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DAVID WILSON-JOHNSON: ARTIST PROFILE
Wilson-Johnson reminisces … his parents met in a church choir, and he always knew he would end up singing. From the age of 7 he took piano lessons from a 'formidable old lady in the village' and then, much to his displeasure, his parents made him practice every afternoon!
At school he learnt the cello, double bass and played organ for chapel, he also joined the choir, and toured with them … 'it was fun'. Quite early on, after one of the school concerts in Cambridge he had the first inkling of a thought that he might become a singer.
The town of Cambridge provided endless inspiration, and he often found himself wandering into one of the many Chapels, sitting and listening to the music. On one occasion he remembers hearing Wilfred Brown, a 'wonderful' tenor for whom he later auditioned. Following the audition he recalls Brown saying "…you are going to do this professionally aren't you … you will give an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people…"
Wilson-Johnson discusses what the future might hold, and we see footage of him rehearsing.
ON COVENT GARDEN…
Covent Garden was an inspiring place for young singers to go, they could be assured of hearing lots of wonderful singers, and seeing plenty of role models.
In the 'old' Covent Garden, Wilson-Johnson remembers walking through the corridors from the dressing rooms to the stage, passing photos of famous singers such as Callas, Gobbi and Fischer-Dieskau - an inspiring, though somewhat daunting experience.
For singers of today, competitions are considered an inevitable part of life, and are a good way to earn money.
After entering the National Federation of Music Societies Award for male voices, Wilson-Johnson's life changed, and there were queues of people lining up to offer him work. Over the next few years he gave many recitals and concerts with orchestras, and was able to learn the recital repertoire.
He describes this time as a "wonderful apprenticeship" - gaining valuable experience dealing with audiences, and making friends all over the country.
Wilson-Johnson discusses the role of the music critic: they can either offer constructive criticism, or can be quite destructive. He talks about those he admires, and those whom he considers to be lesser exponents, having 'cloth ears and not much idea'!
One of the more frustrating aspects of being an artist is pigeon holing. When you perform in concert halls, opera houses assume you're not an opera singer, whilst if you are an opera singer, concert promoters will think you scream, not sing! Wilson-Johnson is not fazed by these opinions, preferring instead to believe that 'it's all about singing what the composer has written'.
He discusses a unique project which is currently being undertaken to produce an 'international' recording of the Verdi Requiem, and which will employ singers from the USA, Russia, and Wales.
Wilson-Johnson has performed the St Matthew Passion in Boston and New York. He has visited the Church where Bach composed many of his works, and where he is now buried. He describes how the visit put Bach's music into perspective: the music could be seen in the context of the church, and it revealed the thinking behind many of his techniques in both orchestration and choral spatial layout. Wilson-Johnson found this experience quite overwhelming, particularly as Bach is seen by many musicians as the 'center of music civilization', providing the basis of musical learning.
Following his first place in the National Federation of Music Societies Award for male voices, Wilson-Johnson was given money for a commission. He asked Michael Tippett (1905-1998) to write a work for him, and after two years was sent the composition Caliban's Song (1995). This piece ended up being Tippet's final creation.
Wilson-Johnson performed Caliban's Song at Westminster Abbey, during the Purcell tercentenary concert on November 21, 1995. He remembers this performance to be the 'most proud moment of his life', and is now looking forward to recording the work.
The interview ends with an excerpt of David singing and playing Caliban's Song.