Express & Star

Sir Bryn Terfel delighted to be back on stage as he heads to Birmingham's Symphony Hall

“Scratch a Welshman and he’ll sing for you!” laughs Sir Bryn Terfel. “It’s a dream come true to put together a set like this."

Sir Bryn Terfel

The much-loved bass-baritone is heading to the West Midlands this autumn on his ‘Songs and Arias’ tour. The date will represent a personal playlist of sorts for this most renowned of singers.

“The tour will be a trip down memory lane of repertoire, the opportunity to sing the songs that I love, and many of the wonderful arias that I’ve performed on the operatic stage.

“The name of the tour is a little nod towards Max Boyce’s ‘Hymns and Arias’ but these concerts represent my life. I got started by performing the songs that my parents sang whilst cradling me as a baby. These songs are special in Wales; they are a part of the household. This tour is also a great way to showcase what I’ve been doing professionally for the last 30 years”.

“The set is already locked down in my mind. We’re mixing it up a little on this tour: some concerts will be piano, harp, voice and others will be with an orchestra – the one I’ve worked with many, many times – and the same conductor Gareth Jones. We know each other well and we have some great orchestrations, so I’m ready to go. I’m certainly going to put in some uplifting Ivor Novello songs, and some of my favourite operatic arias. We’ll have a guest young singer too so that I can do some duets. Welsh folk song will also feature of course. Some of these songs are melancholic but also filled with such hope – pieces like ‘Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night)’ just implores us all to share the light together”.

His 30-year anniversary has very quickly crept around for Sir Bryn. “It’s incredible really, three decades at the Royal Opera House. My record label Deutsche Grammophon told me that next year is their 125th anniversary and, again, my 30th with them. They are going to bring out some of my albums on vinyl, which I’m very excited about because as a student I had such a collection, and I bought myself a turntable for Christmas”.

Sir Bryn is happy to cherish his achievements, but is always looking ahead and his focus now is very much on this UK tour. “In the classical world, it’s important to constantly add to your repertoire – I can’t just sing the hits every night. It is all about performance, and diction and singing in tune; those rudiments are still the essentials. I have such a great platform”.

The tour will visit nine cities across the UK including Birmingham and Sir Bryn is looking forward to hitting the road. “I like to think of myself now as a British entertainer, and spending some time in and focusing on my home territory is something that I’m going to enjoy.”

Returning to live performance has been an incredible experience for Sir Bryn, as with all performers, and the audiences have also seemed to revel at being back in the concert halls.

“The tragedy and the turmoil of lockdown was hard, but we had some light at the end of the tunnel, as Alffi was born. And we had to look after Lili and home-school her – but dad was home for a change! We want everyone to be safe, but to come and enjoy the music.

"I’ve just done a run of Peter Grimes at the Royal Opera House with every ticket sold and to see that theatre full again, well, it was something that maybe before we took for granted. To be back performing now it is a totally different feeling, the enjoyment now is ten-fold and that zeal is going to stay with me on this October tour”.

Selecting and curating the set for these special performances has been a labour of love. Sir Bryn is very aware that his platform affords him the possibility to keep certain repertoire under the spotlight and therefore alive. He is proud of to promote Welsh music and remains heavily involved in the Llangollen International Eisteddfod.

His tour will reflect that tradition. He says: “This fortunate position in which I find myself in: to be able to have people orchestrate Welsh folk songs for me personally, that means that anyone else can then go on to use them too.”

Learning and performing those songs that he learned at his mother’s knee was the start of what has turned out to be an incredible journey. “Even after five years in the Guildhall I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, until I won the last competition there, the Gold Medal. That was the pivotal point that led me to go ahead with this career and not go back to being a farmer with the sheep and cows!”

Farming’s loss perhaps, but that choice has led to so many incredible highlights. Sir Bryn was the second recipient of the Queen’s Medal For Music, and was also knighted. “It was astounding for me to think, ‘Wow, I’ve done enough in my career to be given such an honour’”. After that Gold Medal, it was his showing at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition (coming second to the wonderful baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky) that opened the floodgates. As he says, “From that moment I was off, constantly learning repertoire, trying to be that good colleague whenever I was in one of the world’s great concert halls. I’ve climbed lots of personal Everests.

Singing at the Royal Opera House is always very special, as is the Metropolitan in New York and the Scala in Milan: these are tremendous places to even think, ‘Who else has sung on that stage?’ It’s kind of daunting. I never take anything for granted: that is why I am always delighted to be asked back to any concert hall, or to do something like this October tour!

Sir Bryn has brought his own stamp to bear on so many of the classics, and performed with many of the greats along the way.

“One of the first duets I did was with Tom Jones. I did ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ – a song I’ve sung forever in my car! I performed his opera ‘Ca Ira’ with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and sang ‘Roxanne’ at Sting’s sixtieth birthday celebrations – I was on in between Lady Gaga and Billy Joel!

On these October dates, the focus will remain on him, and Sir Bryn Terfel is taking free rein and seizing the chance to indulge himself and share the wonderful music that has kept him at the pinnacle of opera and concert singing for three decades.

As he concludes, “Come along! I will try to entertain you as much as possible. I’m so looking forward to it – it’s what I do.”

Sir Bryn plays Birmingham Symphony Hall on October 9.

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