On July 27th 2009 I met tenor Simon Wall (b.1975) at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK, where he was teaching and performing. Wall, an “English tenor”, will be soloing in December 2009 with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem 2009 in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, with the Clare College Choir of Cambridge, conducted by Tim Brown. Performances will be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Carmiel.
PH: Simon, how did you make your way into the world of music and singing?
SW: I was born in Ipswich, Suffolk. My father is a priest and, from a very young age, I went to church every Sunday. By the age of three I was joining in all the hymns with great fortitude. My parents, not being musicians, were not sure how to start by musical education. When I was seven or eight years old, they took me to King’s College, Cambridge to hear Evensong and I was completely blown away by the experience. We applied to several cathedral choir schools, but I was considered too old to join and had no background in playing musical instruments. We then went to our local cathedral at Bury St. Edmunds and the organist immediately agreed to take me in. There, I joined the cathedral choir, loving every minute of it, and went on to become head chorister.
I went to a public school in Surrey and then won a music scholarship to St. John’s School, Leatherhead, where I spent five years. My voice began to change, dropping from treble range to tenor and, fortunately, during the process, there was no time when I was not able to sing.
PH: Having finished school, what were your next moves?
SH: I spent my gap year in Portsmouth, singing in the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir. Winning a choral scholarship, I went to study at St. John’s College, Cambridge, which has a distinguished tradition of religious music. I was reading Theology and Music, studying voice with David Lowe. The St. John’s College Chapel Choir sang the daily services during term time and, at other times, we toured the world, performing. This chapel choir was among the top five choirs in Cambridge. I began singing solos with the choir and with choral societies in Cambridge.
In 1998 I began a teacher training course but, two weeks into studies, decided it was not for me. I was doing an extra year in the St. John’s College Choir. Tim Brown rescued me by employing me at Clare College as his assistant. Since then, I have remained a soloist with the Clare College Choir. Through that job, I landed another – as John Rutter’s personal assistant from 1999 to 2002. (Rutter is a fellow of Clare College and Tim Brown’s predecessor.)
However, in 2002 I applied to study at the Royal College of Music, won a scholarship and took studies there with Ashley Stafford and David Maxwell Anderson. This led me into the solo world.
PH: Would you like to talk about your solo career?
SW: Yes. My main field at the moment is oratorio, often singing the role of the Evangelist. I love singing oratorio. I have sung the Evangelist in Bach Passions, performing all over England and in New York. Most recently, I performed the St. Matthew Passion in Cambridge with Tim Brown conducting the Clare College Choir. Not long ago, I sang it at the Snape Maltings (Benjamin Britten’s concert hall in Suffolk) conducted by Masaaki Suzuki.
The oddest oratorio I have sung in is a large piece by Sir John Tavener “The Veil of the Temple”, which we performed in the Temple Church in London. The work is actually an all-night vigil. I had to sing 15 minutes of unaccompanied Gospel at 5 a.m.! “The Veil of the Temple” is a multi-faith piece in eight cycles, with a Gospel at the end of each. We also performed it in New York’s Lincoln Center and we did a shortened version of it at the Proms in London’s Albert Hall.
PH: Do you sing opera?
SH: I have done some opera work. I have sung under Emmanuelle Haim in Opera de Lille and Opera du Rhin. Haim is a French conductor and harpsichordist with a particular interest in early music. I sang in her performance of Purcell’s “Faerie Queene”. Together with ten other singers, I took part in a recording she directed – “Lamentie” - a selection of mostly Monteverdi works.
PH: What do you consider the to be the high points in your career so far?
SH: One of them was soloing in the Three Choirs Festival (UK.) This takes place every August by rotation in the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. I sang in Schumann’s oratorio “Das Paradies und die Peri”, conducted by (the late) Richard Hickocks.
I recently sang the role of the Evangelist in a recording (Naxos) with the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge of “The Passion of Our Lord According to Saint Mark” (1920), composed by Charles Wood.
I am a founding member of “La Nuova Musica” – a fairly new ensemble in which we are trying to bring vocal drama back to early music, based on treatises written at the time, the main one being Caccini’s “Le Nuove Musiche” (1602), a word-led approach.
PH: So what is next?
SW: I will appear in the 2009 Three Choirs Festival in a piece by John McCabe (b.1939) called “Songs of the Garden”, a selection of garden- and wildlife poetry set for choir and soloists. Then countertenor Iestyn Davies and I will perform Blow’s “Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell” at a Prom concert in September together with the Academy of Ancient Music.
And, of course, there are the Bach Christmas Oratorio concerts in Israel in December 2009. I have been in Tel Aviv on vacation, but this will be my first performing tour of Israel.
PH: Simon, many thanks for your time. We look forward to welcoming you in Israel.