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Classical celebration of cross-cultural composers


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THIS year’s Leeds Lieder Festival, taking place from April 13 to 21, is filled with musically rich shows across the city that includes the world premiere of Punjabi Proverbs at the Sikh Centre.

The brand-new work by Cheryl Frances-Hoad features soprano Nina Kanter, baritone Oscar Castellino and pianist Keval Shah.

Written especially for the 2024 festival, the event on April 16 celebrates the cross-cultural art of British and Indian composers and poets.

Eastern Eye caught up with acclaimed soprano Kanter to discuss the unique show, her love for opera and creative inspirations.

What first connected you to music?

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I come from a musical family and grew up surrounded by classical music. My grandmother was a Czech pianist who gave me my first piano lessons.

My parents took me and my sister (also a singer) to concerts and operas even as young children. We sang in children’s choirs and took part in lots of music summer schools. We were very lucky in that way.

What specifically drew you to opera?

I fell in love with opera as an undergraduate, particularly the raw emotional power of operatic voices.

I was used to singing choral music in churches, which is all about control and blending as a group. Opera is something completely different: the extremes of human emotion portrayed with big musical brushstrokes. When it’s done well, the audience feels this passion too, even in a big theatre.

Can you tell us about the Punjabi Proverbs show?

This is my first time collaborating with the pianist Keval Shah and baritone Oscar Castellino and it has been fantastic working with them.

We have put together this programme to showcase the dialogue between Indian and western classical music in song and poetry. As we are performing in the Sikh Cultural Centre, we wanted to focus on writers with links to the Sikh community, such as (Rabindranath) Tagore, Kabir and Mirabai, set by British and Indian-American composers. These works complement the new songs. We are really excited to be premiering Punjabi Proverbs by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, written especially for this concert.

What excites you most about this particular programme?

It has been really exciting for us to put together this programme, which showcases artistic exchange between Indian and western classical styles, and to perform it for a local audience.

It is always great to work on projects like this which push boundaries, while bringing communities together.

How does this project compare to your other works?

I have performed concerts of Indian and western classical songs before in India and sang a little in the Indian classical vocal style for those.

This programme is focused specifically on Sikh culture and connections with British and American composers.

Who do you hope will enjoy the show?

We hope that this concert will speak to everyone, but particularly the local Sikh community who is giving us the opportunity to perform in its centre.

We are privileged to perform this programme in that space and hope that we can do it justice.

Have you learned anything new while working on this show?

It’s been wonderful to discover this repertoire. It will be my first time singing in Punjabi and Hindi, so that is an exciting challenge for me.

I’m also happy to get a chance to work on singing in the Indian classical vocal style alongside western classical.

Do you experience nervousness before performing?

I do get nervous, but have learned to manage this. Also, nerves are a sign of caring deeply about the music.

What inspires you creatively?

I am inspired by artists who dare to push boundaries and do something new, whether that be in programming, composing or performing.

I also feel inspired when I work in community music settings, which often gives you an instant connection with an audience. The power of music is very present in those settings.

What do you think is the secret to generating power and emotion in your voice as a soprano?

I think that connecting with text and storytelling is key to this. If you feel the emotions of the narrative, this will translate into your singing and the audience will feel this.

Why should we all come and watch the Punjabi Proverbs show?

Many reasons. The concert on April 16 will give the audience a chance to hear a world premiere of new songs, alongside works which are not so often performed and speak to each other across cultures and time.

The Sikh Centre will be the perfect venue to experience the show.

We are hoping the concert will showcase part of the history of Indian and western classical musical dialogue, and that this is still developing in exciting new ways.

Punjabi Proverbs at the Sikh Centre, 192 Chapeltown Road, Leeds LS7 4HZ on April 16. www.leedslieder.org.uk


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