I've referred to an ongoing interview series at the Guardian before, but I haven't mentioned the title of the series which is "Facing the Music". The latest installment is an interview with Carolyn Sampson. Now it is entirely likely that she is a wonderful singer and excellent musician (her debut recording, Fleurs, is just out--no reviews on Amazon yet), but it is hard to tell from the interview. Here are some excerpts (read the whole thing, at the link above):
What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
Wham! (yes, the 80s English pop duo)
Is applauding between movements acceptable?Yes. Spontaneous applause is always acceptable. I think it’s great to group songs, or movements, but I also think it’s wonderful when there is an immediate reaction from the audience – be it a laugh, an intake of breath, or applause. It means that they’re with us, and relaxed enough to respond.
What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?
A lack of fear. As performers, we should be relaxed on stage and be aiming not at perfection but at being our best on that day, and communicating with the audience. The audience should also feel comfortable and free to respond (see above).
What was the first ever record or CD you bought?A Boney M album. On record
Do you enjoy musicals? Do you have a favourite?Yes, I do. I enjoy most things. I’m a very good audience!Starlight Express made a big impression on me as a child. It was such a spectacle. I had a tape of the songs, to which I sang along with passion.
How many recordings of the Beethoven Symphonies do you own? Do you have a favourite?
Hmmm … I think I once had some of the Beethoven Symphonies recorded by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. But I’m not really sure!
Which non-classical musician would you love to work with?Those who know me won’t be surprised that my answer is George Michael! He has a beautiful voice and is a great musician.
Imagine you’re a festival director here in London with unlimited resources. What would you programme – or commission – for your opening event
An event in which I get to duet with George Michael.
What do you sing in the shower?
Whatever I’m currently learning. Or Hey Mickey, by Toni Basil.I think I have included all the relevant responses. So my question is, is there anything there that would lead you to think that she has had an adequate musical education? Is she familiar with the classical repertoire? Does she have the depth of aesthetic and cultural understanding to interpret great works of music? She might well have. But the impression you get from the interview is that she has all the cultural depth and musical understanding of the mythical 14 year old girl from Cleveland. Would I rush out to hear her sing Schubert? Not bloody likely! George Michael, indeed!
So this is the problem with the watering down of classical music and bowing down to the gods of pop music: it drives away those people who really do appreciate classical music. Now there's a winning strategy for ya!
Let's give Carolyn Sampson a chance to show what sort of singer she is. On YouTube, most of the selections are early music: Purcell, Bach and Handel. Here she is singing a wonderful song by Caccini: Amarilli mia bella:
Great job. So I guess the point of the interview and the new album with its repertoire of Britten, Debussy, Poulenc and others, is to move her career from the early music ghetto to wider acceptability. But again, trying to sell yourself as some kind of pop artist who happens to sing classical music seems, well, counterproductive.