matthew white tackles 10 questions

dear faithful readers: the classical beaver is proud to present back-to-back interviews this week… think of it as an early solstice gift.  first up is countertenor matthew white, a recent graduate of professor charles xavier’s school for mutant vocal arts (located in ottawa).  mr. white put the beaver editing team through the wringer, since they didn’t want to cut a single brilliant word.  thank you so much matthew!

you’ll be performing handel’s messiah with the oregon symphony this weekend – how would you describe this piece to someone who doesn’t listen to much classical music?

The Messiah is a great place to start for anyone who is new to classical music and is accessible to anyone with an ear for melody and rhythm.  Typical of all of Handel’s work, it is tuneful music written primarily to entertain.  Although composed using sacred texts, it was written by a man whose primary love was secular operatic work and this comes through in the essentially dramatic nature of the writing.  In a vital performance of the work there is no danger of being bored.  That it is written in English also means that people should be able to understand the action and story.

you are a countertenor.  what the heck is that?

I have spent the last 15 years singing professionally as a counter-tenor or falsettist.  Although there are people who would argue this point, it is my opinion that most of the guys who call themselves counter-tenors are using a type of supported falsetto singing in order to sing in the alto or mezzo range. Ultimately what is important is that the sound is flexible and reliable enough to warrant use as an expressive tool.  I like to think that the constraints of falsetto singing are offset by the uniqueness of color and the arresting nature of hearing a high voice emanate from an essentially male physical presence.

what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

I find that as technology plays a bigger and bigger role in contemporary musical expression, and that enjoying music is spoken about in terms like “media consumption,” the value of unplugged, non-corporate music is more important than ever before.  Live music requires a different set of skills and involves a dynamic exchange between musicians and audience that would be sad to lose.  For many of my friends for whom classical music is now thought of as dying form, I am always vindicated when they finally go to see something great and they cannot believe the skill they have witnessed and the passionate commitment that it requires.  The problem is that we have many more choices available to us today and it just means classical musicians will have to step up and make a case for themselves – no pun intended 🙂

okay, I’ll let that one go.  so… what composer really rocks your world?

I have a strong aversion to declaring a favorite composer but the one I listen to the most regularly is J. S. Bach – a perfect fusion of man’s capacity for reason and passion.  If there was ever an argument for our potential as humans it is embodied most perfectly for me in his music.  Bach Cantatas are a never ending source of inspiration and happiness for me.

you are a soloist with les voix baroques – can you say more?

Les Voix Baroques is an ensemble of vocal soloists specializing in works from the Renaissance and Baroque.  Much of the “early” vocal music we sing today was written for ensembles that were either one to a part, or included solo singers who sang all the chorus bits along with their solos supported by a small number of extra singers.  From experience, I feel many of these works benefit greatly from including the soloists in the choral movements.  With the right people, the sound is far more flexible and offers the whole palate from intimate to enormous – integrating the soloists into the fabric of the “choral” movements makes them less like trained seals and more like integral parts of a whole.  Les Voix Baroques will be appearing in Portland with the Portland Baroque Orchestra in March.

sweet!  if you weren’t a musician, what job would you choose?

I am obsessed with this music and for being its advocate in the wider community, so when I am not being a singer I am out there producing concerts for people who I believe deserve to be heard.  That said, I LOVE beer, especially the West Coast, hoppy I.P.A so you might also find me growing hops or trying to open a microbrewery.  I guess beer and classical music don’t need to be mutually exclusive… I should think about that.

if i were to buy you a drink, what would you order?

Racer 5.

the fact that you just singled out a very specific i.p.a. means you are now an honorary citizen of portland: congrats!  let’s see, on with the interview.  um, are you stoked by any non-classical music?

I am stoked by anything good as long as it is honest.  Corporate music makes me depressed. This week I am listening to Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Chris Webster, and Bonnie Raitt.

not that this is a loaded question or anything, but c’mon… angel from montgomery sung by bonnie raitt is clearly one of the best songs ever in the history of music, right?

It is a great song and she is an amazingly direct and honest performer. My wife introduced me to this song a few years back.  I would love to hear her sing live and without a microphone.  I bet it would be even better…she sings so in tune.

you have performed in operas, concerts, and music festivals all over the planet.  what are you expecting from the oregon symphony?

What I heard last time: energy, great playing, and a positive attitude.  Guest conductor Jean-Marie will be at the helm and it is hard not to get into it with him around.

can’t wait.  matthew white and a theorbo?!  jeez-o-man, i’ll tell you what… get tix now (if there are any left) and thank me later.


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