10 Questions for Stuart Graham

Wagnerfest 2013 posterStuart Graham is a teacher, a singer & founder of Atelier S.  The Saskatchewan born baritone received his formal education at the Faculty of Music of McGill University with  Bernard Turgeon.  Graham has been heard in recital, oratorio and in opera in Canada, the United States and in Europe accompanied by orchestras and ensembles, such as: l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, I Musici de Montréal, the Saskatoon Symphony, Silesian State Opera, Slovak State Philharmonic (Košice) and the Oakville Symphony Orchestra. His performance in the world premiere of Edifice by Arlan Schultz was broadcast by CBC, the BBC, Radio-France and the Bavarian Radio. In 1993, Mr. Graham made his New York debut as invited artist in recital as part of the Riverside Chamber Music Series (Riverside Church, New York, NY.).  His most recent solo outings include performances of “Yo Vivo” by the Spanish composer Angeles Lopez-Artiga at the Palau des Arts (Valencia, Spain), and as featured soloist, along with his colleagues of the Opera Nacional Bellas Artes (Cd. de México), in performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Orquesta Sinfónica Silvestre Revueltas in Celaya, México (national telecast on Canal 40).

Recent solo recitals include “Destino” with Mexican pianist Eduardo Núñez in the historic Teatro de la Republica in Querétaro, Mexico (broadcast live by Radio Querétaro), “Le Chasseur Perdu”, accompanied by Claudette Denys (l’Opéra de Montréal) and narrated by Stuart Hamilton at Glenn Gould Studio and “Fate” accompanied by pianist José Hernández, with songs of Rachmaninoff, Poulenc and Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder”.

In anticipation of Atelier S celebrating WagnerFest on October 11th, I ask Graham 10 questions: five about himself and five more about the event.

1) Are you more like your father or your mother?

Baritone & pedagogue Stuart Graham

I’d have to say that I am pretty much an even mix of both my mother and father. But, I would definitely have to say, quoting Hillary Clinton, it “took a village” to raise this one. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, in a RCMP family, we moved often as my father’s career progressed. It was a childhood where, once I was old enough to go to school, the whole town was our playground. 10 hour games of “hide’n seek”, riding my bike 5 miles on dirt roads to visit my friends on their farms. It was a brilliant place to grow up. We were “free-range” children. They were certainly different times and everybody lived/played outside the house and interconnected with the community as a whole. But, if I ever did anything wrong, my mother would have received a dozen phone calls declaring my misdeeds before I would arrive home. Living in small towns with a population of 1200 people and 14 well-populated churches of various denominations, my mother got a lot of calls. That said, being the eldest son of the commanding officer of the local RCMP detachment, I kept my nose clean. I didn’t have a choice. I never got invited to those parties.

But, one of the most important elements and influences of my environment growing up would have to be the cultural diversity we partook in. Every town we moved to was of a different cultural root. One place would have been homesteaded by Russians, another Polish, French Metis, German Mennonite. The grand parents of my school mates were the founders of these towns I grew up in and, in that, I was immersed in their food, their music, their language and way of life. It, forever, made me very curious about different ways of life and living those perspectives.

2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being artistic director of an institution such as Atelier S?

Atelier S is an entity that really has it’s own mind and life force. It is a notion that continues to grow from a spark that ignited when I first started seriously teaching as Artist in Residence at the Centre Culturel de Drummondville in the mid 1990’s. I had just quit my corporate day job in Montreal and my partner at the time was just hired as artistic director of a dance company and artistic counsel for the Festival Mondial de Drummondville. For me, it was chance to build my life exclusively with my music both as performing artist and pedagogue. “As talent presents itself, I am compelled to find a way to present it…” was an early quote I gave in an interview in the Québec media about one of the first showcases I mounted. That pretty much says why I do what I do. Most days it’s a gift and a privilege. And there have been times that it’s been an absolute curse.

Atelier S how it is today and certainly for the programming of this season (study and performance), provides me with an enormous source of excitement. The wonderful artists and the remarkable depth of their talents that have come to this playground to be coached, challenged and mentored is humbling. With the creation of the Artist Incubator Professional Program and its growing network of internationally renowned associate faculty, I feel we are providing an important resource for the emerging artist that is seeking direction as they transition from student to professional artist.

3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?

At the end of the day, I love to listen to silence. Listen to waves. As for musical taste, I’m all over the map. Although I do draw the line at rap and anything heavy metal. But there are exceptions. I was thoroughly enchanted listening to Metallica, played by the Kronos Quartet, while browsing CD’s in a shop in Prague.

Watch? For fun? I am really into animation, with a  particular addiction to Futurama. On the more serious side, I enjoy art films.

4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

The ability to keep up with technology. Final Cut Pro is the bane of my existence!

5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?

Engrained from my childhood, and certainly the 15 years of living in Québec, I love to entertain, cook. Travel and immerse into new cultures. Ride my bike.


Five more about WagnerFest on October 11th

1) Please talk about the challenges in running a company such as Atelier S.

I have been very fortunate for the fantastic opportunities and the many profound insights of mentorship that I have received as I have grown up musically both in N. American and in Europe and for that Atelier S has really become an “Artist Incubator”, a “Musical Playground for the Emerging Artist”.  This season I am so honoured to have the collaboration of teachers and artists that are leaders in the global industry of opera. Bernard Turgeon and Jeannette Aster have been enormous influences in my artistic life and development and I am thrilled that Atelier S is able to provide a forum where emerging talent can workshop and cocoon with these esteemed teachers. We are also very much looking forward to presenting 2 days of masterclass with soprano Lyne Fortin as part of our Bel Canto Opera Role Study Workshop.

Atelier S is a place where an artist can come and try things, play outside the box and discover “truths”. One of the great hurdles that an emerging artist has is the disappearance of that physical playground of the music school once they have graduated. We provide an environment and resources (coaching, masterclasses and public performances) where the young artist can continue their development and have a place to properly exercise and prepare for their next step.

One of the main on-going topics of conversation that I have with several of my colleagues is the so very rapidly changing dynamic of the industry of Opera and how to adjust our approach to a) get into the business, and b) stay in the business, and at the same time constantly evaluate how to remain relevant as an artist and maintain the integrity of the art. In my head, it is sometimes like an unending loop of Hans Sachs and Die Meistersinger.

2) what do you love about Wagner, as you prepare for WagnerFest

I love that one can not fake Wagner’s music. If you do, you get hurt! Wagner is like an extreme sport. It’s profoundly sensual music and it really demands that you draw upon your entire being to bring his music and vision to life. A great man once said to me… “Stuart! There is nothing more boring than a comfortable artist!” Wagner’s music certainly holds one to that task!

3) Do you have a favourite moment in your program?

Wow. That’s a very tough question. Immersed in the moment with Wagner’s music, any instant is completely mind-blowing. But my favourite aspect of this program is the collaboration with my colleagues in this project. We have all come together with an excitement for this music and for this very rare opportunity to present it. I’m thrilled, humbled and profoundly grateful.

4) How do you relate to Wagner’s works as a modern man?

No doubt the subject of Richard Wagner and his music can be very contentious and for as many people talk about it, there are that many differing opinions. Things have been said and feelings have been hurt. He didn’t have an easy life, but he had something to say and I think most serious artists can relate to that on so many levels.

For myself, a part from that and what anybody might have to say about his music, it’s about the humanity of his characters. Even as I present Wotan in our scenes from Die Walküre, a deity, what he lives, his conflicts, choices, consequences, his arguments, they are so human, visceral. The conversation is timeless.

5) Is there anyone out there who you particularly admire, and who has influenced you?

Baritone & pedagogue Bernard Turgeon

Without a doubt I have to mention my main musical parents Bernard and Teresa Turgeon. They have been the biggest influence on how I do what I do, especially as a teacher/mentor. They really brought forward the notion of “we build the voice by building the person”. Others who have been incredible and generous mentors to me are Claudette Denys, Jeannette Aster, Joan Sutherland, Diana Soviero, Jose van Damm and, currently, Maestra Teresa Berganza. These great artists pretty much share(d) a common perspective of approach to the artform. But, what spoke volumes to me and was unique to each of them individually was the glint in their eye when they shared and mentored me and my fellow artists.

To quote Bernard Turgeon from his speech at his induction into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame last December 2012…

” We are the custodians of this art form…invest time in it …and it will give you things that you have never even dreamed of ! “


WagnerFest (click for further information including artists’ bios)
Friday, 11 October 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of RICHARD WAGNER  starring:

SUSAN TSAGKARIS, soprano (Brünnhilde / Isolde)
RAMONA CARMELLY, mezzo (Fricka / Waltraute)
STUART GRAHAM, baritone (Wotan)

First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto
175 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto, Ontario M4V 1P7

This entry was posted in Interviews, Opera and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 10 Questions for Stuart Graham

  1. Pingback: (Q + A) x 300: questions and conversations | barczablog

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