you wish you could do better?

I can’t hula-hoop.  Every time I try, it has my wife in stitches of laughter.  It just drops off my waist and round my ankles.  Very embarrassing.  Also, when I try to swim front crawl but legs alone, with a float or whatever, I go backwards.  My wife finds this hysterically funny also.

Roderick Williams’ new CD, with Susie Allan, piano, ‘Celebrating English Song’ is available now on the SOMM label. Further information here

 

Roderick Williams encompasses a wide repertoire, from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital. He won the Singer of the Year Award in the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and was awarded the OBE for services to music in June 2017.

He enjoys relationships with all the major UK opera houses and is particularly associated with the baritone roles of Mozart. He has also sung world premieres of operas by, among others, David Sawer, Sally Beamish, Michael van der Aa and Robert Saxton.

Roderick Williams has sung concert repertoire with all the BBC orchestras, and many other ensembles including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta, Manchester Camerata, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hallé, Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Russian National Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Academy of Ancient Music, The Sixteen, Le Concert Spirituel, Rias Kammerchor and Bach Collegium Japan. His many festival appearances include the BBC Proms, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Bath and Melbourne.

In 2015 he sang Christus in Peter Sellars’ staging of the St John Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – a performance now available on DVD.  He will sing this role again with both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in 2019.

Recent and future engagements include Oronte in Charpentier’s Medée, Toby Kramer in Van der Aa’s Sunken Garden and Don Alfonso/Così for English National Opera, the title role in Eugene Onegin for Garsington Opera, Van der Aa’s After Life at Melbourne State Theatre, Van der Aa’s Sunken Garden at Opera de Lyon, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and with Dallas Opera, the title role in Billy Budd for Opera North and at the Aldeburgh Festival, Papageno Die Zauberflöte and Ulisse  Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a concert performance of Ned Keene/Peter Grimes with Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Last Night of the 2014 BBC Proms, as well as concert performances with many of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles. He is also an accomplished recital artist who can be heard at venues and festivals including Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, LSO St Luke’s, the Perth Concert Hall, Oxford Lieder Festival, London Song Festival, the Musikverein, Vienna, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and on Radio 3, where he has participated in Iain Burnside’s Voices programme.

His numerous recordings include Vaughan Williams, Berkeley and Britten operas for Chandos and an extensive repertoire of English song with pianist Iain Burnside for Naxos.

Roderick Williams is also a composer and has had works premiered at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls, the Purcell Room and live on national radio. He was Artistic Director of Leeds Lieder + in April 2016.

 

(Artist photo: Groves Artists)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career? 

There was no great moment of revelation, more a progressive realisation that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I’d sung with choirs and performed in amateur dramatic groups as a teenager, and enjoyed both hugely. Then around the age of 16 I won a county scholarship to have singing lessons at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. My teacher there was Beatrice Unsworth, and from the very first lesson she showed huge faith in me, and was brave enough to stick her neck out and tell me I had the potential to make a career of singing, if I decided that was what I wanted. It’s a far safer bet when giving advice to young singers to preach caution, and rightly so, but at some point an artistic career needs a leap of faith, and it takes great courage and vision to support a young artist in doing that.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

There are too many to mention, and if I begin to name individuals I know I’ll miss someone out. In all honesty I’d say I’ve taken something, whether it be of great significance or only a small hint or reflection, from everyone I’ve met and worked with. On a personal level, I’m fortunate to have a hugely supportive network of family and friends who are all incredibly patient and understanding. Every singer needs those people if they’re to survive in the long run.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Getting into postgraduate music college in the first place, having come from an entirely amateur musical background up to that point. Getting through the tough first few years of my career, when I was strapped for both money and time. Continuing to motivate myself to get to work on each new piece in the first few stages of learning and memorisation.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In terms of live performances, it’s tricky to know, since you as the performer never get to see it, and once it’s happened it’s gone forever, and more often than not you don’t have time to reflect on it before you’re on to starting work on the next project.

With recordings it’s different – you can come back to them a couple of years later and assess them more rationally. I’m very fond of my first album, Enaid – Songs of the Soul, which I recorded with Llyr Williams a few years ago – I think we came very close to achieving what we set out to achieve with it, and it still excites me to hear it, even though I’m sure we’d do it all differently now. On film, I’m pleased with the recording of Jackie O that was made when we performed it at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna – it’s a rarely-performed piece, and is very idiosyncratic, but I have a great fondness for it, and it brings back a lot of happy memories to watch it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m not the best one to assess that! But I’d say the composers for whom I feel most affinity in terms of their vocal writing are Mozart, Puccini and Wagner – with all three I get a strong sense of understanding what they were seeking in terms of vocal colour and dramatic and emotional content.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

First and foremost, I’ll need to sing whatever someone is willing to pay me to sing. That’s not a facetious answer – it’s the basic truth of a professional singer’s life. At the same time, you need to keep an eye on the horizon and the direction you’re headed in the long term. So I’ll listen to my voice, or rather, what my voice is telling me in terms of where it’s happiest, where it’s strengthening and so on (in conjunction with advice from trusted teachers and coaches), with the aim of exploring new areas of repertoire which could be viable in a few years’ time. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and be realistic about what you’re asking a casting panel to see and hear in you, while at the same time being clear in your own mind as to what you do best as an artist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

If you twist my arm I’d say St David’s Hall in Cardiff, from the point of view of a combination of acoustic, atmosphere and above all sentimental value – it’s where I grew up watching live music, and it always means a lot to me to perform there.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Scarpia in Tosca is always a buzz. Anything by Wagner.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Tom Jones, Titta Ruffo, Shakira.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s not repeatable in polite company – you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Work hard. Learn to switch off. Remember that the work doesn’t lead to rewards – the work is the the reward. Don’t be too ready to take advice from old musicians…. By which I mean, be open to advice and new ideas, but don’t be afraid to reject them, or save them for (sometimes years) later. Remember the bottom line is that as an artist the final responsibility for your technique, career and art is yours, and your aim is to produce something unique, not an imitation of anyone else’s work.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Sitting on the sofa with my wife, with football on the TV and an interesting score on my lap.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Bialetti Brikka coffee pot.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

What is your present state of mind?

Contented.

Robert-John Edwards (image credit: Don Lambert Photography, Stamford)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and make it your career?

In terms of music in general, I’ve always wanted to play an instrument or do something with music. I can recall being extremely young (maybe only 2) at playschool and having an overwhelming attraction to the piano. However, my parents could not afford for me to have lessons, and I started to teach myself the piano from about aged 10. By the time I was 13, my parents and music teacher, Keith Foley, realised I had some ability and somehow lessons were arranged for me at school with a fabulous teacher by the name of Andrew Mann. By the time I was 18, I had reached Grade 8 but big holes caused by a lack of discipline in my practice appeared and I stopped playing seriously at the age of 20.

It was then, after major surgery on my jaw, which left me having to relearn to speak properly, that I was encouraged by a lady named Elizabeth Banks to take up singing. She remains a huge influence. Within 3 years, it was clear that I was significantly better singer than I was ever a pianist, and I never really looked back.

However, I had a further set back at the age of 25. I was diagnosed with a non-malignant tumour on my pituitary gland (a condition known as acromegaly). I had to have invasive surgery through my right sphenoidal sinus to remove the growth. The doctors had told me that I would likely not be able to sing again. A year later, I went back to having lessons with Tim Ochala-Greenough (who now sings with Opera North and ENO) who convinced me to give up being a school teacher, as I was at the time, and to pursue a professional career as a singer. I owe Tim big time for this as it was the best move I have ever made (even if I have become a poor, penniless musician by doing so!!!)

Who or what are the most important influences on your singing?

It’s funny; even though I’ve been principally a singer for 15 years (7 of those, professionally) there is a warped part of my brain that still thinks I’m a pianist! So when I first saw the question, names like Chura Cherkassky and Dinu Lipatti as well as Claudio Arrau and Hélène Grimaud spring to mind. But this choice of musical personalities probably says as much about how I approach my singing and repertoire choice/programming as the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Bryn Terfyl or Sir John Tomlinson. In fact, if I were to go one step further, as a child I listened endlessly to the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s Fantasia and a life-long love of Stokowski maybe coloured all of these choice influences!

Now I’m a more “mature”(!) musician, I can say that one philosophy of performing overwhelms everything. It must be honest. When I sing Winterreise and Kindertotenlieder or perhaps German’s Just So Songs and Sinatra hits, I try always to believe in every word and every note that is written. To me, this is the only way I feel believable and maybe even credible to those who come to see me perform.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Balancing parenthood with a career! Currently, I’m taking a little time out from opera to concentrate on raising a family (I have a very energetic 21 month old son who keeps me very busy indeed) and teaching, whilst getting my technique to the next level required (whatever that may be). I’m still “young” for a bass-baritone and who knows where I could be when I’m 46 and my children are established in school. My health in the past has told me that life is too short not to spend time in the here and now and my family are too important for me to be away from on tour for weeks and months on end right at this moment.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Being a singer, you get the best of both worlds. In opera and oratorio, you work with an orchestra and enjoy all the colours and contrasts. It does demand a tip-top technique but it does not mean that one should have to shout to be heard (even in Verdi or Wagner). One of the best singers I have worked with over my short career, Mary Plazas, has the most astonishing pianissimo I have ever heard which is still audible at the back of the opera house whilst the orchestra are playing, yet sounds so intimate when you are nearby. However, we also get to do Lieder and this is where my heart truly lies. When you have a good pianist (and I have one in Philip Robinson, with whom I am working on a Winterreise at present), you can bounce ideas off one-another left, right and centre to produce the best interpretation and performance you can. We can be critical with one another without risk of insult or injury whilst being free to compliment each other or simply disagree where necessary too. I feel I can do so much more vocally with a pianist than with an orchestra and I feel truly alive when doing so!

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Am I allowed to mention an entire town? Buxton is astonishing. Here you have this small, market town with a pretty ordinary demographic and yet there are not one but THREE major festivals that go on there (Buxton Opera Festival, The Buxton Fringe and the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival). I made my operatic debut with Buxton Opera Festival back in 2007 in Dove’s Tobias and The Angel – not in the opera house, which I adore, but in St John’s Church, next door. It is a magnificent building with a lovely acoustic. I have performed there a few times now through the Festival and enjoyed each one immensely.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got? My musical tastes are truly eclectic. I remember once being almost psychoanalysed in a little independent CD shop (sadly, no more) in my hometown of Stamford as I had purchased a Robbie Williams CD, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, a recording of Tallis’ Spem in Allium, some Frank Zappa, a recording of Górecki’s Second Symphony and some romantic period piano music! Poor chap had to run half way around the world to find all the CDs to put in the cases from all of his drawers!

However, if you were to pin me down and point a loaded revolver at my head to make me choose just one, it would be Hélène Grimaud. She is not afraid to be adventurous, either in her programming or her performance. I do not always agree with what she has to say musically (I’m struggling a little with her recent recording of Mozart’s great A minor Sonata K310) but that’s the point. She doesn’t always want to play safe and I like, indeed admire, that a great deal. Her Credo CD (with Corigliano followed by Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata and the Choral Fantasia and topped off by Pärt’s Credo) is a personal favourite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Would you be surprised to hear that I have two? Both, coincidentally at the Royal Festival Hall. One was when I was just 18 and I went to watch Peter Jablonski playing the Rach-Pag. Amazing. But that was not what blew me away. The second half of the concert was just one work, Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No4/Symphony No. 5. Just stunning! The second movement – to a young man who was actually studying to be a composer at the time – and its backward variations of a unfinished fragment of Mahler’s just completely rewired my brain as to how composition should be in the modern age. Then, about 8 years ago, I got the chance to watch Hélène Grimaud there. Same row, coincidentally – row E in the stalls! She was playing the great B flat minor sonatas of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She came on stage to rapturous applause for the second half and opened with that dramatic downward arpeggio of the Rachmaninoff sonata. The extraordinary thing was that she managed to time her bum hitting the seat precisely with the striking of the big bass B flat octaves at the end of that arpeggio! A bit of a stunt perhaps but, my word, great fun!

Very close behind this was the chance to watch Alfred Brendel’s last performance of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata. Again, Royal Festival Hall (I do frequent other venues, honest guv!) and his encore… Für Elise! Wow.

What is your favourite music to perform? To listen to?

Professionally… as a singer, Schubert Lieder all the way, although Puccini’s operas are all so rewarding too. However, like so many pianists, I love to play Chopin, I do a reasonable impression of a performance of a Beethoven sonata and I’ve been known to butcher the Bach/Busoni Chaconne on occasion!

To listen to… almost anything! Depends on my mood. Could be Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things or Ocean Colour Scene, Fat Boy Slim and Röyksopp!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Again, I have to say, be honest. What is on the page? Singers have to get so much out of what is on the page it’s delightful. There is the musical detail (often in the piano part in songs) but there is also the literary detail which is often the rewarding place to go. Read the poetry, read between the lines (just as your GCSE English teacher told you too) regardless of the language. Know what every word means and its context in the sentence, paragraph and entire story. Only then can you colour the music “correctly” (if there is such a thing… there is certainly an “incorrect”!) Knowledge is power!

What are you working on at the moment?

Schubert’s Winterreise with my accompanist, Philip Robinson. I am hoping to have that ready to go in the next 6-8 months. It is a mountain – a true journey if there ever was one. I am also hoping to record this and have that published but one step at a time. However, I am also about to do a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, often referred to as “The English Winterreise”. It’s quite an eye opener doing that again after 7 years but also to be working on both side by side. So different and yet telling a very similar tale. Wonderful.

However, in my “time out” I have taken on a male voice choir called “The Belvoir Wassailers” – a bunch of working men, originally from the estate of Belvoir Castle (although no more) who make an honest noise. I love it. Without the grassroots music making of groups like theirs, music would truly have no meaning.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In the recording studios of either DG or Naxos recording an ambitious and audience-challenging cycle of songs from a cross section of composers. Or I’d settle for full-time chorus at one of the major houses…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

…OR I’d settle for being at home, teaching talented (and not-so-talented but keen and passionate) students with my wife and child(ren) around me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family.

Robert-John Edwards (left) with Alison Barton (Festival Chorus – right) as the Innkeepers with James Rutherford as Baculus in ‘Der Wildschütz’ (The Poacher) by Lortzing (Buxton Opera Festvial 2008)

Born in Stamford, Robert-John originally trained as a pianist and composer at Middlesex University and had small choral works performed at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields church and Lincoln and Winchester Cathedrals as well as at some local churches. He trained as a singer in his twenties and attended the Birmingham Conservatoire as a Postgraduate, studying with Henry Herford, scoring a distinction and winning the PGDip course prize in 2007.

Whilst at music college, he performed the roles of Dr. Katafelto in Williamson’s English Eccentrics, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, Antonio in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and had four separate roles in Matthew Locke’s rarely performed Psyche.

His professional roles include Benoit/Alcindoro in Puccini’s La Bohème for Co-Opera Co, Priest/Cadmus/Somnus in Handel’s Semele for Operamus , Ashmodeus in Jonathon Dove’s Tobias and the Angel and The Alcade in Mendelssohn’s Die Hochzeit der Camacho (both for Buxton Opera Festival) whilst being in the professional chorus of several productions for the Buxton Opera Festival, Carl Rosa Opera and Stanley Hall Opera. As a professional understudy, Robert-John has covered the roles of Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard, the Colonel in Patience (both Carl Rosa Opera), Harapha in Samson, Pancratius in Der Wildschütz, Father Phillippe in The Wandering Scholar, Gubetta in Lucrezia Borgia and Don Quixote in Die Hochzeit der Camacho at the Buxton Opera Festival.

Robert-John is extremely active as a teacher in his native Rutland and still performs with the church choir in Stamford that started him on the road to a singing career. He is also very active as a soloist both as a recitalist and with choral societies, performing many Messiahs and Creations over the past few years.

www.robertjohnedwards.co.uk