On Saturday, December 7th, New Zealand born baritone Bradley Christensen performs Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with the Toronto Children’s Chorus for the PSO holiday concert Christmas Fantasia. Susan Oliver had the opportunity for a Q&A with Bradley on behalf of the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, covering topics both personal and professional, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming concert.
SUSAN: What are the five things you can’t live without?
BRADLEY: Family, Music, Nature, Whiskey, Internet.
SUSAN: What is your motto, or the advice you live by?
BRADLEY: Eat that Frog! Mark Twain said “If you eat a frog for breakfast, eating anything after that would taste delicious.” If I have a job I don’t particularly want to do, or put off, I just say, Eat That Frog, and I go do it!
SUSAN: What does being a lyric baritone actually mean?
BRADLEY: In the German Fach system, being a lyric baritone means that my voice lies between the tenor and the bass, higher than a bass-baritone, but lower than the very high baryton-martin. My instrument is not to be heavy and dramatic, but sweeter and milder. I’m more a Count or Marcello than I am a Simon Boccanegra or a Scarpia.
SUSAN: What led a New Zealand boy to end up in Canada?
BRADLEY: The answer is three-fold. Graduate School, and my mum. I had had a couple of lessons with then head of voice at the University of Toronto, Dr. Darryl Edwards, and in a conversation, he thought Toronto would be a good place for me. He was my teacher for the first 5 years of me being here, and thanks to him, I have the opportunity to have a singing career. The other side to this is my mother, who had moved to Canada 4 years prior to my arrival. If I lived with her during my graduate studies, I didn’t have to pay International Fees. Not wanting to graduate with an enormous debt, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Finally, I’ve now married a Canadian, and I guess I can’t go back now. 🙂
Bradley Christensen, Professionally
SUSAN: When did you discover that you had a voice, and when did you decide on a career in vocal performance?
BRADLEY: I can still remember the day I discovered my I could sing. I was in primary school, probably aged 9, and our school assembly was singing a piece of music. I realized that I wasn’t singing the tune, but was somewhat speaking along in rhythm. I decided to sing the tune, and from there began my love of singing. They gave me the lead in their school show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and well, I haven’t stopped singing since. I think my mum can attest to that. I know I drove her bonkers as a kid. 🙂
SUSAN: Tell me about your experiences at The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School and how you were influenced by it.
BRADLEY: After my Masters, I was offered a place in the Rebanks Family Fellowship and International Performance Residency Program. This is an incredible program where I had the opportunity to develop as an artist. They provided lessons, coaching, talks with guest artists, career advice, they provided performance opportunities, they even sent me to Europe to have lessons, audition, sing in masterclasses, including a couple with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. There are a few bridging years between student and professional, and the Fellowship really helps during that time.
SUSAN: Did you have a mentor somewhere along the line?
BRADLEY: Of course. Singers continue to have lessons through their career, so those mentor figures are always there.
SUSAN: What is your repertory concentrated in, and which are your favorite roles?
BRADLEY: My repertory is quite eclectic. In opera, I sing music from Monteverdi and Mozart, through to Estacio and Ager. In the middle of November, I sing/sang a work by Purcell, but just a couple of weeks prior, I sang Frankenstein by Canadian composer Andrew Ager. Next year, I get to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. I love it all, and love discovering new roles. If you were to ask what my favourite role has been to date, that’s hard to say. They have been awesome for different reasons. However, something incredibly memorable was singing The High Priest in Mozart’s Idomeneo with Opera Atelier this past year. I had the privilege of sharing the stage with such incredible artists, led by Measha Brueggergosman.
SUSAN: How do concert and opera music counterbalance/balance one another? How do the two speak to you as art forms?
BRADLEY: I love opera and how it joins together all art forms. The visual art, costumes, the symphony, singing. Oh, it truly is remarkable. My passion though is art song. I love German lieder and British art song. I could sing Butterwork, Finzi, Vaughan-Williams, and Schumann every day of the week. That’s why the Fantasia is so incredible. It’s art-song on a grander scale. Love love love!
SUSAN: Favourite language to sing in?
BRADLEY: German or English.
SUSAN: You have a full schedule this holiday season; how do you keep your voice in optimal condition?
BRADLEY: Drinking lots of water, and getting sleep. Canada is also pretty dry, so sometimes I try to get in a good steam.
On Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols
SUSAN: Artistically, what do you love most about the pieces you will be performing? (“The truth sent from above” (Herefordshire Carol), “Come all you worthy gentlemen” (Somerset Carol) and “On Christmas night all Christians sing” (Sussex Carol).)
BRADLEY: A few reasons. Firstly, the text. That is the most important thing in anything. In this, the message is of love, specifically God’s love. No matter who we are, we are all welcome by God to have a place in Paradise. If you’re religious or not, the message of being kind to your fellow human beings is strong. It’s that time of year where people may think about giving help to the poor. Families also come together to celebrate and enjoy being with one another. The song finishes with “and we wish you a happy new year.” It’s a feel good piece 🙂 Another reason I love it – I’m a sucker for rhythmical changes, like quintuplets, or just a good tune. This has both!
SUSAN: What is most challenging about them?
BRADLEY: The hardest thing is where the songs lie in the voice. I’m a high baritone, which is what you need with a set like this, but the singer is constantly negotiating the passaggio. This means I am road-mapping the entire piece to decide how much head voice or chest voice I use. But got to love a challenge!
SUSAN: If you woke up as a tenor one day, which role would you sing? 🙂
BRADLEY: Hahahaha! Oh what baritone hasn’t wanted this at some point?! Not sure what role per se, but after hearing Pavarotti sing Di Quella Pira, I’d be happy if I could just belt that out once in my lifetime 🙂
Thank you, Bradley.