Gillian Keith Soprano

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The Big Bach Project!

photo-28As a music student my youth choir conductor, who knew how much I loved the music of Bach, introduced me to his cantata for solo soprano ‘Jauchzet Gott’. Surprised I didn’t already know it, she told me to go to the library and listen to it immediately! “It will change your life”, she said, and she was right.

I spent hour after hour in the practice room working the lines into my voice, and within a matter of days I had devoured every note in the score. For weeks the recording never left my CD player. I felt I had encountered the perfect piece of music – the opening bars sent my spirits soaring, the central aria made me weep with affection for its simple sincerity, and come the final Alleluia, I was tingling with excitement as laughter bubbled in my throat. It was because of this piece I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a singer.

Throughout my career Bach has remained a staple of my repertoire. I spent many joyful weeks rehearsing the St Matthew Passion in my first season as a professional choral singer in Toronto, and later that year attended a Bach course at the Britten-Pears School. In 2000 I toured Europe and the U.S. with John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir singing the church cantatas, and in 2002 made my ENO debut in Deborah Warner’s staged St John Passion. I sing everything from Monteverdi to Messaien and beyond, but Bach remains a special joy for me, and thankfully it is still a big part of my work.

Bach wrote hundreds of cantatas, and each one contains evidence of his genius and his mastery of the form. But I have always been especially drawn to the solo cantatas, of which there are nine for soprano. I’ve been studying and performing them for a good many years now, and it’s always been a dream of mine to record them as a set. I imagine such a project being a total Bach immersion for my mind and my voice – a whole Bach wardrobe of the most vibrant colours and richest fabrics.

To realise this dream, I have joined forces with Armonico Consort and Signum Records – how fortunate for me! They are equally excited about the venture, and our planning is refreshingly creative. The intended format is a three volume set of recordings, each disc with three cantatas. To have all the solo soprano cantatas presented on their own in one set will be unique – this is not something that has been done before.

How will this enterprise take shape? The simple answer: in stages, with help, and always with the love of the music at the heart of our work.  Armonico is a forward-thinking and flexible organisation, and I am very excited by the possibilities for this project. They are refined and talented musicians backed by a capable and innovative administration, and I know we’ll make something special of this opportunity.

This is a long-term project, and we have many pieces to put into place yet. But I wouldn’t want it to be a quick and easy undertaking. I am relishing every moment of the planning, preparation and striving that will turn this endeavour into something that will be nourishing and exciting for everyone involved – supporters, observers and performers alike.