Everett Hopfner: Why have you decided to participate in this year’s Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition?
Lisa Mulgrew: When I was planning to come back to Lethbridge, I knew that the singing opportunities here wouldn’t be as readily available as they were in southern Ontario. I wanted to keep singing seriously as I continued to find where my next place in music would be. There’s such a great wealth of repertoire to be studied and I wanted to challenge myself with this competition.
EH: What’s your personal connection to contemporary music?
LM: I had most of my exposure to contemporary music during my Master’s degree. I sang with the Contemporary Music Ensemble in London, and also performed in a Britten opera – that’s definitely more on the conservative side, but still in the contemporary realm. Besides that, and some art songs in recitals, I would say it’s been pretty modest. Preparing for this competition has certainly forced me to jump in!
EH: How is your preparation going?
LM: Good! Right now it’s just about finding the right balance and knowing how to use my time effectively. For some of these songs, it’s my first time learning repertoire where there have never been any recordings made by other artists. It’s an interesting challenge – often I have some really big creative decisions to make, which can be challenging for any performer. What’s keeping me motivated through this intense process is that I really love all this repertoire.
EH: Can you tell me about some of the pieces you’re preparing? What are you looking forward to sharing with our audience in Brandon?
LM: I’m really excited for everything! I have some really badass repertoire that I’ve spent a lot of time researching. I really tried to focus on the texts, and create a theme carrying through my different sets of songs. There’s a really visceral set by Brian Harman with text by David Brock called “Sewing the Earthworm”. I’ll also premiere two brand new songs by my collaborating pianist, Jesse Plessis, based on text by Gaston Miron. I’m also really excited about Nicole Lizée’s test piece: it’s my first time working with electronics. I think it’s important to do things that scare you, and this definitely falls into that realm – but this is what I like about contemporary music in general. It pushes me past my personal boundaries, and forces me to do things that make me a little uncomfortable but serve me so well as an artist.
EH: Can you tell me about your collaboration with your pianist, Jesse Plessis?
LM: Jesse and I have crossed paths ever since the beginning of our undergrad degrees. We’ve become really wonderful friends over the years and he’s close with my whole family. He knows so much about music and he’s so passionate. When I work with people who operate at that level, it elevates me to become a better performer, interpreter and musician. He’s one of my best friends and musical confidantes. We live in different cities now, so to meet in Brandon and perform together again will be really special.
EH: Finally, Lisa, what do you hope to take away from your experience in Brandon?
LM: I really want to do the repertoire justice: sing well, perform authentically, and share the music with new ears. I hope the audience will feel a connection similar to what I experience from this repertoire. It’ll also be great to hear some other repertoire I don’t know yet – I’m sure the other competitors will be fabulous. I’m excited to meet so many new people.
Thanks to Lisa Mulgrew for taking the time for this interview. You can catch Lisa and five other finalists during the 40th Edition of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition, May 5-7 at Brandon University School of Music.