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

I honestly don’t recall having a specific moment where I decided to make music my career! Both of my parents are professional instrumentalists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so I quite literally grew up in the Civic Opera House, learning music as my true mother tongue. I was even a little gingerbread munchkin in Lyric’s production of Hansel und Gretel when I was six! Genuinely terrified of the witch, I learned that we are able to experience the stories we tell on stage just as viscerally as our ‘real’ lives. I simply haven’t known any other way of living, so while I entertained the idea of other professions, I got hooked on always having an outlet to express myself and I can’t seem imagine doing anything else. Music is as much a lifestyle as it is a profession.

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

Most definitely my parents; there’s nothing like hearing Strauss played on the horn everyday growing up to influence a soprano! My folks started me on piano at the age of four and violin at seven before I got anywhere near singing lessons, but it became clear that voice was my calling when I began to sight-sing all my concertos, my violin conveniently resting on the lid of our piano. I must have been born with a singer’s brain because I could always learn music faster with my voice than with an instrument in hand! I was also really shaped by my time in the Chicago Children’s Choir, a boundary-busting organization dedicated to bringing kids of diverse socio-economic backgrounds together by exploring music of all genres and styles from across the globe. My time in CCC taught me that my work as an artist always has the potential to make a cultural or societal impact.

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

Something I have to consciously work at is staying grounded. I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, often getting swept away by my extremely active imagination which is often on the train to la-la-land. When I discovered yoga, I realized that I could help myself stay in the present if I choose to do so. Dedicating myself to a consistent mindfulness practice has completely changed my life, and I love it so much that I actually completed a yoga teacher training program last spring! It can be difficult to set time aside for self-care, but the impact of even ten minutes of stillness has such a large ripple effect throughout my mind-set, relationships, singing, and general well-being that I try my best to include some quality yoga-and-meditation-time each day.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oof, I think I have two! Last summer, I was a Vocal Fellow at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, where I spent an idyllic four-weeks completely saturated in some of my favorite art song repertoire. In one of the final performances, I got to sink my teeth into some lesser-known, extremely romantic Joseph Marx lieder in a livestreamed recital (which is now on YouTube!), the perfect end to a perfect month. The other event which stands out for me is when I was 20 and performed the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning on tour with Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Ensemble to my hometown, Chicago. Seeing all my loved ones’ faces in the audience for my first big premiere made the occasion only that much more special. We recorded the piece and it’s going to be released on the Oberlin Music label sometime soon!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Joseph Schwantner’s Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro is a favorite of mine. I have a video of the work posted online and somehow Schwantner himself found it, tracked my website down, and sent me a lovely note about my performance! I most definitely screamed when I saw that a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer had popped up in my inbox.

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

Who my audience is plays a key role in what I choose to perform. I always try to find a balance between both obscure and familiar repertoire, but the calibration of the two depends on the occasion. Sometimes I aim to create an environment where listeners can turn inward and explore themselves more intimately and other times I hope to encourage empathy and an expansion of the definition of ‘self.’ My goal, always, is to use the energy of music to connect and heal. I strive to work from these intentions outwards, using music as the medium for sharing radical honesty and generosity.

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

I’m really looking forward to my Wigmore Hall debut with The Prince Consort this March, to say the least! So many of the most influential artists in music have performed in that intimate space; it’s where history itself is made. I also love singing in Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago’s Cultural Center, one of the lesser known gems in my hometown, because of its enormous Tiffany glass dome and view of Millennium Park. It feels like home!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Hannigan, Kurt Elling, Renée Fleming, Jonas Kaufman, Robert Glasper, Karina Gauvin, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, Beyoncé

What is your most memorable concert experience?

While I was a student at Oberlin, I played the role of Thérèse in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, this crazy surrealist one-act where the main character denounces her femininity and goes off to regain authority of her life. In the first scene, as she rejects the restrictions of being a woman, she grows a beard and moustache….and her breasts fly away because they’re secretly balloons! I had a blast shocking the audience each night, so much so that I even choreographed a one-handed cartwheel into my staging just for the heck of it. I felt so free in our little surrealist world, buoyant enough let go of myself and explore the absurd.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me comes down to honesty. Even though I am a recovering perfection addict, I still believe my best performances have been the ones where my feet were firmly planted on the ground, my head was held high, and my heart beat proudly on my sleeve, regardless of miscellaneous mistakes and mishaps. Vulnerability is often both a performer’s kryptonite and Achilles’ heal, so I call it a success when I’ve allowed myself to be entirely generous with my spirit and had a little fun while I was at it.

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

We are first and foremost human beings; our art can only be born out of our humanity.

On a more tangible level, I want to emphasize that our minds and bodies are as much our instruments as the cello, trombone, or vocal cords which vibrate to create sonic waves. The more lined up the mind-body-spirit connection is, the easier making music gets.

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

Doing it all and probably trying to find enough hours in the day to make it happen! I would love to have a balance between opera, concert, and recital work with a healthy mixture of classical and contemporary repertoire. Maybe not in 10 years’ time but in 20, I would like to have a hand in creative strategic planning to help steer how we move classical music forward. I have always envisioned myself with a family, so that’s a must for me, too.

What’s your current state of mind?

Sleepy but satisfied 🙂

 


Chicago-born soprano Olivia Boen completed her undergraduate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in May of 2017 and will be starting her MM at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London this autumn. Olivia has been seen on the Oberlin Opera Theater stage as the title roles in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Händel’s Alcina, as well as the leading ladies in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Händel’s Serse with the Oberlin in Italy program in Tuscany. In January 2016, she had the distinct honor of performing the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning with the Contemporary Music Ensemble on Oberlin’s 150th Anniversary Tour to her home city. The piece will be released on the Oberlin Music record label in late 2018. Olivia has participated in masterclasses with such renowned artists as Renée Fleming, Eric Owens, and Marilyn Horne. Recent accolades include 2018 First Place Winner at the Musicians Club of Women of Chicago, 2017 First Place Winner at the Tuesday Musical Competition, and finalist in Oberlin’s Senior Concerto Competition.

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

I grew up with a passion for singing, and when I got to grade school, I met my music teacher who encouraged me to sing in school performances and consider pursuing it as a career. At age 7, my parents took me to my first opera (Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at San Francisco Opera and I was absolutely hooked. At age 10 I joined a local community theater and began performing musical theater while I waited to grow into my “opera voice.” It was during a summer program after my junior year in high school where I met my undergrad teacher and mentor, Edith Bers. She encouraged me to come to New York City to get my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at Manhattan School of Music. I have had the unique experience of being encouraged at every turning point in my journey towards becoming a professional singer, and for that I am grateful to many people.

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

The community theater that I joined as a kid had a profound influence on my passion for performing. It was at The Western Stage that I forged my deepest friendships and became completely hooked on the “theater” lifestyle and experience. The environment of professionalism, acceptance and community still shapes what I seek out and what fulfills me in my career journey.

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

For a long time, I thought there was one way to be a classical singer… go to a prestigious conservatory, immediately start performing in Young Artist Programs, then sit back and watch as your career blossomed. I realized as an undergrad at MSM that I didn’t fit into the “standard” mold of the classical opera singer. Despite everyone being impressed with my talent and performances, I never seemed to book the roles in the Mozart operas, and I didn’t know why. I felt out of place for a long time, unsure of where I fit, and where I would find my community within the classical world. After my senior recital at MSM, my teacher Edith Bers told me and my mother, “Maggie will find her place in this career… I don’t know what it is yet, but there is a place for her, and she will find it.” I have replayed this statement in my head many times and I’ve kept my trust in her vision for me. With perseverance and an open mind, I have finally found my place in this world.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I performed O Zittre Nicht at the Washington Award Gala last Spring in Washington DC, and the video from that performance is one of my favorites. It was the first time I’d performed the aria, and I had a great time singing it, and I believe the video reflects that joy.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Hands down my favorite thing to sing, and the thing I think I sing the best, is a song by composer Lembit Beecher called “A Paradoxical Thing.” It is from his song cycle Looking at Spring for soprano, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. The song is for solo soprano and is virtuosic, charming, thoughtful and through it I can express everything that makes me unique as a performer.

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

My repertoire is driven largely by the composers that I meet or work with throughout the year. I concentrate on new opera and art song and feature this repertoire when I design my own programs. I also peruse social media to see what my favorite artists are performing and go down the youtube rabbit hole looking for new and exciting musical adventures.

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

I don’t have a specific favorite venue, but my favorite type of venue is hands down the black box theater. While the acoustics often leave something to be desired, I love being close to my audience and I feel that the blank canvas of an empty room has great dramatic potential. A black box theater can become anything the artists want and allows them to take the audience on a dramatic and musical journey. I also believe that because often the actors and audience members are on the same plane (the stage is not raised), the black box can be an equalizer, knocking down the artificial barriers that often separate the performers from the ‘non performers.’ This helps me feel like my audience is with me and not just passively witnessing the action on stage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are people who create straight from their truth with joy in their heart. I am fortunate to work with a group called The Broken Consort.As a group we devise and create new programs using music spanning from medieval to contemporary. Using improvisation, discussion and trial and error, we hone in on the truest expression we can make, and through this process we have produced amazing music as well as lasting and deep friendships. I have so much respect and I highly value anyone who inspires me to live and create from my true self.

Some of my other favorite classical musicians are Stephanie Blythe, Frederica Von Stade, Anthony Roth Constanzo, Joyce DiDonato, Dawn Upshaw and John Shirley-Quirk.

My current favorite non-classical musician is Janelle Monáe. Her incredible music and performances coupled with her message of self-love, acceptance, inclusivity and perseverance absolutely transport me to a place of bliss (and fierceness!)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This past spring I performed the workshop of part of a piece I am creating entitled Reassemble With Care. Members of The Broken Consort and I devised the music around a text that I wrote, which is based on my personal experience with sexual assault. Performing Movement 12 was a deeply moving experience, and embodies everything I am searching for as a performer. While on stage I felt completely connected with and supported by my fellow musicians. Using the words I wrote as my guide, I fearlessly improvised the music, subconsciously accessing all the technique I have honed over my 20 years of study, and the result was magical. I felt my body deeply grounded on the stage and felt my voice reach high and out into the room. It felt like true freedom, and is a moment I will never forget. Next fall we’re going to premiere the entire work, which consists of written music by composer Dominick DiOrio and devised music by myself and The Broken Consort.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is achieved when I am able to support myself financially by performing in a way that fulfills me artistically. Performing in this way means that I am free to access my own creativity, call upon my vocal technique, and explore new ways to express myself.

I think it is entirely possible for people to be successful performers while working other jobs to supplement their income, but for me this element is part of my own personal goal in my career path.

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

Find out exactly how you want to use your talent and create opportunities to make that vision come true. It’s very easy to get caught up into trying to fit into a “mold” as a classical artist, and I believe that true fulfillment comes from creating straight from individual truth. While you’re taking the time to hone your skills and perfect your craft, take as many diverse opportunities as possible to broaden your knowledge of what is out there. Then when you’ve figured out what you want to do, go create something uniquely yours.

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

I would like to be living with my partner (it doesn’t matter where) and still traveling for work. I would like to be performing at least 3 large-scale operas a year in major houses and pursuing my own projects the rest of the time. My own projects could include cabarets, art song recitals, salons, and anything else I come up with!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is being in the moment and fully experiencing the abundance around me.

What is your most treasured possession?

Okay, moment of vanity here… My most treasured possession is probably the hair paste I use to style my hair. My haircut is a very big part of my personal identity, and the paste makes this image possible. It seems silly, but my hair feels like a talisman that helps me to take the world on with strength and well… style 🙂


Hailed by The Washington Post for her ‘silvery, pitch-perfect voice’ and by Opera News for her ‘noteworthy acting prowess,’ Maggie Finnegan is a versatile soprano, singing repertoire spanning from medieval to contemporary. Awards include the S&R Foundation’s 2017 Washington Award,  First Place in the Washington International Competition for Voice and second place in The American Prize Competition. Specializing in new opera, she performed the world premiere of Lembit Beecher’s opera Sophia’s Forest , Beth Morrison Projects: Next Generation and Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince with Opera Parallele.  She made her Handel and Haydn Society solo debut at Jordan Hall, singing the soprano arias in Bach Cantatas 36 and 147.  Past seasons included premiers with Vital Opera, The American Chamber Opera Company in New York City and the Center for Contemporary Opera in Louis Andriessen’s Odysseus’ Women/Anais Nin.  Other career highlights include The Sound of Music  with Paper Mill Playhouse, the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s School Touring Program of The Magic Flute and Boris Godunov with The Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Her recent concert appearances include performances with the Avanti Orchestra, the New Dominion Chorale, The Camerata Singers of Monterey County, The City Choir of Washington, the Handel and Haydn Society and the PyeongChang Winter Music Festival in South Korea. She was featured as a soloist in the revival of the play Extraordinary Measures, in which she worked with Tony award winning playwright/activist Eve Ensler.

An avid chamber music performer and recitalist, concert highlights include the U.S. Premiere of Jacob TV‘s Van Grote en Kleine Vogels (for soprano and soundtrack) at the 2018 {Re}Happening Festival at Black Mountain College, Paola Prestini’s Body Maps with Fresh Squeezed Opera  and studying American art song with Stephanie Blythe as a Fall Island Fellowship Artist.  She is a core member of the critically acclaimed ensemble The Broken Consort, which recently presented the world premiere of Movement 12 of her new project Reassemble With Care.   Maggie honed her improvisation skills at the Opera Works Advanced Artist Program and has since then made improv a regular practice.

Maggie earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Manhattan School of Music and her Master of Music degree from Peabody Conservatory. She currently splits her time between New York City and Boston, where she shares a home with her partner and three step-kids. 

maggiefinnegansoprano.com

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?
Philip Evry, my mother, Iain Burnside, Graham Johnson and Robin Bowman inspired me to pursue singing professionally.

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

My mentor, Lillian Watson, David Sirus, Dinah Harris, Laurence Cummings, Julius Drake, my best friend and compatriot, Olivia Chaney, and Adam Gatehouse.

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

Singing what I love singing. Jumping in for a concert, learning Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos and Barber Knoxville in 36 hours for live radio broadcast.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Mahler Ruckert Lieder with the BBC Philharmonic and John Storgards, Phaedra with Thomas Sondergard and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, recordings with the wonderful Julius Drake, Berg and Chausson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These have been hugely special experiences as New Generation Artist at the BBC.

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

Lucerne Concert Hall was the most perfect acoustic I have ever experienced. I adore church acoustics so St Georges Hanover Square is very special, and LSO St Lukes. I also enjoy QEH, Ulster Hall, and  Glasgow Concert Hall – to name a few.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love listening to Brahms chamber music, music for solo piano by Chopin and Schubert, Schubert and Schumann song, Mahler symphonies, Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies  and ballets. Berg’s ‘Wozzek’, Strauss’s ‘Alpine’ symphony at full blast!!, Monteverdi ‘Vespers’, Tallis, Byrd.

To perform, I adore Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Handel, Berg, Britten, Mahler, Monteverdi, Purcell, and I love discovering new gems too!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Kleiber, Oistrakh, Callas, Margaret Price, Jessie Norman, Rostrapovitch, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. From today’s generation Truls Mork, Laurence Cummings, Cristian Curnyn, Kozena, Sondergaard, Storgards, Paul Lewis, Imogen Cooper, Artemis quartet, Nico Altstadt, AKAMUS, OAE………the list goes on and on.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably the most recent: jumping in for BBC Proms with Imogen Cooper and James Gilchrist in Britten’s Abraham and Isaac.

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

Go to art galleries, look at paintings, sculpture, ceramics – this is the life blood for inspiration and imagination. I have learnt a great deal from instrumental recitals regarding sound as well as from singers, and seeing how performers, actors, and musicians communicate is really important in finding one’s own way of performing. Also, never forget the joy of music making. With the rough and tumble of this industry, my manager never ceases to remind me of this

What are you working on at the moment?

Gorecki ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ for the BBC Proms on September the 4th and a recording of Venetian Christmas Music for BIS.

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

Eating ice-cream with my nieces or being neighbours with my favourite people, maybe bringing up a couple of little ones of my own, who knows.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Discovering new places, meeting new and interesting people, dancing with good friends, cooking good food, Thai massage, being spontaneous, and living each day to the full!

What is your most treasured possession?

My mother’s Jazz Piano ceramics, which she made just before I was born. The other is my cello which I would love to start playing properly again at some point.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Too many things to mention!

What is your present state of mind?

Breezy, summery, and with a coffee

A BBC New Generation Artist and winner of both First Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2009 London Handel Singing Competition, Ruby Hughes is the daughter of the celebrated Welsh ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch. She gained a First Class Distinction Concert Diploma in Concert and Song at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Munich, and was awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society Susan Chilcott Award. A former Samling Scholar, she gained a full scholarship to study with Lillian Watson at the Royal College of Music, London, graduating in July 2009.

Read Ruby’s full biography here

My review of Ruby Hughes, with James Gilchrist and Imogen Cooper, in ‘Britten Up Close’ at the 2013 BBC Proms

Jane Wilkinson

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

As a child I went to dancing class at a very early age. I would often get picked to sing solos in the annual dancing shows and I discovered that I was a better singer than dancer! So I started singing lessons at the age of nine and never looked back.

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

I was always a big musicals fan, and I would go to see West End shows and would be desperate to join in! I also loved Phantom of the Opera. To play Christine would have been a dream! Consequently, many years later, I auditioned for the role and was told I was too tall!

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

One of the biggest challenges for a singer is that you have to wait for your voice to mature and as an impatient teenager that can be very frustrating. There is no rushing nature but at the same time you seem to be wishing your years away. Not anymore! I still feel as though my voice will improve with age, but I’m no longer in any hurry!

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my concerts in South Africa in 2011. I went on a tour for 2 weeks and did 10 concerts in the space of those 2 weeks. I was part of a trio – The Nightingale Trio – which was voice, flute and piano. We flew the flag for English Songs and the audiences loved it. The travelling was amazing and I was so thrilled to just get through the concerts without any sore throats or illnesses.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Generally I love performing in churches and cathedrals. They always have amazing acoustics which are fantastic for the voice. They also have a great sense of stillness about them which is so calming. They are fascinating places full of history and are like little museums of the local area.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One of my favourite pieces to perform is Da Tempeste by Handel from his opera Guilio Cesare. It is like gymnastics for the voice. It’s such a showy piece full of runs and acrobatics. I also love playing around with ornaments. It’s a real chance to stretch the voice to the extreme. Sometimes the ornaments are different every time I perform them. It just depends on the day and I like to keep my accompanist on their toes! I also love the other Cleopatra arias, especially Ah! Mio cor. It’s beautiful in many ways and just shows the versatility of Handel’s compositions. They are a real work out for the voice but so rewarding to sing.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I really admire Renée Fleming. She has such a shimmering voice with so much depth and body to it. She is extremely charismatic when she performs and never fails to deliver. She has had a wonderful career and deserves all of her successes.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I once did a concert in a restaurant and the owner had two big Great Dane dogs. I am not the biggest fan of dogs and so I was very nervous when they lumbered into the room and came to sit at my feet. I couldn’t concentrate on performing for the fear of being licked!

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

My most important bit of advice to aspiring singers would be to enjoy the journey. Training can be frustrating but it’s also a time for experimentation. Use the training years as a time to explore a vast array of repertoire. You will then hopefully find your niche which will eventually allow yourself to carve out a career based upon your area of expertise.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working with a composer called Andrew Keeling on a new album. It has a rocky feel to it which is totally new for me! We are in the middle of recording it and it is all very exciting. Then I’m back to opera with a new production in the Autumn.

What is your most treasured possession?

The article that has been with me throughout my career to date is my black leather music bag. My mum bought me it when I started singing lessons at the age of nine and I still keep music in it. It was my pride and joy!

 

English soprano Jane Wilkinson grew up on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire and began her vocal training with singing teacher Brenda Waddington. After a year studying with Barbara Robotham, she was accepted in 2002 to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow, on the Bachelor of Music course with Helen Lawson. Jane then studied as a post-graduate at the Royal College of Music, London, with Jennifer Smith. Her current teacher is Jane Irwin.

Jane is an experienced performer in all aspects of singing – opera, recitals, concerts, choral singing and competitions. She currently sings and teaches in London.

Jane recently was short listed for the BBC Radio 2 Kiri Te Kanawa Prize. She was lucky enough to sing for Dame Kiri in a masterclass at the Royal college of Music.

www.janewilkinson.co.uk