Monday, 14 February 2011
The Stuart Burrows Song Prize...and others less frightening
Monday comes and Monday goes, and I have ploughed through the mammoth mail pile one always gets on returning after more than a few days away. In my mail was the yearly leaflet and application form for the Stuart Burrows Singing Prize, held in Cardiff University and with the first prize being £4000. This is not sent to me so I may consider entry obviously, but is for any student I may have who may wish to take the plunge ! As with most of these national prizes the upper age limit is a whopping 35, so usually anyone I teach will be a positive infant by comparison with most candidates.
When I was at the RAM we received these forms all the time, and sometimes if the age range was just a little younger I would put a singer forward for the competition. I am a big believer in 'competition' in the life of a musician. I have many colleagues who totally disagree, and think that music is not about pitting oneself against others, but that performing and true musicianship is based upon each person being a distinct and unique performer.
I agree with all of that, but in my experience those who have not experienced the cut and thrust of professional, healthy competition find it difficult to cope when the auditions loom, and the colly wobbles become uncontainable. I entered many competitions in my career, and won many and came last is as many, because that is the reality of the game. One audition some one person loves you, and at another they stop you before you have reached halfway in the aria, and silently signal 'don't ring us' !
I know I was much more fitted to cope with those knock backs because it was a known entity, I had felt it before and I knew I would survive.
I am also unable to find any other way of allowing a student to know where they are in terms of standard. hearing others better and worse, gives you a gauge to go by, a benchmark, or a standard into which one can slot oneself.
That is why I am a great exponent of the Music Festival. A child learns, in a safe and nurturing atmosphere how to win, how to lose and for the whole idea of competition not to loom too large in their young lives. This stands those who want to go further in very good stead for the joys and despair to come.
Biography of a great Tenor
Stuart Burrows occupied the top rung of the operatic lyric tenor ladder for 20 years from the mid-60s, particularly known for his fine performances of Mozart. And yet he could have been a professional rugby player before converting his career to the opera and concert stage.
Like many singers, Stuart Burrows' career started light years away from the opera stage. Born in 1933 on the same street in Cilfynydd as Geraint Evans, he taught for several years, and word of his skills on the rugby field reached the prestigious Leeds Rugby League club, who offered him a contract.
At the last minute Stuart decided it wasn't for him - but his career did change course from then on and before long he was appearing with Welsh National Opera as well as on the oratorio stage.
His big break came in 1965, when he was seen by Stravinsky who engaged him to sing his Oedipus Rex in Athens. Just two years later he was starting an association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden which was to last 25 years.
Throughout this time he was to perform at all the major houses across the world, including San Francisco, Vienna, La Scala Milan and the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
His voice was best suited to Mozart, Donizetti and French composers such as Berlioz and Massenet. It had a purity of tone allied with a great sense of line and control of the production of the notes. He was never going to have the Pavarotti kind of voice and throughout his career Stuart has known exactly what sort of repertoire suited him best.
In line with this, he has always looked after his voice. He couldn't even be persuaded by Sir Georg Solti to sing Wagner because he felt didn't suit his voice.
Another area where Stuart Burrows excelled was that of Victorian song, both English and Welsh. He reintroduced these to the repertoire in his many recordings with pianist John Constable and at recitals everywhere from Vienna to New York.
At the height of his career, in the 70s and 80s, Stuart Burrows starred in his own BBC Two series, Stuart Burrows Sings, made by BBC Wales. It ran for eight years and was hugely popular. In it he combined performances of opera and oratorio alongside Victorian song and folksongs and was one of the first exponents of what was not yet referred to as 'crossover' repertoire.
Throughout his career, Stuart Burrows' home has always been Wales and he still lives in his lovely house in St Fagans, Cardiff. Now retired, he teaches and occasionally sits on juries of international singing competitions.
In June 2007 he was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list