Carnegie Hall: Hearing Voices- Jessye Norman and Bryn Terfel

Classic Arts Features   Carnegie Hall: Hearing Voices- Jessye Norman and Bryn Terfel
Nick Romeo interviews soprano Jessye Norman and baritone Bryn Terfel, both of whom will be appearing on the Carnegie Hall stage in the coming weeks.

Acclaimed American soprano Jessye Norman has won the love of audiences and critics around the world with her penetrating musical intelligence and striking stage presence. In May, Ms. Norman‹curator of the spring 2009 Carnegie Hall festival Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy‹returns to the Stern/Perelman stage to enrapture audience members with a recital entitled "The Five Seasons‹Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall, and the Eternal Season of Love." She shared some musical memories and personal reflections recently in an interview with Nick Romeo.

What draws you to the songs you have selected for the May 1 recital with pianist Mark Markham at Carnegie Hall?

Jessye Norman: For my 43rd performance on this wonderful stage, I thought it might be fun to do something rather different. There are many composers on this program, quite a change from my more regular format of having one composer per group of songs. It is challenging to program in this manner, but great, great fun. I love every song individually and feel they come together well to celebrate the theme.

When did you first realize you had a gift for singing?

JN: I was always told by my parents that I sang from the time I could speak, so truly, I have no recollection of a time in my life when I was not singing. Naturally, along with youthful ease and enthusiasm, I was very fortunate to come across first-rate musical professors and linguists, who taught, cajoled, threatened, and ultimately inspired me to center my professional life in singing. I once planned to pursue medicine, but that thought was soon put aside once it was time for me to set off for university.

What was your earliest musical memory?

JN: Now, that is an interesting and hard-to-answer question. I can say only that early memories include listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on my very own radio in my room on Saturdays. It never occurred to me not to listen simply because I did not speak or understand the languages sung, since Milton Cross described and told me all I needed to know, I thought. I would tell my fourth-grade class on Mondays what opera I had heard on the Saturday broadcast. And I was as interested in the opera as I was in the singing of Nat King Cole, who was often on the radio later in the day. It was all music to me, and I made no distinctions or separations. I loved it all then, and I still do.

Besides music, what else inspires you and what else do you do for fun or to relax?

JN: I find it important to be involved in the world around me, and this world is full of not only beauty and awe-inspiring majesty in its mountains, valleys, and streams, but also great need and more than a little desperation. As much as one can, I think it is imperative to offer oneself in ways that can sometimes alter the path of another, to be of help to someone else. I am inspired by youngsters who choose to study the arts and therefore express themselves through positive means.

I am inspired by research scientists who labor day in and day out looking for a clue to a cure for some malady or other. I find inspiration in the fastest athlete, the best of our writers, dance‹truly everything of excellence, or aspiration and courage.

Fun is everywhere: with friends and family just being together, with nothing special planned, just time together. I relax so easily: I just have to close my eyes.

Charismatic baritone Bryn Terfel has achieved international fame with a remarkable repertoire that ranges from Welsh songs to Wagner. Recently he found time to answer a few questions about himself and his career in advance of his Carnegie Hall recital on April 25.

What are some of the most memorable moments in your career?

Bryn Terfel: Many occasions come to mind: all the different debuts in opera houses and concert halls; the first professional recording I ever made, Adriana Lecouvreur, with Pavarotti, Sutherland, Nucci, Bonynge, and the Welsh National Opera orchestra in Swansea; receiving the Queen's Medal for Music in 2006. But the one that tops the list and stands out like a marvelous beacon in our principality was the opening weekend of the Welsh Millennium Center. It was a dream come true for a nation of music lovers.

What draws you to the songs you have selected for your recital with pianist Malcolm Martineau at Carnegie Hall?

BT: Delving into the British song repertoire, which is well represented in this recital, gives me immense pleasure‹especially finding a pearl of a song hidden in its vast catalogue. And the poetry‹much of it by John Masefield, England's poet laureate for many years‹has an immense impact, which creates moods, colors, picture painting. New repertoire keeps the situation alive and exciting.

When did you first realize you had a gift for singing?

BT: At a very early age, as a three-year-old competing in local competitions in Wales, either reciting or singing. The highlight was certainly winning the Song Prize in the Cardiff Singer of the World in 1989‹my competitors included Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who won the Singer of the World Prize. What a baptism by fire!

What was your earliest musical memory?

BT: Hearing my parents sing in their respective choirs and learning their repertoire around the house. Singing was certainly alive in our household and as exciting and natural as walking the mountains of North Wales. It was certainly an important factor in nurturing my love for music and performance.

How do you prepare for a recital?

BT: I have no routines or rituals. The musical preparation is achieved many months in advance. I adore recitals, and some of my fondest memories have come from the recital platform with my trusted friend Malcolm Martineau.

Besides music, what else inspires you and what else do you do for fun or to relax?

BT: I am a fanatic Welsh rugby follower. Golf is an obsession and spoils a good walk! Following my favorite football team, Manchester United, is a must. Stocking up my wine cellar and enjoying wine have become rituals. Walking the mountains of Wales is also a privilege. And last but not least, being there for my children is paramount to my enjoying any of these.

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