Tenor Kenneth Tarver Finds Transcendence in the Details

The Seattle Symphony’s Featured Artist this season, tenor Kenneth Tarver performs music by Berlioz, Ravel and Stravinsky with Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the orchestra.

By Andrew Stiefel

Conceived for more than 300 musicians, Hector Berlioz’s Requiem alternates between grand gestures and intimate moments. With multiple choirs and brass ensembles surrounding the audience, Berlioz even suggests that the tenor solo could instead be sung by 10 tenors — if the conductor chooses. Instead of ten soloists, however, Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot has chosen to feature the voice of a single tenor — Kenneth Tarver.

"I'm thrilled to welcome my dear friend Kenneth back to sing Berlioz and Stravinsky with us this season," says Morlot. "Kenneth is an incredible artist and I know you'll enjoy his sensitive and lyrical approach to this music."

Seattle Symphony Featured Artist this season, Tarver appears with Morlot and the orchestra in Berlioz’s Requiem on November 9 and 11 and in a chamber concert on November 10 performing Ravel’s Chansons madécasses. Later this season he joins Morlot in the Seattle Symphony’s production of Stravinsky’s Persephone on April 26 and 28.

“The repertoire that I have been invited to sing with your wonderful orchestra and Morlot is indeed amazing,” says Tarver. “I feel so privileged making music with such great musicians in the beautiful acoustics of Benaroya Hall.”

Renowned for the beauty of his tone and his impressively even vocal range, Tarver has performed with many of the leading conductors and orchestras today, including Sir Colin Davis and Pierre Boulez. “When I worked with Boulez and The Cleveland Orchestra, he brought a special transparency to the orchestra in Berlioz’s music,” says Tarver. “He was able to create such a cushion of delicate sound that it became very easy to spin and float the vocal line as required.”

You can listen to Tarver perform “Absence” from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with Boulez and The Cleveland Orchestra below:

Tarver grew up on music, but not necessarily Berlioz. “I grew up in Motown and as a youngster in Detroit I was always fascinated with the creative arts,” reflects Tarver. “In elementary school at the age of 9 I played the role of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz and I recall the horror of having to appear on stage in ballet shoes and tights.”

His music teacher at the time recognized Tarver’s early talents and encouraged him to pursue music. At age 16, he left home to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy and begin his vocal training. “The idea of a career in music has been with me since my early teens,” says Tarver. “But winning the Met’s competition and being chosen for their young artist program made me realize that maybe I had what it takes to pursue a career.”

There was never much doubt that he would be a tenor, and specifically, a tenor di grazia. His voice is agile, light and graceful — nothing like the heavier dramatic tenors associated with Puccini or Wagner. “A tenor di grazia doesn’t beat the orchestra and listener into submission,” laughs Tarver. “You caress and dazzle them.”

For Tarver, tenor di grazia is as much about the technique as the expressivity of the voice type. “It means not only having a beautiful sound but all the style and technical wizardry that goes with music that requires one to move the voice very quickly, sustain long melodies and have a well-balanced sound,” he explains.

His signature roles are found in the music of Mozart and Rossini, where technical agility intermingles with elegant, deeply felt vocal lines. “We have a desire for hyper expressivity in the arts, which is wonderful in a way as it encourages dramatic engagement with the music and the audience,” says Tarver. “The challenge is finding a balance between expression and the technical demands of the music.”

It is clear that Tarver makes the music his priority, finding transcendence in the details of a perfectly crafted melody. “As I sing through the journey of my life, I have been privileged to see the world and create art with the finest people,” he reflects. “I feel grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had to share this wonderful music with audiences and, hopefully, I can look forward to many more.”

Kenneth Tarver joins Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony in performances of Berlioz’s Requiem on November 9 and 11.

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Posted on October 26, 2017

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