Photo credit: Marcs Brenner
Back in 2019 you were awarded the Peter Hulsen Orchestral Song Award with Southbank Sinfonia, tell me about that experience
It was incredible, I have never really considered myself much of a competition singer but the Head of Music at my Masters put me forward for it. My mum, brother and friend were in the front row and it was just a wonderful event. I know it's the old cliché of 'I didn't expect to win it and it was the best night of my life' but it's kind of true! It's really quite emotional coming back and to get to sing the same piece again. I'm going to tell myself that I'm not going to get overwhelmed but I definitely will!
You will be singing Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in our Rush Hour #11. How did you first encounter the piece?
I was trying to learn Anne Truelove's Aria, 'No Word From Tom' from The Rake's Progress and while I was doing my Masters, I did my dissertation on Dawn Upshaw, one of my all-time favourite musicians. I found an album with her singing 'No Word From Tom' on it and it also happened to have Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It just stopped me dead in my tracks, I had never heard it before and it was incredible. I think Dawn Upshaw has this way of making difficult music seem like Mozart. She can sing anything and it sounds lyrical and effortless so when I saw the music I realised it was harder than it sounds!
Are there any moments in the piece that especially stand out to you?
My singing teacher will shout at me when I say this but it's mostly the orchestral bits. I've never been to Knoxville or the South of America, but it's just so descriptive and atmospheric and exciting. It's sort of set up as sections where I will sing the poetry and then there will be this interlude where the orchestra lead you to the next part of the poem. The opening section sets the scene of hot, sunny suburban life and then suddenly, there is a streetcar and a busy town. The orchestra lift you up and then just when you are really excited, it goes back into a more ethereal dreamy bit. The orchestra lead you through all of these peaks and troughs so beautifully.
Like the rest of Friday's programme, it is a piece that taps into American nostalgia- how are you accessing that when you are singing, is there anything you are visualising or remembering yourself?
I grew up playing the piano and singing Jazz standards in hotels. Maybe it's not necessarily nostalgia for America, but a nostalgia for the past and a nostalgia for a type of singing that I love. I'm always being told that I'm crooning too much but with this piece, it's a free for all and I can croon and emote as much as I want and no one can tell me off because it seems to fit the style. For me this is a real liberation and when I have been practising it, it's hard not to get too overwhelmed with the freedom that it gives me.
I've been learning difficult Mozart Arias and very strong stylistic works but all the while I've had this in the back of my head and it's like my respite. I get to find a quiet practice room or sit by a piano and it’s just a relief really. That’s what I want to try and communicate, especially in a Rush Hour concert and the other music that's going to be performed.
How about any moments in the text that stand out to you?
The bit that always makes me laugh, smile and cry all at once is: 'One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home' …because I live at home right now! Then: 'One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me'.
They come almost in the middle and it's a really poignant bit for me. You've just done this really hard middle section and it's this sparse moment that makes me smile every time. That's the bit that anchors me.
How do you go about preparing for a concert like this?
The competition was the first time I'd ever sung this piece so I'm trying to remember how that felt. I'd like to think that my physique and my vocal stamina has come on a bit definitely in the past two years so it will be interesting to see how it changes and how it feels. I try not to get too technical about it. I just want to reconnect with the poetry and the soundscape that it's creating so I can immerse myself into that. It's not a technical exercise, it's a story and I think that's the thing that I want to portray.
I think it's more important almost singing this piece now. It's a very grounded piece for me and a piece that I've connected with so much more than any other I've sung. I just can't wait to work with the orchestra and Sian and hear it all come together.
Now that live performance is back, how have you balancing your time and finding space for rest?
I try not to talk about the pandemic too much but there was eighteen months where I had nothing and was being told by all sorts of streams of information that my job was invalid. Then suddenly our world reawakened and there were all sorts of fears and performance anxiety around coming back but as soon as I stand on that platform, all of that goes and it doesn't matter anymore. I had my debut with Grange Park Opera this Summer singing Nannetta in Falstaff and I didn't know if I could physically sing for more than five minutes after having so much time off, but the spotlight came on and it was like nothing had ever happened. I felt like I owed it to my community to do the best I could to help get everything back together.
On the flipside of that, you can end up saying yes to everything because you haven't done it for so long and very quickly get swept up into the system. It's a weird feeling to be busy again but I guess it's really important to ground yourself now more than ever in your family and in the simple things because if you're not careful, you can lose yourself.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
I think music is an escapism that is very important and people need right now. I've been listening to a lot of Brahms, the Third and Fourth Symphonies and the Ravel String Quartet over and over. I've got an album with the Debussy and Ravel String Quartets on it by the Brodsky Quartet. I also have a friend and we share music with each other. He gives me some stuff I've never heard of and I throw some Stravinsky his way. It's been interesting to get other people's music recommendations.
When you're not busy performing, what are you getting up to?
I ran every day over lockdown but I don't have enough hobbies! I spend a lot of time with my cats and my family when I can and have been enjoying growing (and not killing!) plants.
Find out more about Chloe here
Join us on 22 October to hear her perform Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915