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Lockdown Lowdowns: RWCMD in Conversation

6 August 2020

Filed Under:

Vocal & Opera Studies

‘It’s a conductor’s dream. Everyone’s on mute!’ laughed Maestro Carlo Rizzi as he started his zoom Lockdown Lowdown.

Carlo was among 12 leading performers, conductors and composers who zoomed in from locations across the world, from Toronto to Germany, from fast food car parks to Scottish lighthouses, to join students for our week of Lockdown Lowdown conversations last term.

Lockdown Lowdowns have been arranged by our new Director of Music, Tim Rhys-Evans. Tim who joined the College in April, couldn’t have arrived at a more challenging time, but has already made a huge impact at the College, delving into his impressive contact list and arranging this inspiring series of zoom discussions.

The week started with an hour in conversation with the legendary opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. The students asked her about her career highlights to date, advice on training, picking the right repertoire for your voice and getting an agent.

Composer Errollyn Wallen then joined us live from her lighthouse home in Scotland. Composition students and staff were particularly excited to meet her, and asked her about composing for opera and orchestra, building a successful career as a black woman, and of course the vital question of whether she preferred Vivian Westwood or Alexander McQueen.

On Tuesday one of Britain’s best-loved sopranos Dame Felicity Lott gave the students advice about being judged in a competition or audition and working with directors. She also emphasised the importance of learning the languages that you’ll be singing.

Hodge International Chair in Conducting, Maestro Carlo Rizzi was next to join Tim live in his living room. He talked about life after COVID-19 and the accessibility of opera, as well as his upcoming trip to Italy to start conducting live opera again.

Although the Italian maestro understandably couldn’t choose between pizza and pasta in Tim’s final quick-fire questions.

Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, Sofi Jeaninn, joined us from Paris to tell us that they’ve reinstated some orchestral performance with the relaxation of the social distancing rules in Paris. She spoke to the students about working with singers and choruses around the World and gave some great career advice.

American soprano Claron McFadden called in from a McDonald’s car park – her commitment to making the zoom call was certainly an inspiration for our students! They asked about her authentic approach to scores and musicality and she shared her spiritual experience of performance and her sense of calm found in lockdown.

Director of Music Tim Rhys-Evans, chatting to guests, live in his living room

Thursday started with internationally renowned harpist Skaila Kanga, Tim read out her impressive list of film scores and it was quite the list! The students asked about being a session musician and working on blockbuster movies such as Harry Potter with composer John Williams. There was a great discussion about orchestration and our composers got some inspirational feedback on composing for the harp.

Ryan Bancroft, the incoming Principal Conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, talked to the students from Toronto about his past disciplines including trumpet and dance and how that’s informed his career. They discussed programming new music and how important, as a young conductor it is to champion diversity in classical music.

We finished Thursday with Grace Bumbry, one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation. The 83-year-old zoomed in from Germany to an excited RWCMD community who asked her questions about her amazing career and her infamous voice.

We headed into the last day with British jazz trombonist Dennis Rollins. Our jazz and brass students asked many enthusiastic questions about performance anxiety, improvisation and transcription. When put on the spot Dennis chose Stevie Wonder over Duke Ellington in our quick-fire round but made it very clear that this was only today’s answer!

Another day Dennis Rollins (here joining us on zoom) may well choose Duke Ellington as his favourite

Fellow of RWCMD, Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans joined us on day 107 of her lockdown and spoke about how she went from being a nurse to an opera singer. The students were fascinated to hear about the various roles she has performed in her career and how to look after your voice.

British conductor, arranger and musicologist John Wilson ended our live lockdown lowdowns in style. John spoke about the extensive restoration and corrections of orchestrations he is completing during lockdown and the students asked about his previous repertoire as well as what he would like to do in the future.

Lockdown Lowdowns will be released on our website in the coming weeks so watch our What’s On pages and social media channels.

To find out more about studying music at the College go to our department pages, and to keep up with our students’ activities during lockdown follow #RWCMDCreative .