ELIZABETH WATTS ON GROWING UP IN NORWICH, HER DESERT ISLAND DISCS AND MORE
We sat down for a Q&A with soprano Elizabeth Watts ahead of her upcoming tour with Britten Sinfonia.
What early musical experience had a big impact on you?
I was part of the children’s choir for the Berlioz Te Deum with the Norwich Phil when I was ten. I still remember sitting in St Andrew’s Hall in sensory ecstasy, surrounded by the music. I had such a feeling of excitement and joy. I had never heard an orchestra live before or been involved in such a large choral work. It had a profound impact on me and embedded my love for classical music. It just goes to show that you never know how impactful involving children in such events might be on someone’s life.
Can you tell us about growing up in Norwich?
Norwich was an amazing place to grow up. It has such an incredibly rich musical life. It lives and breathes amateur music making to a very high level. It was just normal to me that music was part of the fabric of a place. Of course, I now realise this is not the case in many areas and how fortunate I was to grow up with such a cultural back drop.
The museums were also a huge joy - not just Norwich Castle with its depth and breadth of exhibits and art, from the mummified cat to the Norwich school of artists, but also the Stranger’s Hall museum with fabulous historic textiles. And then there’s the wonderful medieval architecture of the city itself. I still feel so embraced by the specialness of the place; it’s always like a warm, characterful hug whenever I return.
Ahead of your concert with us this October, what are your thoughts on the orchestral song cycles by Finzi and Richard Blackford?
Both cycles feature visionary poets in Thomas Traherne and Nadja Anjuman, although Traherne is based in the metaphysical world and Anjuman is firmly rooted in the reality and imagination of experience. Both also speak to the heart of what it is to be human. Dies Natalis gives us a glimpse, through fresh eyes, of the world of wonder we inhabit. Anjuman’s world is one of both despair and hope; of grim reality and yet also of great promise. Both Finzi and Blackford’s music bring these worlds to life and help us understand the unsayable moments between the lines of these poems.
If you could have only three desert island discs, what would they be, and why?
Gundula Janowitz, Karajan and the Berlin Phil playing Strauss’ Four Last Songs. Utter perfection on a recording. A dizzying mix of exceptional singing & playing, intoxicating music and technical mastery of the recording process by the engineers.
Kennedy plays Bach with the Berlin Phil, in particular the Violin Concerto No.2 in E Major. This piece is such joy and Bach is always a reminder of the beauty of life even in troubled times. Kennedy plays with great verve and panache. I just love it.
Guns N' Roses Greatest Hits. Whilst I can’t possibly approve of Axel Rose’s vocal technique there is great music here. It always lifts my spirits in mundane moments. If there is a boring task to be done, (and to survive on a desert island there most surely will be), I put this on. It pipped Queen’s Greatest Hits album to the post by a quarter of a hair’s width.
Book now for Britten Sinfonia with Elizabeth Watts for an evening of Finzi and Richard Blackford, plus music from Dobrinka Tabakova, and Elgar's Serenade for Strings.
Coming to Saffron Hall 14th October, Norwich 19th October, and London, Milton Court 20th October.