Wednesday, February 16, 2011

British tenor Nicholas Mulroy back in Israel to sing Bach

On February 3rd 2011, I interviewed British tenor Nicholas Mulroy. Nicholas performs a wide repertoire, from early music, Baroque oratorio and opera to recitals and contemporary works. Nicholas Mulroy will be in Israel to solo with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in J.S.Bach’s B Minor Mass under the baton of the orchestra’s honorary conductor Andrew Parrott on March 13th at the Enav Centre (Tel Aviv) and March 14th at the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. Nicholas Mulroy will be in Eilat at the end of March, to perform Bach’s St John Passion. Today he lives in London with wife Annie, an opera singer, and their 10-month-old daughter, Catherine.

PH: Nicholas, what are your earliest musical experiences?

Nicholas Mulroy: I was born in Liverpool. My grandfather was a very keen amateur violinist. Perhaps more importantly, he was a teacher who believed that music was for everyone, and I remember him as a keen listener of just about anything. I started singing as a chorister at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral at around age eight, and sang there for five or six years. Several other choristers from my time there are now professional musicians; choirmaster Phillip Duffy had great enthusiasm for music and instilled in us the joy of singing.

I also played the oboe in the local youth orchestra and was a keen pianist in a school jazz quartet and a Doors tribute band. (The Doors was an American rock band of the ‘60s.) I also played more standard repertoire. I performed much at school, where music was enthusiastically promoted.

PH: Where did you go from there?

NM: I went on to Clare College, Cambridge, where I read Modern Languages. It was there that I got involved in singing again, mostly with the choir, with which we toured to all sorts of places, but also doing consort singing and some solo recitals.

I went on to take a Lay Clerkship at St. George’s, Windsor.

I then took four years of postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music, London. At Clare College and the Royal Academy of Music I studied singing with David Lowe and later with Philip Doghan, both of whom have given me enormous help and support.

PH: Would you like to talk about ensemble versus solo singing?

NM: Yes. I joined I Fagiolini (directed by Robert Hollingworth) around the same time I was beginning studies at the Royal Academy of Music and sang, whilst there, with other British consorts like The Tallis Scholars and The Cardinall’s Musick; I focused on solo singing (of all kinds, really) at the RAM, whilst keeping the consort side of things going in the “outside world”. I have always enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) both kinds of music-making. I find singing vocal chamber music in those kinds of groups very fulfilling and it provides opportunities to sing Renaissance- and early Baroque repertoire – like Byrd, Victoria and madrigals of Monteverdi – which I have always loved.

I was in Israel with I Fagiolini in the 2005 Israel Festival, singing a concert comprising of Monteverdi’s 4th Book of Madrigals. It was called “The Full Monteverdi”. The program was pretty gruelling, both in terms of scheduling and vocal demands. Taking it to many countries, we performed the program some 80 times, never getting tired of just how rewarding the marriage of text and music is in those pieces.

PH: You perform much Baroque music.

NM: Yes. Baroque music is, I suppose, what takes up the majority of my schedule. I never really planned it that way, and feel it is good to be conversant in as many styles as can fit one’s voice, personality and temperament. I have sung a lot of Bach, particularly the Evangelist roles, and also Handel. I love how these two giants of Baroque music are so different – Bach’s eyes always seem to be raised heavenwards, while Handel’s music is, I suppose, much more terrestrial; Handel is capable of extraordinary insight into humanity.

PH: You will be singing the tenor solo in Bach’s B minor Mass in Jerusalem. How does that feel?

NM: It is, indeed, special to perform a piece like this in Jerusalem, where I found, last time, that the immediacy of the geography of the Christian story is so striking. It is also a supreme manifesto of faith by Bach and so it is interesting to perform it in a place which is so central to many strands of faith. But I’m also inclined to think that the important thing is to give the optimal performance and that the audiences find in it the most fulfillment, however they choose to do so. This, I think, is important in music generally and especially in performing Bach where, I believe, the performer must always be mindful of being a vessel for the music and the truth (and whatever else there is) within it, rather than imposing too much of one’s self or one’s musical ego on it.

PH: What about opera and modern music?

NM: I do some opera. Have just finished a run of Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” for Glyndebourne. And yes, modern music is important, of course. In fact, when I get back from Jerusalem, I go straight to Scotland to premiere four new works with a terrific group there called “Mr. McFall’s Chamber”. I have performed new works of many composers and feel that there is a particularly rich pool of British contemporary composers.

PH: Do you feel performances get enough rehearsal time nowadays?

NM: Certainly in the UK the answer is that we’re generally under-rehearsed, from my experience. Most musicians in the Baroque field, for whatever reason, tend to have the capacity to work very quickly. (Many also work in churches where one rehearses maybe 20 minutes before an hour-long service.) This gets taken advantage of to an extent, there often lacking the spirit of investigation or getting under the skin of the music; it becomes an exercise in getting through it in time. While this can produce exciting results, I think the most rewarding and memorable musical experiences I have had have been when we have had time to develop an understanding of the music, the text and our musical colleagues. This is true especially in music as richly textured and meaningful as that of Bach and I am looking forward to spending some quality time with it in Jerusalem.

PH: Nicholas, when it is not music, how do you like to spend your time?

NM: My spare time has become mere limited than it was since the birth of our daughter Catherine; however, I enjoy reading (I have a special weakness for William Boyd and Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and films and I am a keen sports fan. – Liverpool is my football team.

PH: Nicholas, many thanks. We are very much looking forward to your performances in Israel soon.

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