What are your engagements in the next few months?
My teacher Udo Reinemann created a very special Lieder course at the Brussels Conservatory. Sadly he died earlier this year, but he had asked me to take over the unique, intense course he created and I have been teaching the singers and pianists. It is a fantastic chance for students from all over the world to spend 28 days on a course devoted entirely to Lieder, learning not just from me but also working with guest artists. In April, in homage to Udo, there will be a memorial concert, as well as the students’ end of course concert.
Are you following Udo’s curriculum and concept?
In some ways, but I am also going to introduce some of my own ideas and guest teachers: for instance, I’m planning to invite an actor to get the students reciting the poetry without actually singing. A poem is the basis of every Lied and I want the singers to focus on that rather than being busy with their voice. I have also asked a Baroque singer to teach songs accompanied by Baroque instruments from the Conservatory, and also a countertenor who has written a very illuminating book on Nietzsche’s philosophy of life. All these people will bring a different perspective to the study of Lieder.
Your career as a mezzo-soprano has blossomed since you studied opera and Lieder with Udo in Amsterdam in 2000. Can you pass on practical tips to these young artists?
I am not teaching them how to sing but I do try to use my personal experience. I can help with breathing, I can talk about text and interpretation and help with pronunciation. It is interesting and you learn a lot yourself when teaching. Other people sing in such a different way, and you have to work out how to make it clear. There is a misconception that Lieder is very limiting, but it should be free and as open as opera.
Could you talk about the world premieres you are unveiling on 29 October.
For a long time I’ve dreamed of putting together a programme for a trio of double bass, voice and piano. My brother Rick plays the double bass, as a soloist and in many top orchestras, and I work regularly with the pianist Joseph Breinl. We have recorded Bottesini works together, but there is very little original repertoire for voice, piano and double bass. So we commissioned two new works, one from 90-year-old American composer Ned Rorem and another from Michel van der Aa, who has already written a work for me, Spaces of Blank, to poetry by Emily Dickinson, Anne Carson and Rozalie Hirs, which I premiered with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
We are giving the world premieres of these two new pieces for the trio in the Concertgebouw, before touring the Netherlands and Belgium. In 2014 we are taking the programme to America.
Why did you choose to commission Ned Rorem?
I heard beautiful CD by the mezzo-soprano Susan Graham of Ned Rorem songs, and I found his writing very original and sympathetic for the voice. Usually the double-bass line is written just as an accompaniment to the voice but I wanted something challenging and soloistic for Rick. Ned has written a beautiful piece, How Like a Winter, using two Shakespeare sonnets 97 and 98. It’s very lyrical, the writing creates almost a meditative atmosphere. What’s nice is that it’s the exact opposite of the Van der Aa pieces, And how are we today? which are very rhythmical, jazzy and influenced by pop music.
Are you looking forward to touring with your brother?
We are extremely close and because we know each other so well, on stage we can take a lot of risks, in a good way. We can challenge each other – our mutual trust and openness allows us to play around during the concert and keep the performances fresh.
Christianne Stotijn, Joseph Breinl and Rick Stotijn continue their trio recital tour with performances on: 26 January for the Stichting Kamermuziek in Deventer; 27 January at La Monnaie in Brussels and on 16 March 2014 at the Philharmonie Cologne.