Boston contralto Emily Marvosh is a sought-after soloist, and a founding member of the acclaimed Lorelei Ensemble, which promotes new music for women. She has performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, Disney Hall, Lincoln Center, Prague’s Smetana Hall, and Vienna’s Stefansdom, among others, and is a frequent guest soloist with the Handel & Haydn Society. A proud native of Michigan, Ms. Marvosh created an award-winning chamber recital – The Michigan Recital Project – that celebrates the history and culture of her home state. Ms. Marvosh will sing Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the Orchestra of Indian Hill on Sunday, February 19, and leads a voice masterclass at Indian Hill Music School on Saturday, February 18.
As a contralto soloist, what types of roles do you usually perform? Are there any particular challenges for contraltos?
As a contralto on the younger end of the spectrum, there isn’t much for me in the operatic repertory, although I look forward to my sixties, when I can sing all the great contralto roles! I do mostly concert solos in oratorios and symphonies, which I absolutely love.
I didn’t show any vocal promise until after I had already gone through puberty, and I only joined the school choir because it seemed like the least tedious of the electives available to me. But it turned out that I loved it, and I started taking voice lessons in seventh or eighth grade. I was very fortunate that my first two voice teachers had classical training themselves and the flexibility to offer me different styles. Because I had already been studying piano and French horn, the mental challenge of classical music and technique were most intriguing to me, and I’m still challenged daily by this demanding art.
Do you prefer to perform with chamber ensembles? Choirs? Symphony orchestras?
Of course I love working with orchestras, but much of my work currently is as a chamber musician. I want to make sure we don’t limit chamber music to instrumental music; in the last 20 years we have seen the rise of the professional vocal chamber ensemble as well. A lot of my chamber work is in small vocal groups, which can’t really be called choirs because they behave like a group of soloists together, and that kind of singing is very satisfying. On the other hand, working with a large symphony choir, particularly with amateur singers, is one of my greatest pleasures in music making. Amateur singers truly do love what they do, and devote countless hours merely for the pleasure of it. How can I not love that?
We know from works like Enigma Variations that Elgar let his sense of humor pervade his music, and it’s really enjoyable to see how he uses different instruments and colors to illustrate the different ways the sea can make us feel.
Who are your favorite composers?
Favorite composers…that’s so hard! Any composer that puts text first will always be a favorite of mine. I love Bach for his dedication to music as service (and for his fugues!). I love Handel’s majesty and Haydn’s humor. I love Britten for his choices of texts. I love Mahler for his ability to create a completely transparent orchestral texture to support the voice. I love Brahms because he understood the alto voice so well.
What is your favorite solo of all time?
It’s one I will never perform: Mache Dich, from [Bach’s] St. Matthew Passion.
What’s on your playlist right now?
As a perk for a recent crowdfunding campaign, the Lorelei Ensemble made a fantastic playlist of music by women…all different kinds, from female mariachi to folk singers to a Pulitzer-winning composition. Check it out here!
What inspires you about Elgar’s Sea Pictures? What should the audience be listening for?
The poetry is by different people, and Elgar’s music reflects the different personality of each poem. We know from works like Enigma Variations that Elgar let his sense of humor pervade his music, and it’s really enjoyable to see how he uses different instruments and colors to illustrate the different ways the sea can make us feel. My favorite poem is Sabbath Morning at Sea by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She is amazed at the ocean and excited by her journey, but she misses her friends back home…I was going to quote my favorite line here, but I can’t pick just one, the whole poem is so masterful.
Everyone’s journey with music is different, so there is no one piece of advice that will work for everyone. For classical musicians (singers, instrumentalists AND conductors too) I always say take care of your languages early, when your brain is more flexible. More than diction, you really need to know the mechanics and grammar of as many languages as possible. Traveling is of course a very enjoyable way to improve one’s languages! Piano skills are also very important for any young musician. But my most dear piece of advice is: be flexible! A good, solid vocal technique will enable you to do anything: musical theater, opera, jazz, choral music, straight theater, early music, spoken word, pop, folk, etc. The characteristic I see most often in professional musicians is flexibility (think of the opportunities Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara have had because of their classical chops); they work often and happily because they have the confidence to try something different or new or be able to come along with a conductor or director without fear or hesitation. But in short, get lots of sleep, drink lots of water, and learn your languages!
Emily Marvosh will join Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill in a program of Holst, Elgar, Frazelle, and Stravinsky on Sunday, February 19 at 3:00pm. Learn more and buy tickets.
Listen to performances: