The Bostridge Phenomenon

Classic Arts Features   The Bostridge Phenomenon
Robin Tabachnik talks to tenor Ian Bostridge, who joins the New York Philharmonic on April 27 for Berlioz's Les nuits d'_t_.

This month, British tenor Ian Bostridge joins the New York Philharmonic for Berlioz's Les nuits d'été with Sir Colin Davis. "I'm thrilled to be working with this wonderful orchestra again," says Mr. Bostridge, "and with Colin, a true singer's conductor, with an extraordinary ability to make music live through his imagination."

Of the Berlioz songs, he says, "I hope to reclaim the piece from female singers; the poet is male, yet it is traditionally sung by women. It seems eminently suited for tenor. I love the exquisite French poetry‹the common thread being love and death‹the cycle's endless musical and vocal subtleties, and its miraculous orchestral sound world."

Since 1994 Mr. Bostridge‹the young man with the hauntingly beautiful voice, intense, chiseled features, and an acrobat's body‹has brilliantly marched to his own drummer. Known primarily as a lieder singer, his operatic appearances are infrequent and in non-mainstream literature. Controversy dogs his eclectic, albeit effective, ideas concerning stage deportment, tempos, and interpretation. "Controversy is good," Mr. Bostridge laughs. "Set the cat among the pigeons!"

There is no disagreement, however, about the intelligence with which he executes his artistic choices; small wonder, since Bostridge is a brilliant academician, educated at Oxford and Cambridge, a teacher, and a published author. He was still teaching when his career took flight. "It happened quickly," he remembers. "I gave up my 'day job,' my Oxford teaching fellowship, in the summer of 1995 following a successful recording of Britten songs. That fall I recorded Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin‹virtually my first job as a full-time singer‹and suddenly I was the flavor of the month.

"Unconsciously," Mr. Bostridge continues, "academia informs everything I do. Conservatory would have been wrong for me; I would have learned to do the 'correct' thing rather than what was right for me. In performance, there are no unbreakable rules." His only unbreakable rule is his artistic credo: "One should always strive to move people. That's clearly what it's about."

Robin Tabachnik writes frequently about the arts.

Recommended Reading: