Friday, August 6, 2010

Interview with David and Jonathan Charles Tay

David and Jonathan Charles Tay speak to The Mad Scene about their upcoming recital and living in NYC. Its not common to have two singers in the family, much less twin brothers in the same fach. Bursting with enthusiasm, these talented siblings clearly love their art and relish the opportunity to share it together and with their audiences:

The Mad Scene: Thank you for doing this interview with The Mad Scene. Firstly, tell us what can we look forward to at your recital On Wenlock Edge?

David: I will be beginning the recital with Vaughan William’s song cycle On Wenlock Edge, which was written for Tenor, Piano and String Quartet, making the work unique in itself because most art songs are accompanied by the piano alone. The poetry by A.E. Housman is expanded and expressed in such a quintessentially English manner, taking the extremes of human emotion and setting them against a backdrop of melancholic and colorful instrumental writing. The Artsylum Quartet, with violinist Edward Tan stepping into the role of 1st Violinist will be accompanying me on this piece with pianist and dear friend Rachel Teoh.

Jonathan: After David, staying within the theme of English music, I will be performing a collection of love songs by some of our favourite English composers.

David: Edward (Tan) will then allow us, and our pianists some rest and entertain us with a delightful Partita for Violin. After which Jon and I will take the stage again to bring the concert to a close with some familiar and immensely enjoyable Italian songs and arias.

The Mad Scene: What was your approach when coming up with this recital program?

Jonathan: When we were coming up with the program, we knew we wanted to do something that would allow ourselves to connect more with the audience. Having done a recital of Die Schöne Müllerin at the Esplanade Recital Studio in June, we wanted to do something in English so our audiences in Singapore could relate directly with the song without having to rely on a narrator or printed translations.

David: It was always a dream of mine to perform On Wenlock Edge ever since I was introduced to the work about a year ago. It fast became one of those pieces of music that was simply too beautiful for me to not be able to experience performing some day. I was fortunate enough to find and acquire the help of all the very wonderful and talented musicians that share this program with me. After that it was all about finding the right music to compliment this work.

Jonathan: I wanted to choose repertoire that would complement our showpiece work so I picked a collection of English songs that would flow with the themes of love and nature. There are songs by Gerald Finzi, with his whimsical, post-Romantic lyricism, and of course Roger Quilter, whose songs are unmistakably sweet and effortlessly sensitive.

David: Edward (Tan) very kindly consented to perform a solo work to beef up the program as well as give us and our pianist some time to rest before finishing the recital with the Italian set.

Jonathan: I think no tenor recital would be complete without some fantastic Italian songs and arias to heat things up a little. We decided to wrap up the evening with a collection of some popular Italian pieces that are great representations of the love songs we all love.

The Mad Scene: Describe your voices for those of us who have not heard you.

David: We’ll describe each other’s voices instead! Jonathan’s voice is one I grew up hearing, naturally, being twins and all. Over the years it has grown to become a lush instrument with quite a fair range of expressivity. I’ve heard him swell into rich tones in rousing forte phrases and also glide sensitively through more intimate ones. I think a rather uncanny quality about his voice we’ve come to love and also share some laughs about is the observation that he sometimes sounds like one of the “old” tenors from the 1930s to the 1950s. There’s something about the quality of his tone and the way he attacks some notes that sometimes leaves a smile on my face as I imagine this voice coming from a Gramophone somewhere from a time long past. This is not to say he sounds old! He’s still a young tenor! Just being sure I make that clarification.

Jonathan: Thanks David. Needless to say, I’ve heard David sing for a pretty long time too. His voice has matured so much in the last couple of years and it has become a pretty formidable instrument for a tenor our age. His sound is well rooted in his support and that allows him to project a rich tone quality that allows a deep expressivity and a full-bodied tenor voice that we love to hear. He’s even had people mistake him for a baritone before but don’t make that mistake, David is a true lyric tenor and his musicality and ability to craft the music into touching phrases with impeccable diction makes him a joy to listen to. On his good days of course!

The Mad Scene: You two are currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music. What was your experience studying in New York?

David: New York City has been truly amazing. Great musicians and artists are not a rare find in that city. Manhattan School of Music itself is home to such talented and gifted students and world acclaimed teachers. It was a truly humbling experience to step through those doors and meet my colleagues there. Everyone is good and has something special about them. It really motivated me to practice madly to improve and learn at an accelerated rate. Very exciting times indeed! Also NYC is the home of the Metropolitan Opera, which I love and try to go to as often as I can get my hands on some tickets. I have watched almost 20 productions there over the last 3 years and I intend to go to more. The more you live and breathe the music the more you really become a part of it. New York City really helped me achieve this.

Jonathan: Like David said, it is really living and breathing the music that exists in New York. With so many avenues for watching performances, Classical or otherwise, the music never stops. Whether it be professional performances we go out to watch, or school performances with our colleagues performing, they are all wonderful learning experiences to take in and enjoy. I think the rich depth of knowledge here is also something to cherish. The resources available at the MSM library, or even down at the Metropolitan Opera Library, rare scores that people pass around the school, etc are things you would find hard to find in many other locations. The teachers there have been really inspirational, you find teachers there that are still actively composing, or who have rubbed shoulders with famous musicians over the years and it’s just amazing to be part of that legacy.

The Mad Scene: Did you get to meet any celebrities in New York, classical or otherwise?

David: Haha! Celebrities! Yes, limousines are everywhere, especially mid-town. You never know who might be behind those tinted windows. Besides seeing all the great celebrity opera singers sing at the Met, like Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming etc, Manhattan School often invites big names to give master classes, like Marilyn Horne, Marcello Giordani and Thomas Hampson. There was once I sang in a live broadcast to Berlin at 10am for a conference and Thomas Hampson was there! Of course my heart dropped to my feet but I sang nevertheless. Mr Hampson even toasted me with his coffee at the end of Granada. There were some non-Classical concerts I attended, like those of Bon Jovi, Aretha Franklin, and Josh Groban. Otherwise I have seen Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber stepping out from a theater after doing a play together and I believe Brad Pitt and George Clooney were filming a movie in the park next to my school one time. It was Burn After Reading I think. Naturally there were no girls in class that day. To be fair, one doesn’t need to step out very far to meet celebrities. My teacher Neil Rosenshein himself is a famous tenor, and Catherine Malfitano who is a very successful soprano, now coaches us in some performance classes. One might even run into Pinchas Zuckerman in the lobby.

Jonathan: Yes! There was one time I was just going out to buy some groceries and I ran into street magician David Blaine doing card tricks on the side walk. Needless to say, I stopped to watch a few tricks and I must say he’s pretty amazing. I got a picture too of course! I also remember watching the school opera two years ago and sitting next to an older lady that looked suspiciously familiar. We started chatting and then it dawned upon me that I was talking to Martina Arroyo! Sitting next to and chatting with an opera legend got my heart pumping real fast. Most of the other stars we meet are from watching concerts and master classes.

The Mad Scene: Besides yourselves, which other young singers would you recommend that voice lovers here should look out for?

David & Jonathan: We would have to say that there are many promising and talented young singers who study with my teacher Jeong Ae Ree here in Singapore who would greatly and very richly enhance the classical voice scene in Singapore when they reach their full maturity. You featured Daniel Fong before on your blog, a baritone from her studio, who has a very fine and expressive voice both in terms of his instrument and his musicality. Rebecca Li is another soprano to look out for. She really does sound beautiful and is going to pursue her graduate studies in London this year. Also, Lim Yan Ting and Brendan-Keefe Au are other two gifted singers to listen out for and they will be performing a recital together on the 17th of August.

The Mad Scene: What are your favourite mad scenes, and why?

Jonathan: Well my favourite moment of insanity in Opera isn’t exactly a case of neurosis per se but a moment of madness that always takes my breath away. I’m talking about Act 4 of Bizet’s Carmen when Don Jose stalks Carmen in the crowd and desperately confronts her before she enters into the bull fighting arena. He begs her to love him again and to run away with him but she states that she is a free spirit and doesn’t love him anymore. She tries to leave and when Don Jose restrains her she throws down the ring that he gave her when they were lovers. Oh that doesn’t go down well with Jose at all and in a fit of anger and madness, he stabs the woman he loves the most and kills her. To beg for love and then lash out in a moment of intense jealousy and anger is so romantic yet filled with madness and tragedy. David and I watched tenor Jonas Kaufmann (Don Jose) and Kate Aldrich (Carmen) at the Met in May and they were fantastic. Definitely made it to one of my favourite scenes, plus it’s pretty crazy!

David: My favourite mad scene is from Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. The tenor, Tom Rakewell, is eventually condemned into insanity and ends up in Bedlam asylum by the end of the opera where he dies. His bethrothed, Anne Trulove, whom he earlier abandoned for a life of debauchery and mess, comes to make peace with him. In his madness he thinks she is the goddess Venus, and himself Adonis. He manages to rise out of his madness and sings a painfully beautiful duet with her, all while under the impression that he has found forgiveness of his sins through her grace. Ann then sings him to sleep with a sweet lullaby before leaving him to his end. I hugely enjoyed performing and listening to this mad scene!

The Mad Scene: Lastly, tell us why should we all come attend On Wenlock Edge on 10 August 2010?

David & Jonathan: Come for a night of truly special and beautiful music that has really moved and blessed the both of us in our musical journeys. It is our hope that this music will affect all who come to listen in a new and fresh way.


David and Jonathan's recital On Wenlock Edge takes place coming Tuesday at the Arts House. Check out the Events Page for details.

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