Monday, 3 August 2020

Tomáš Král: A dialogue between text and melody is what I am trying to grasp

By Ona Jarmalavičiūtė | Prague Daily Monitor |
28 August 2019

The Brno-born vocalist Tomáš Král studied at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts under Adriana Hlavsová. He took part in masterclasses with Julie Hasler, Howard Crook, Peter Schreier and Joel Frederiksen. Since 2005, Tomáš has collaborated regularly with Czech ensembles such as Collegium 1704, Collegium Marianum, Musica Florea. He has taken part in many highly recognized recordings with music of Jan Dismas Zelenka. Musicologist Ona Jarmalavičiūtė interviewed the vocalist about the music scene in the Czech Republic, his love for early music and the interpretative nuances of Baroque music.

What do you think is the current situation of the performance of Baroque music?
Baroque is becoming very popular now and the large spectrum of the audience is interested in listening to it. It is presented even at big festivals like Salzburger Festspiele. It is getting more and more mainstream. The same situation is in Prague. It is a new trend to go listen to Baroque music concerts.

How does it feel to perform such type of music in the period when it is getting more popular?
I am from the Brno region and I have been performing Baroque music for 14 years now. It wasn't so popular 14 years ago in the Czech Republic, we had to fight for it. I remember the feeling of being a creator of something that in the future would become trendy.

Can you describe the Czech music scene and what part vocal music has in there?
We can start with education. In Czechia, we have two universities with classical singing programmes, in Prague and in Brno, where I come from. Teachers at these universities are from old traditions and for them, music starts with Mozart, they are more focused on the romantic repertoire for opera singers. Early music was left for those who had no voice. This approach is still present. We aren't as advanced in early music performance as they are in Holland, for example. But it's changing. For 4-5 years now we have had a department for early music – vocal, instrumental, also chamber music. The trend has reached the school system.

How did you come into contact with early music?
Thanks to Václav Luks. It was during my studies of opera singing. One day I heard my colleague singing in the university hall. He was a tenor, and also he was playing the harpsichord, which was very unusual at that time. It was Václav Luks. He was giving a masterclass in our school – it was in 2004. So then we spoke, I sang, and he invited me to Prague in 2005. I became involved in many projects in Prague and after my studies in 2008 I moved to Prague and I lived there for seven years. Now I live in Berlin. But since that meeting, I've been performing mostly Baroque repertoire. Very rarely, like once a year, I perform opera, and sometimes, I enjoy singing contemporary music. I like the challenge contemporary music creates for the performer. Also, there are a lot of parallels between the performance of early and contemporary music, because in Baroque repertoire the voice has to be very specific, really structured with refined ornaments. When singing in an ensemble, you have to open your ears and be a part of the group process. These tools are very handy for performing modern music as well. There is always parallel between early music singers and contemporary music singers.

How do you create an interpretation of an early music piece?
It depends on the context of a music piece. As a soloist you start with the text, then you visualize and try to understand why you are saying the text or singing the melody. You see how the composer handled this opportunity of taking the text and letting the music speak. There goes a dialogue between the text and the music that I am trying to grasp. That's why I like contemporary music – the composer is still alive and I can communicate in order to understand the piece better. I can't always meet the composer, but in every case, I approach the music as if the author would still be alive. I ask myself – if I would be him – why would I write it like that and what do I expect from the person that is going to sing it.

Do you think about how you want to impact your listener?
We, as vocalists, are the luckiest musicians, because we have the text and the message is more clear then for others. Instrumentalists are always jealous of that. The composer really delivers the idea through the words. Then we have the Baroque music forms, principles, rhetoric of music that also has a clear meaning. It is connected to the harmony as well – you have questions, answers and conclusions. But in general, I try to deliver to the listener the feelings that are behind the words by trying to make it personal. I sing church music for the most part, but I still have to personalize. Even if the text says "Kyrie Eleison" a thousand times. It has to be personal and there has to be a reason why I am singing it.

What is the process of creating an opera character – is it similar?
Usually, the character is formed by the libretto and other performances and the historical context. Also, the director has his own concept that can completely ruin the libretto. He takes advantage of it. The director takes you as a character and adds his own intentions to it. Opera staging is more of a routine then early music performing. You rehearse longer for opera, usually, it takes up to five weeks to really find the character and to define it to make it really pure. Then it is clear for you and the others for the scene and the audience. It becomes your costume that you put on when entering the stage and you stay within your character. I like to be more spontaneous, that's why I prefer to sing in concerts.

Is there anything special about the repertoire for a baritone singer of the Baroque music?
We know the names of the singers that some early composers wrote the music pieces for. Handel, for example, wrote music for a famous bass-baritone and in the score, you can see his vocal range and somehow hear his character, how his performance could have sounded. There are some compositions that I feel are really written exactly for my voice. These moments are beautiful, and I feel at home with such music. And there are pieces that I know I shouldn't be singing, because they are too low, etc. So when I feel at home, it is beautiful, and my voice meets the ideas of the composer.

Going back to education, what do you think are the basic values that were shaped in you by the conservatoire and your professors?
I don't know how much I keep the same values throughout my life. My professional approach to music was built through the years of experience working with voice teachers, couches, conductors, colleagues, composers of contemporary music, etc. I don’t have one guru teacher that I would follow blindly. I prefer to have a variety, stay open and just pick up what suits me the most. Earlier this year, my wife and I were teaching for eleven students in a class for Baroque music. This was the first time when we were properly teaching and had one student after the other. We didn't know what to expect, but it was great. We ourselves were on a journey there, because we learned so much about ourselves, about our teaching, our technique, our routines, and music values.