Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?

Whilst toddling around my house, aged 3, I banged my head on something and lashed out. To my surprise, it made a beautiful sound, and I’ve played the piano most days since.

Choosing music as a career took a bit longer. Despite feeling elated and richly fulfilled as a chorister touring the Eastern Seaboard with St David’s Cathedral Choir, many years ago, I expected to continue my pastoral life in Pembrokeshire and become an accountant… until I heard about music college auditions. I applied and have never looked back!

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

Such a tricky question! Being a former cathedral chorister was certainly the most important influence on my formative years and still influences me greatly. The training and performance opportunities I received were incredible and now inform the way I collaborate with singers. Working with Pascal Nemirovski during my undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music was a very important influence, and more recently being the Viola Tunnard Young Artist at Snape Maltings (where Flax and Fire was recorded) gave me the chance to explore new ideas and skills.

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

Lockdown! And secondly, having the courage to admit how dearly I wanted a family, and taking a leap of faith to start it. I was really afraid of losing work – and there were a few engagements I surrendered or postponed – but in retrospect it was the best thing I ever did. It has brought a sense of balance and practicality to my work that I’d only dreamed of before.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Curating ‘Flax and Fire’ was a pivotal moment for me: I developed holistically as an artist during the process, and it taught me a lot about my creative practice.

Building SongEasel from scratch and performing in the series has been a really affirming activity, and bringing it online this July is something I’ll remember for years to come.

I am also really proud to have performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto to a packed Oxford Proms audience several years ago – the emotional and physical stamina required meant that it was something of a personal triumph!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a particular affinity with dramatic, lyrical works, such as those by Liszt: romanticism is a period close to my heart. That said, many of Schubert’s Lieder are mini-dramas in themselves, and the clean slate of a new composition is always inspiring.

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

As a collaborative pianist, a lot of my repertoire choices are a joint venture. I will often be guided by a voice type as I construct a programme for singers. In parallel, I aim to curate and tour programmes that fascinate me – for example repertoire that I’ve loved since I was a child; or a little-known work that has captured my imagination. I feel lucky to be able to follow my curiosity a great deal of the time.

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

There are so many lovely venues, it’s very difficult to pick one! I’ve had some really amazing experiences at Wigmore Hall, and also playing at home in Wales is always a pleasure.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Recently I’ve been listening to Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz. Their pianism is second to none. I also love the recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – he was an iconic interpreter of Lied, and Carlos Klieber’s discs with the Vienna Philharmonic are wonderfully emotional and energised. I’m also a fan of Bon Jovi!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few works which, when I perform them effect me deeply and leave me feeling hollow from the rawness of their emotion. These memories are frozen in my memory, like a very special place in time. The first was accompanying a production Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd as a student; the second performing James MacMillan’s Kiss on ‘Wood’; the third was Rhian Samuel’s The Gaze with Elin Manahan Thomas; and most recently, Shostakovich’s Four Pushkin Romances with Gareth Brynmor John.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

It has to be loving what you do, above anything else, otherwise there’s really not much point!

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

Know and love your unique weaknesses – nobody else will be able to do this like you can, and others most frequently focus on your strengths.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I used to think that achieving the perfect work-life-family balance would bring me happiness. Now I believe that happiness is actually the process of aspiring to this perfect equilibrium, working towards it each day, and the hope brought by such a unachievable concept!

 

‘Flax and Fire’ is the debut album of tenor Stuart Jackson and pianist Jocelyn Freeman, featuring works by Britten, Wolf, Liszt and Robert Schumann and released on the Orchid Classics label on 17 July.


Award-winning collaborative pianist Jocelyn Freeman is founder-director and curator of SongEasel, a new initiative established to provide a platform for song in South East London. Her artistry has been described as “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “sparkling” and “one to watch”, including accolades from The Observer and International Piano Magazine.

Jocelyn’s versatility ranges from Lieder to chamber music and concertos, often championing lesser-known composers alongside standard classical and contemporary repertoire. She has premiered and recorded works by John Brunning, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Rhian Samuel. Her imaginative approach to programming is evident in projects with award-winning artists including Jamal Aliyev, Gareth Brynmor John, Elin Manahan Thomas and Julien Van Mellaerts, and her discography includes releases for Kissan Records, Orchid Classics and Ty Cerdd.

Jocelyn is a prize-winning graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, Phoebe Benham Fellow 2012 at the Royal College of Music, a Samling Artist and Britten–Pears alumnus. Prizes include the Viola Tunnard Young Artist Award, Marlow International Concerto Competition and the Internationalen Wettbewerb für Liedkunst in Stuttgart with Stuart Jackson.

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

My father was an actor and singer so that was a big influence on my choice, but I think he always wanted me to be a visual artist rather than a performer. He was of course happy when I showed interest in singing, but he never pushed me down the path. I always loved singing and performing and did so at a good level but wasn’t sure it would work as a career, so I went to university get a science degree. I sang in the choir at Christchurch, Oxford, and as good as that was, I was still not decided. Towards the end of my degree I took part in a singing course, the AIMS course, and it reawoke something in me; made me believe I could make it as a solo singer rather than just singing in choirs, and that if making a career out of singing was actually possible it was what I wanted to do. Therefore, after university I applied to the Royal Academy of Music and was successful, and from that point on I’ve been lucky enough to keep going.

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

My father. My teachers at school, Jonathan and Sarah Holmes and Simon Gregory. My teachers David Lowe and Ryland Davies. Wonderful coaches Jonathan Papp and Audrey Hyland. John Copley directed my first full opera at the RAM and I learned so, so much from him. Richard Stokes and his infectious love of Lieder. Ludmilla Andrews and her Russian song.

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

Well, obviously number one is right now – Covid-19 is a terrible thing for the music world, and an awful time for everyone involved in the arts. Otherwise, I have many stories of difficult auditions – one where my flight was delayed for 12 hours and I had to sleep in the airport and got to the venue 30 minutes before my slot, or being dumped in a hot room with 12 other singers and nowhere to warm up or get a drink for 3 hours before the auditions started. It’s part of the job though – being able to perform as well as you can despite the circumstances is important, even if it can be very frustrating!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m very proud to have my first CD being released. There are a few performances that spring to mind:

Stepping forward as a cover to sing Orpheus in Gluck’s Orphée when I was in Stuttgart Germany the year after college. A huge, huge role, not enough time to learn the staging, incredibly challenging but also incredibly fun.

Singing in the Wigmore song competition final as a 25 year old with Jocelyn, scared out of my mind but really loving the experience, managing to produce a good performance despite the adrenaline.

I love creating roles for the first time and doing that with Paul Curran with the Bartered Bride last year was really wonderful – working out how you feel about a character and what aspects of life to draw into them is incredibly rewarding.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why/what is your most memorable concert experience?

I love performing in all sorts of venues – some of my best memories are performing at the Wigmore Hall, as well as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Kölner Philharmonie. My two most memorable venues however were in the Sam Wanamaker theatre with Trevor Pinnock – an intimate and beautiful space in the round made of beautiful wood and lit with beeswax candles. A stunning space. The other memorable venue was in northern France, where I evangelised the Johannes Passion in a repurposed auction house from the auctioneer’s position above the rest of the singers & orchestra. Tremendously dramatic, and felt somehow completely right for the music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Too many to list – I find that the vast majority of the people I work with are both lovely and fantastic performers and it would feel wrong to single anyone out. In terms of recordings, my lieder shelves are full of Fritz Wunderlich and Fischer-Dieskau recordings. In terms of operatic tenors, it’s usually Gedda, Pavarotti, Ford, Vickers, Corelli and Florez. In terms of non-classical music, its probably Thom Yorke, Miles Davies, Joanna Newsom and Janelle Monáe.

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

I’d tell any young musician to be as adventurous as possible – work with as many different people and different instrumentalists as you can, try songs in as many styles and languages as you can, try everything because it will let you work out what you enjoy and where your strengths lie. As for the realities of being a professional, I don’t think I realised when at college how difficult it would be to live on the road. There is a certain disconnect that comes from living out of a suitcase half the year and it is vital to keep as grounded and connected as you can.

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

Performing around the world, doing roles and concert programmes I want to in good venues with good people. I would say more, but given the realities of the moment, that feels like enough.

What is your most treasured possession?

One of my treasured possessions is a hard bound copy of the Messiah that I must have used 40 times. I was given it as a birthday gift about 10 years ago by my mother, and I’ve taken it with me around the world. It probably needs to be rebound by now – the red from the leather comes off a bit on my hands if they sweat and the gold leaf has become scuffed – but I’ve used it so much in so many different places that seeing it always makes me happy. I hope to use it again very soon.

‘Flax and Fire’ is the debut album of tenor Stuart Jackson and pianist Jocelyn Freeman, featuring works by Britten, Wolf, Liszt and Robert Schumann and released on the Orchid Classics label on 17 July.


The English tenor Stuart Jackson was a choral scholar at Christ Church Oxford, studying Biological Sciences, before completing his training at the Royal Academy of Music in 2013. In 2011, aged 25 and the youngest finalist, he won second prize at the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition performing with pianist Jocelyn Freeman, and the pair also won second prize at the International Hugo Wolf Lied competition. He has appeared as a recitalist at Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, St John’s Smith Square, London and at Oxford’s Holywell Room amongst many others. Stuart joined Stuttgart Opera Studio for the 2013/14 season. He is currently a Classical Opera Associate Artist with whom he has recorded the title role in Mozart’s Il Sogno di Scipione and Soliman in Zaide. He has performed all over the world in opera, including with the Royal Opera House, at English National Opera, Glyndebourne, Garsington, the Komische Oper Berlin, Stuttgart Opera, Opéra national du Rhin, Opera Australia, Opéra national de Lorraine and Aix en Provence. Some of his favourite performed roles include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Jupiter in Semele and High Priest in Saul.

He also performs frequently on the concert platform, performing Bach, Handel, Beethoven and much else all over Europe and the UK, including the Wigmore Hall and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.