Talking with singers: Grace DavidsonInterview
Closing this year’s London Handel Festival is the 29 April performance of Athalia. Among the excellent cast is British soprano Grace Davidson, who brings her expertise in Baroque music to Handel’s 1733 English oratorio.
We spoke with Davidson about singing Handel in her hometown of London, her pro tips for working on the road, and what she learned best through experience.
Why do you sing professionally?
I sing professionally because I love it and I knew it was what I wanted to do from the age of 15. I love being in different places every day, working with different people and constantly being introduced to new music, new churches and different parts of the world.
How do you stay healthy and sane while traveling for work?
This is an interesting question and not one that any travelling musician can be taught. Everyone has their own pattern of what works for them and I found I’ve relaxed a bit over the years and got better at managing all the travel and time off in between concerts and rehearsals, but ultimately every job has a different balance.
When I am at home I find it pretty easy to eat well and exercise, as I have two children (both singers and one of whom is a chorister at St Johns College Cambridge) plus my gorgeous dog and they are all a great incentive to get out of the house every day, and it just keeps me naturally distracted from even worrying about being ill, really. When I am touring, either on my own or in a group, I find I use that time to be quite quiet and sleep a lot so I can stay focused and charge my batteries. I sleep on planes, trains, coaches, (not when I’m driving I hope), but, generally I have a loaded iPod on the go, Netflix, books and magazines – a score of whatever the next musical project might be and I always have a large bottle of water, Vitamin C, Echinacea and Zinc in my handbag at all times!
I grew up in London and have lived here all my life, so it definitely feels very special to have sung Handel in some of the London venues where he worked and lived.
What do you find uniquely challenging, and uniquely rewarding about singing Baroque music?
I have always felt that Baroque music is my natural habitat. I love working with historical instrumentalists, everything about their unique colour, tone and pitch feels comfortable for me and relates to the way I sing a line or phrase. I don’t have a large voice that could carry over a symphony orchestra, so I always feel much better balanced next to Baroque players, plus we are so often blessed with performing in stunning buildings, concert halls and churches - which is an added bonus and often a natural amplification for me! That said, vocal lines in Baroque music can be incredibly technically challenging, often with little space to breathe.
When I was younger, I played the violin and sang in the Church choir and despite not being a great violinist, I am sure that playing an instrument hugely contributed to my passion for Baroque music, as many vocal lines in Baroque music are very instrumental and vocal at the same time with instruments echoing vocal lines and vice versa.
What special significance is there about paying homage to Handel’s music in London?
Over the years I have performed in St Georges Hanover Square, Handel’s house on Brook Street, Mayfair and then more recently I performed and recorded Handel’s Te Deum and Chandos Anthem no. 8 with the London Handel Orchestra and Adrian Butterfield at St Lawrence Whitchurch, where Handel worked as organist on the Cannons Estate. I had not been to St Lawrence Whitchurch before May 2017 and was literally blown away when I entered the church and saw its magnificent interior.
There are highs and lows with being a performer and the inconsistent schedule is sometimes quite challenging to manage, especially with a family.
I grew up in London and have lived here all my life, so it definitely feels very special to have sung Handel in some of the London venues where he worked and lived. I am also lucky to have recorded many of my favourite Handel works in London venues and have a new recording of Acis and Galatea coming out this spring with Harry Christophers and the Sixteen on the Coro label on which I sing the role of Galatea.
What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
That a singing career is jolly hard work and inconsistent and there is no ultimate security, but that I would still love it as much as I do now and how incredibly rewarding it is! There are no specific rules or paths to follow and that I’d have to pave my own way and find what balance and repertoire suited me and not to look and compare myself with other sopranos, but do what was right for me.
There are highs and lows with being a performer and the inconsistent schedule is sometimes quite challenging to manage, especially with a family. The impact of being on the road and then only at home for 2 nights, before flying to Hong Kong for 5 nights, for example. These are all elements that don’t suit everyone and you can’t really be taught how to deal with them until you actually do them.