Talking with singers: Isabel Bayrakdarian
Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian's 2018 album, Mother of Light: Armenian hymns & chants in praise of Mary, is up for a Juno Award in the Classical Album of the Year category. The Awards are announced on March 25, and a win this year would bring the soprano's Juno count up to five.
Next month, Bayrakdarian is also helping the Amici Chamber Ensemble celebrate 30 years, with their April 27 concert at Koerner Hall. We spoke with her history with the Ensemble, the unique balance of singing with a chamber group, and the sense of "immeasurable joy" when she performs.
What do you think it takes for a group like the Amici Chamber Ensemble to reach 30 seasons?
I admire how Amici is always reinventing itself with different and new repertoire, commissioning it to be customized for their unique core formation (clarinet, cello, piano) and their musical guests. For their upcoming 30th anniversary concert, I am singing a cycle of 4 songs by Bernstein, arranged for string quartet by John Greer. John had previously written Palm Court Songs of the Bubble Ring (text by Dennis Lee) for Mark Dubois and Amici, as part of the 1990-1991 Amici concert series.
As a singer, what do you find unique about working with chamber groups, as opposed to a piano or a full orchestra?
The atmosphere of music-making is very different depending on the medium of performance. With full orchestral accompaniment, the control is – justifiably- in the hands of the conductor - so there's not much room for complete freedom. Voice/piano is very intimate, and an experience of complete freedom that I absolutely love. And right in between, there's the chamber group experience, which feels intimate enough that you don't need a conductor, but there's a constant sense of awareness of the need to be very sensitive to each instrument enveloping you (literally and figuratively) on stage. So there's more conscious give and take - teamwork - to make the collective work and shine. Every singer needs to be adept and flexible in each of these mediums (not to mention opera, which is another level and example of the congruence of all-of-the-above scenarios).
What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
The model of the music career keeps changing and evolving. What applied 10 years ago isn't necessarily relevant today. One thing has remained constant though and that is why we do it. For me, it's because I love it! I love the exhilaration and sense of complete freedom in my soul and the immeasurable joy in my heart when I'm singing and connecting with my audience and being a conduit for the composer's spark of genius. The communal sharing that occurs when you connect the listener to the composer and poet, is one of the most invigorating and renewing energies you can ever experience as a singer.