Seljan Fermor-Hesketh, soprano

Why or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I studied music all through my childhood. I learnt to play the piano and the violin from when I was 5\6 years old. This played a huge part in my pursuit of a musical career. I then moved to England. At school in Oxford I was encouraged to continue with music and hence I chose singing; more so jazz singing. But my teachers heard an operatic tendency in my voice and encouraged me to train classically. I was hooked instantly, and then I applied to the music colleges and attended the Royal College of Music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think the greatest challenge was my father’s reaction to my career choice. He was always quite against it. Until I recorded my solo album, he thought of it as a less ‘serious’ career to pursue. But during the recording he visited me in Kiev and was mesmerised by the process and the music that we were recording. He loves it now.

My other challenges have been those of every artist; facing rejection, dealing with nerves etc. But I always have been and am very thankful for all the challenges I’ve faced. I think if my father hand’t been against my operatic career, maybe I wouldn’t have known how much I wanted my career and needed the music. I always thank him for the challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I don’t much like the phrase, ‘proud of’ because I think an artist needs to keep their ego in check all the time. But I loved performing for the first time in Baku, the town where I grew up. Also last year, performing in Rio was very memorable. The audience was introduced to Azerbaijani music. I performed Ravel’s ‘Sheherazade’ together with Yalchin Adigozalov and the Symphonic Orchestra of Brazil. We had recorded this piece together with Mr. Adigozalov for our album, ‘Soprano Heroines of the Orient’ with Naxos. It was a different experience to perform it live and in recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?
It’s honestly hard to say. I think I am at my best when performing Russian and French repertoire. I adore this music; French chanson, French grand opera, Russian art songs and operas. I feel particularly drawn to Rimsky-Korsakov, Massenet, Gounod and Mozart. Every time I sing Mozart, I discover new things in the music.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I visit galleries and museums to gather inspiration. I listen to a lot of instrumental classical music. I love reading history books on the particular period of an opera or piece. This all helps me. I also love to people-spot in the park. It helps me study different characters and therefore helps to play the characters I am singing. I think the best experience that one can get is life experience in order to understand the music better.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
The voice is an ever-evolving and changing instrument. I always look out for vocal health and try not to sing pieces that I can’t handle in the long-term. Also, the repertoire choices change for each country. We also have to keep audiences’ tastes in mind according to each country. During the lockdown, I learnt Stravinsky’s Anne Trulove, Mozart’s Donna Elvira and Puccini’s Musetta. I hope I get to perform them once theatres are open properly.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
All of the ones I’ve sung in so far have been a favourite. I think of concert halls and theatres like temples. They all keep the energy and aura of the previously performed pieces and musicians who have performed in them. And so, I get a different feeling of performing in each of them. I have to say, the best acoustic I’ve experienced so far was in the Laeszhalle in Hamburg and the Kurt Weill concert hall in Carnegie Hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I always feel that most people who have not been introduced to classical music often have a fear of it. I think either because of its being considered as ‘high art’ or some unapproachable entity within the arts. If we take away this ‘elitist’ attitude out of the picture and find other ways of engaging with the audience, we will find new listeners. I think educating children in schools is another big part of it. Children are the greatest asset to classical music and there’s no better method than education.

What is your most memorable concert experience?
Again, I’d have to say all of them have been memorable for me. Every experience has been different and I am grateful for each experience. In each concert hall I’ve had different memories to take with me. Every concert hall and audience has a different character and atmosphere. I’d have to say I will never forget performing in my own home country of Azerbaijan. There’s something different about performing in one’s own country.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I think if I can provide a comfort, can convey and give emotion and move an audience, I would consider that a success. I keep working on my technique and acting to produce the best outcome to audiences and listeners. I always want to transport them into another world. I hope I am able to do this.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think its important to remember to to be true to the moment, to live and breathe the music. It’s important to love your instrument and be true to oneself. I think its good to know one’s weaknesses and play to your strengths. I’d encourage aspiring musicians to perform as much as they can. One can only get so much in a practice room. It’s important to educate yourself in everything, to have an interest in current affairs in the world. It’s good to broaden the mind by reading and travelling as it will come out in your interpretation and understanding of any genre in music. Also, please be tough. There’ll be a lot of rejections and bad reviews. If you love and believe in your art, you’ll survive them.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I think happiness is a decision. If one decides to be happy, one will be happy.

Soprano Seljan Fermor-Hesketh has recently released an album with Naxos, ‘Femmes Fatales: Soprano Heroines of the Orient’.
Originally from Azerbaijan, Seljan Fermor-Hesketh recently completed her studies at The Royal College of Music, where she graduated with a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance. Previously she had studied for her International Baccalaureate in Oxford where she received third place in the Oxford Music Festival Competition.


August 31, 2020