Wigmore Hall International Song Competition – Semi Final
Four songs from the semi-final of this competition.
Recorded at Wigmore Hall
Video production by Brighton TV
Sidney Outlaw sits down for his interview with Plushmusic.tv’s Sandy Burnett, and within seconds they’re practising their Oprah hugs. ‘Good for you!’ Sidney cries in an eerily accurate impression of the woman he calls ‘The Deity’. ‘Good for you!’
Sidney’s ebullient personality wins him many admirers. It has also been known to save his skin. He arrived at this year’s Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation Song Competition without an accompanist. John Reid stepped up to the plate – and the men had only a hour’s rehearsal before they climbed the stairs to the Wigmore stage.
‘You know within 30 seconds if a partnership’s going to work,’ says John. ‘As musicians you can always do enough, but that spark is either there or it isn’t, and you can tell pretty much straight away.’
The spark is there, as this beautiful and unexpected Vaughan-Williams song Silent Noon ably demonstrates.
2009 brings three international debuts for Sidney Outlaw, singing the role of Guglielmo in Mozart’s Così fan tutte in Germany as well as his debut in Tel Aviv in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Demetrius. In addition he will make his debut with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra this autumn.
But, as Sidney is the first to point out, at this level, mere versatility is not enough. The broadcaster Sir John Tusa, (among many other things, Chairman of the Wigmore Hall Trust) put it this way: ‘Those people who just sing the notes are not interesting. They leave you cold. There may be singers who are less than perfect, but character is what the art song is about.‘
Certainly, a cast-iron sense of who you are is essential. And Sidney Outlaw knows it: ‘For me, singing is like speaking,’ he says. ‘After all, I sing every day, without thinking about it, and whether or not there’s anyone around to hear. I certainly don’t want my body to feel contrived when I sing on stage.’
On the evidence of this song, one would be hard put to spot a single unnatural bone in his body.
American soprano Erin Morley understands Delphine, the heroine of Ernst Schulz’s poem of spring and love’s memories, set to music in 1826 by Franz Schubert. Indeed, she inhabited the role so successfully in the semifinals of the International Song Competition on Tuesday, she made it through to the final.
‘She’s conflicted in her feelings,’ Erin explains. ‘She’s excited by the prospect of love, but at the same time she hesitates: love is such a nerve-wracking business!’
Erin, performing here with Laura Poe, reckons the rigors of the competition helped her understand Delphine’s character. ‘That same combination of enthusiasm and dread is pretty much what we’ve all been feeling at one moment or another,’ she laughs. ‘For Delphine, it’s young love; for us, it’s the love of song.’
How much dramatic work does Erin do to realise a character like Delphine? ‘As a singer. I never think in terms of being more or less “dramatic”,’ she says, ‘and I think the differences in delivery between opera and lied are less than people sometimes think. The important thing, in both disciplines, is to learn how to live inside the text.’
During his interview for Plushmusic.tv, British baritone Marcus Farnsworth discussed the finer points of Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Poison Tree’ – the stand-out song in a set which propelled him and his pianist Elizabeth Burgess to the final of the 2009 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition. All of a sudden, something caught his eye. Something that made him blanch. It turned out that Britten himself was scowling back at him from a nearby picture frame.
The walls in every room of Wigmore Hall are lined with photographs. The Hall takes justified pride in its friendliness, and in its care for its musicians. Nobody talks about the claustrophobia that can catch you unawares here. Nobody talks about the ghosts.
Or perhaps it’s just that Marcus and his pianist Elizabeth Burgess had been living so closely to Britten’s settings of William Blake’s Songs and Proverbs. They performed the song cycle twice in the months preceding the competition, and they claim it’s the most intense set they’ve ever performed. ‘Britten really understands English,’ says Marcus. ‘Many composers have a problem with the choppiness of the language. But Britten had an extraordinary understanding of the poetry.’
Benedict Nelson won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier awards and the Guildhall Gold Medal, both in 2007. But at Wigmore Hall, minutes before the semifinal results of the International Song Competition were released, he confessed: performing in competitions does not get easier with practice. Quite the contrary: ‘You work and work until you’re in a place where you can feel good about yourself,’ he says, ‘and then a competition comes round!’
He needn’t have worried. With his prize-winning pianist Gary Matthewman, he won a place in the finals of the 2009 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition – all the while juggling rehearsals for Turandot. Where the man’s energy comes from is a mystery. Where it goes isn’t: we defy you not to dance and shout during this blistering rendition of Schubert’s "Erlkönig: Litanie".