Saturday 18 November 2023

20 years of frustration gave rise to soprano Juliet Fraser's VOICEBOX initiative for advanced singers specialising in contemporary vocal performance

VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)
VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)

Soprano Juliet Fraser describes her VOICEBOX initiative as arising from 20 years of frustration that something like it did not exist already. VOICEBOX, which took in its first cohort of singers in September 2023, is a new initiative offering a bespoke curriculum for advanced singers specialising in contemporary vocal performance. This year’s cohort of singers are Patricia Auchterlonie, Hester Dart, Tara Lily Klein, Oskar McCarthy, Sarah Parkin, and Pascal Zurek

VOICEBOX is for singers who want to explore contemporary repertoire, and the programme offers them time and support, along with practical help, to develop their skills using a multi-faceted, holistic approach encompassing the elements of what doing the job actually requires, way beyond singing, way beyond the body. The programme will introduce them to experienced practitioners of various sorts, including a whole family of amazing vocalists with specialisms in different repertoires and performing practices, as well as covering programming, funding, movement, technology and much more.

Juliet Fraser (Photo: Dimitri Djuric)
Juliet Fraser (Photo: Dimitri Djuric)
Juliet explains that the programme is essentially about having conversations, bringing the singers into contact with people who have made this sort of contemporary performance happen and aiming to bust the myth that there is only one way to be a singer, that everything is a secret.

It is a year-long programme consisting of four intensive residencies, each in partnership with an arts organisation. This means that the singers have exposure to four different organisations, helping to explode the myth that there is only one way of doing things. The singers have just had a residency hosted by Britten Pears Arts, then in January 2024 there is one hosted by City, University of London, and in May 2024 hosted by Sound Festival in Aberdeen. The final residency was planned to be at Dartington in August 2024, but with future plans for the festival and Summer school tragically on hold owing to funding issues, this part of the programme is up in the air.

The programme presents the sort of course that you cannot do at a music college. Surprisingly, the UK has no specialist contemporary music training for singers. Composers largely exist in a silo at college, there is no provision for contemporary training for singers though some do exist in the rest of Europe. This means that often, conversations about being a singer in the UK do not include contemporary music.The idea of basing the course around four residences was so that the programme can exist alongside someone already performing, whereas doing a Masters degree, for instance, requires a year off. The programme is for experienced singers and Juliet does not want to stop them from performing. The idea was inspired by the model used by the National Youth Orchestra where the training takes place in four intensive bursts.

The culmination of the year will be the performance of works that each singer has commissioned. This process has started already, with the singers talking to composers, beginning fundraising and lining up performances. None of the singers has gone through the commissioning process before, and many performers are frightened of the process. There is a lot of mystique around commissioning music, and VOICEBOX aims to break things down into practical stages to empower the singers for the future. This will enable them to have a dialogue with composers. The programme is getting the singers to write a description of their voice, as the basis for a discussion with composers, and they are drilling into the singers the importance of conversations before starting work with the composer.

VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)
VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)

The ideas behind VOICEBOX are based on Juliet's own accumulated experience, but the industry has changed since she was first out of university, the pressure and expectations on singers have changed and she is not sure she can imagine coming out of university and having everything figured out. She has been active as a soloist for over eight years, with more years as a performer and has been commissioning music for ten years. In all, she has been specialising in new music for 20 years but began with baby steps.

She was an oboist until she was 20, and for oboists, the repertoire largely splits between Baroque music and the early 20th century with precious little in between. She came across Hindemith's Oboe Sonata and fell in love with it, particularly as it didn't have a heavy performance history and it wasn't an obvious piece, you had to work hard to find out what the music is saying. She found that she liked spending time with music finding what it reveals. As a young singer, her repertoire had a similar temporal split. She sang in chapel choirs with a diet largely of Renaissance polyphony, but was also involved in more contemporary music as she was a fast reader thanks to being an instrumentalist.

Singers are often drawn to contemporary music because they find it liberating. Expressively a very broad range, the repertoire often has little performing baggage. There isn't the weight of expectations that comes with earlier repertoire, such as the types of roles that women play in 19th-century opera. In contemporary music, the playground is broader - sonically, aesthetically, and emotionally.

As a performer, she has been taking six month semi-sabbatical, with reduced performing activities to give herself space to launch VOICEBOX. But in the new year, she returns to a normal performing schedule.

Current cohort, VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)
Current cohort, VOICEBOX, September 2023 hosted by Britten Pears Arts  (Photo: Patrick Young / Britten Pears Arts)

The current VOICEBOX programme is designed as a pilot, simply based on her experience of coaching, as she was not certain of the need or of what people wanted. If the year goes well, she hopes to formalise VOICEBOX as a biennial programme, but nothing is in place for future years. She wants to get through this first year, and then see what needs tweaking.

But there is no doubt that the need is there. The first call for singers received over 80 applications from across the world, and she received so many heartfelt statements.

The new works are destined for performance at Snape Maltings in August 2024 (tbc) and at Cafe OTO, in London, on Sunday 15 September 2024

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • An eclectic mix of 18th century opera in vivid performances: Anthony Roth Costanzo and La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • In a much-recorded field, they create something memorable: Songs of the Night from Rowan Pierce, Julien van Mellaerts, & Lucy Colquhoun - record review
  • From sound art in Middlesbrough & 2000 children in the Royal Albert Hall to Brett Dean's Cello Concerto & Brian Irvine's operas: The Ivors Classical Awards celebrating today's classical music - feature
  • Absolutely kaleidoscopic tour de force of collective music making: Hiromi at the EFG London Jazz Festival - concert review
  • Engagement, exploration & discovery: London Handel Players return to Handel at Home for Total Eclipse - record review
  • Plenty of food for thought & some terrific singing: Oliver Mears' staging of Handel's Jephtha at the Royal Opera with a towering performance from Allan Clayton in the title role - opera review
  • A shadow land where ideas of what music could be are changed: Nwando Ebizie on her new work for London Sinfonietta's Writing the Future - interview
  • Never a dull moment: Edward Lambert's Masque of Vengeance, a taut and driven new opera based on Thomas Middleton's 17th-century play, The Revenger's Tragedy - opera review
  • Flute explorations: lesser-known Schubert, early Beethoven and the father of Swedish music - record review
  • Infinite Refrain: Music of Love's Refuge - Celebrating 17th-century Venice as a place of tolerance for gay artists - record review
  • The Monarch's Musicrecorded as part of Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations and released to serendipitously celebrate the 2023 Coronation - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month