An interview with Rowan Pierce
We were thrilled to interview soprano Rowan Pierce, who recently made her Wigmore Hall debut and performs with ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music, the Gabrieli Consort, and Florilegium, while still studying at the Royal College of Music in London.
Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Rowan Pierce. I’m a soprano from Saltburn-by-the-Sea.
Revoice! Magazine has previously featured the Samling Foundation. Could you tell us about your experience being a Samling Artist, and how the Foundation helps young musicians?
The Samling Foundation is a fantastic network, which provides performance opportunities and masterclasses for musicians at the start of their careers. In the last few years, Samling set up a scheme for young singers in the North East. After auditioning, students in the Samling Academy can participate in weekend courses with leading coaches, pianists, and singing teachers. They also perform a staged opera every two years and get a taste of what life is like as a full-time singer. I took part in the first Samling Academy and am now a Samling Artist. I have performed in three operas and several concerts for them.
Could you tell us about your most exciting projects to date, and about some of your future plans?
I’ve been very lucky to work with some great ensembles. I recently performed in the incomparable Wigmore Hall with the London Handel Players and worked with Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort at Saffron Hall. That performance was quite special for me because the first time I ever heard a real baroque sound, gut strings at 415, was with the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh. They did an outreach project with my county choir in Teesside. It was quite exciting to sing with them again under different circumstances.
I’m always happy when performing with the AAM too and was involved in their performances of Handel’s Acis & Galatea, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Monteverdi's motets, and a tour in the Canary Islands.
I have very fond memories of being a Britten Pears Young Artist and playing the role of Drusilla in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. I’d love to play that role again!
In Leeds Lieder Festival, Roger Vignoles and I are performing a recital and premiering Iain Bell’s new song cycle ‘Away’ - it will be really exciting to be the first ones to put our stamp on the music. I’m also looking forward to my first visit to Ireland, working with Ensemble Marsyas and exploring a programme about Handel’s adventures there.
What is currently your favourite work to perform, and why?
I’m not sure favourites are good things! I think whichever work you are about to perform next should be your favourite - or the audience needs to think that, at least. I don’t think, as performers, we have the luxury of ‘favourites’. I once overheard someone introduce a piece of music to a group who had never heard it before; the introduction started: ‘you’re not going to like this but…’ That comment has stayed with me. As ambassadors for the music, we have to present it with nothing but respect. No matter what it is, the music deserves it and the listeners deserve it. So, if I have a favourite, it would get in the way of the rest!
In the world of ‘historical performance’ we hear a lot of differing views about how singers ought to sound, particularly with relation to vibrato. To what extent do you feel that we should be looking to historical sources for information about sound, and to what extent is it more of a practical concern?
That’s a can of worms! I think historical sources can be interesting. They give us an idea of the opinions people had about the sounds they were hearing at the time. I don’t think it should dictate what we do in 2017. The human voice is incredible - it can make so many different noises! Singing is about telling a story and you need lots of different colours to do that - vibrato or its absence are both colours. I think ideally, a singer’s ‘technique’ should allow them to sing freely, with no tension and with their natural instrument. After that they make artistic decisions, and a listener either relates to it or not. I’m not sure we can be prescriptive with anything else. But what do I know?!
As a musician who regularly works throughout Europe, how do you feel about Brexit and how do you think it may affect your career?
I felt heartbroken last June. One of the problems is that nobody seems to know anything, so it's difficult to speculate. I just hope that artists can find a way to share their work regardless of enforced boundaries; I hope audiences everywhere will still want to hear what we have to offer; I hope to work for the rest of my life with all nationalities and continue to explore together our shared history of music making.