Matthew Venner - Interview
As a new member of the Orlando Consort it would be good to know something about your background. How did you come to be a singer and who have you sung with?
Like Mark, and many other singers out there, I too more or less fell into singing as a career. As you can see from my biography, I’ve been singing from a young age, ending up as a choral scholar at New College. In my final year at University a friend told me about a job coming up at St Paul’s Cathedral; I auditioned and was appointed to start the following September. That became my base, if you like, and from there I have sung with various groups including Ex Cathedra, Polyphony, The Sixteen and I Fagiolini. I combine this with solo work and singing teaching.
I gather you are the only member of the group to have studied music at University. Does this help you with your work?
On the whole, I don’t really think it does. Much of my course was devoted to the academic side of music, although there were opportunities for me to perform. One of my options was to study choral music but this mainly consisted of Bruckner – not so useful for the Orlandos! Having said that, perhaps my favourite ‘paper’ was the Choral Practical option. This involved singing 14th and 15th Century music from manuscripts written in the original notation, near-enough at sight, with three external singers forming the consort. Funnily enough, in my exam, one of these was Mr Mark Dobell! Luckily, as I have all but forgotten about neumes and mensural notation, the Orlandos use modern editions now. Still, the skills of singing from a part book rather than a score, as well as being familiar with a relatively old repertoire, have stood me in good stead.
I have heard once that musicians usually don't enjoy listening to music, because they can't avoid noticing flaws or things that could have been better in the performances. Do you agree with it? If not, what sort of music or what groups or singers do you listen to at home?
Like the others, I can’t help but be highly critical when listening to myself and so it wouldn’t be my first choice when relaxing! I have recently recorded a demo CD though and it’s a great way to hear where you’re going wrong! I used to listen to a lot of choral music before I started singing professionally but now I hardly ever do. Instead I prefer to listen to something completely different. I love jazz - a friend of mine from school is a jazz trumpeter and memories of listening to Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson have stayed with me. My lovely girlfriend Julia, who is not classically trained, nor a musician in fact, keeps me up to date with some great mainstream music too: Snow Patrol, My Chemical Romance, Jamiroquai, that sort of thing. Radio 1 is usually on in the car too.
When did you first become aware of The
I had heard about the group through Mark when we had worked together before. However, I also have to confess that I hadn’t heard the group perform live before I went to the auditions. I did know of their reputation and quality though, so both auditions were incredibly nerve-racking. I was thrilled when Angus let me know I got the post and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of fitting in to such a well-established group. The obvious pressures of learning a lot of new repertoire, a different style of singing and filling Robert’s shoes will be with me for a long time to come, but I hope I can rise to the challenge.