Jessye Norman on music and Bangkok

The Nation - Thursday, May 13, 2004

On a hot Bangkok April night, hundreds of opera enthusiasts were thrilled with the rare opportunity of hearing a performance by Jessye Norman, dubbed across the globe as the greatest soprano of the last century.

Norman said she was also thrilled to be here as part of the series of events held in Bangkok this year by the International Peace foundation.

The following are excerpts of the interview she gave to The Nation about the perfor­mance.

Q.: Given the comprehensive range of your repertoire, how do you arrive at the decision of what particular composi­tions you will perform in each concert in a specific city?

I enjoy the challenge of selecting repertoire for the many and varied venues at which it is my privilege to perform each season. There are so many reasons for choosing particular music, but for Bangkok, as this was my first performance, I decided that a programme that would present a good idea of my musical interests and styles would be the best idea.

At the same time, I wished to include something familiar, I think just about everyone can sing along to the Carmen ' Habanera', for example. I believe the audience was pleased with the choices.

If good rapport, interaction and commu­nication between an artist and audience mem­bers are important factors for the appreciation of your singing, how would you characterize the reactions of the concert-goers to your per­formance in Bangkok? What did you find spe­cial about this concert? Were there any sur­prises?

My accompanist, Mark Markham and I were absolutely thrilled with the attentiveness, the warm reception and generous enthusiasm of the wonderful audience at the Cultural Centre. I felt we shared a joyous time together, a moment to remember. I cannot say that there were any surprises, only a beautiful exchange of warmth and energy among hun­dreds who were there willing and ready, fully, to participate in the spirit of the evening.

What more can you do to popularise clas­sical music among young people around the globe and reach out to the uninitiated?

It has always been my contention that the enjoyment and nourishment that can be derived from the experience of classical music, has little to do with geography and everything to do with simple exposure.

Audiences need only to have the opportunity to hear the music, to see the operas, to know that a knowledge of the various languages is not needed in order to simply enjoy the experience of an opera performance, or song recital.

The stories of joy and pain, highness and challenge are the same around the world and easy to comprehend.

A Mozart piano sonata played with commitment and understanding is just as thrilling, in my opinion, when heard in a school auditorium, as at one of the major music centres.

Children need to become acquainted with classical music in school, this needs to be much as part of their education as any o discipline.

Countless studies have shown that arts education and music in particular serve to enhance the overall performance of students in schools and indeed encourages deeper understanding of themselves, the benefits o hard work and continued practice in order to achieve a better result.

I believe that the music and the audiences are just waiting to find one another