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Q&A/Music

What to SEE: Rachelle Durkin & Jonathan Paget

18 November 2021

Enjoy an evening of exquisite music as soprano Rachelle Durkin and guitarist Jonathan Paget take to the stage for Musica Viva in a concert livestreamed from Cullen Wines.

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Soprano Rachelle Durkin and classical guitarist Jonathan Paget chat with Rosalind Appleby about their Musica Viva concert on 29 November. Audiences can watch this star duo by either attending live at Cullen Wines or joining the livestream.

Rosalind Appleby: Guitar and voice is a pairing rarely seen on classical stages, despite its popularity in contemporary music. What attracted you to working together?

Jonathan Paget: Classical guitar and voice deserve to be heard together more often!  The combination is as old as the guitar itself, with a rich – if neglected – history. And there is also a significant body of recent music. I’m also very excited to be working with Rachelle Durkin for the first time. We never crossed paths in the USA, but I began hearing about Rachelle’s activities when I first started working at WAAPA in the early 2000s. She has an incredibly impressive voice and is such a versatile and expressive musician. The work we are doing together is shaping up to be something quite special.

RA: This concert will be livestreamed from Cullen Wines. Have you done livestreamed concerts before and how does it go as a platform for classical performance?

Rachelle Durkin: I’ve actually sung a few live-streamed performances in the past. Most of them were when I performed at The Metropolitan Opera in New York for the Live in HD cinema broadcasts and for Sirius radio. I think it’s a wonderful platform to bring live theatre to the masses, especially now during the pandemic. 

There’s always the element of risk in live performance which has its thrills for both the artist and the person watching.  There’s no time to redo, rerecord, and so what you end up with is a more organic performance just like you’d have witnessed if you were at the real thing.

Right now, more than ever, the classical art form needs to touch the hearts and ears of as many people as possible and I thank Musica Viva for making concerts like these accessible to people who can’t go out right now.

Read Seesaw’s review of Rachelle Durkin performing with Freeze Frame Opera.

RA: You have gone for a folk-inspired program, with some more heavyweight songs by Benjamin Britten and David Braid. What is the appeal of this repertoire?

Jonathan: I would say that this is an eclectic program, bringing together a range of works from different nationalities, including several that have crossover appeal. A couple of works on the program use folk song material directly. In many ways, this was de rigour across the twentieth century and was part of efforts to create a distinctive national style. What is especially interesting is the way that composers put their own twist on old tunes, transforming them into something fresh and new. I’m especially fond of Britten. His works for the genre were created as part of the collaboration between English guitarist Julian Bream and tenor Peter Pears. The works they commissioned and premiered helped establish a new artistic standard for the genre, and were especially influential on later generations of English composers.

RA: Can you give us a sneak preview – which piece are you most looking forward to performing Rachelle?

Rachelle: We have a beautiful program of mostly folk songs for guitar and voice by Falla and Britten through to Joni Mitchell. Though I thoroughly enjoy singing the entire program, I am really loving the music by composer David Braid. Jonathan recommended a song for me called “Fear no more” from Braid’s Op. 47 which is based on a poem by Shakespeare about the contemplation of death. I find the music hauntingly beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s a really gem in the line up and I think the audience will agree.

RA: And what about you, Jonathan, which piece are you most looking forward to performing?

Jonathan: I also really enjoy “Fear no more” by David Braid, and I love the fiery, passionate music of Manuel de Falla. His Siete canciones populares Española is really fun to play, and it certainly gets the blood pumping. I also include a short guitar solo by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and I love the way he creates intricate rhythmic complexity while at the same time sounding rather like a contemporary pop tune.

RA: The border restrictions over the past two years have provided Musica Viva with the opportunity to showcase the world-class talent of local artists, such as yourselves. But it has also decimated the international opportunities Rachelle, in particular, was enjoying before COVID. How are you faring Rachelle?

Rachelle: COVID really impacted our family in early 2020. I actually contracted the virus in March when information was still filtering in about how to control it.  Our son started remote schooling and was required to sit in front of a computer for 6 hours a day at 4 years of age. My husband was out of a job because of the virus and then I started losing jobs also. I was meant to travel to Italy to perform and then see family in France, which was canceled. Everything was closed in Manhattan and we were required to always wear a mask and isolate. Then the curfews came during the Black Lives Matter movement and the political atmosphere was extremely negative at that time.

We decided it was best for all of us to repatriate to Australia. It was important for us to be close to family and for our son to get back in the classroom. Being out of a job was the furthest thing from our minds at that point and getting home was long and tedious. 

We are so fortunate to be living in WA now and we have no regrets. I am grateful for the work that is starting to roll in. I’ve already sung for the Adelaide Festival, for WA Opera, Freeze Frame Opera, WASO and I’m singing in Turn of the Screw for State Opera South Australia next year. Again, so grateful to be home and working.

Special thanks to Musica Viva. It’s important to keep this art form alive and it’s thanks to these platforms that we can continue to express ourselves and be creative.

Rachelle Durkin and Jonathan Paget will perform livestreamed from Cullen Wines on 29 November 2021.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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