Written on August 26, 2016
Capital Fringe sat down with Maggie Finnegan, avid chamber music performer and recitalist, who will be performing during the first night of the Chamber Music Series September 1st through 3rd.
My parents took me to see my first opera at 7 years old – A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten. It was so captivating. At that point, I immediately decided, “That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.” I announced to my parents that I was moving to New York City to become an opera singer when I grew up. Growing up in the Monterey Bay area in California, I became a musical theatre kid. In high school I took private voice and piano lessons. I made the decision to apply to a conservatory training program instead of a four-year liberal arts university very intentionally. I thought, “I can always go back, but if I’m going to do this opera thing, I’m going to do it 100%.” I went to Manhattan School of Music for undergrad – studied with Edith Bers and did a lot of core training: theory, history, technique, etc. Took a few years off, went to the Peabody Institute for my master’s degree. Peabody is where I found my real voice and physicality, emotionally realizing that I wanted to specialize in new music.
“New music” is defined differently for everyone. For me, it’s stuff written in the 20th century and beyond. I do a lot of pieces written in the last 30 years, and a lot of premieres. A huge part of why I love this is that, more often than not, these composers are still alive! I worked on a premiere not too long ago where the librettist and composer were actually there with us through the whole process. You could say in rehearsal, “I don’t really understand what this line means,” and the librettist can say, "Well, here’s what I meant when I wrote this.” If there were markings in the score you didn’t understand, you could just ask the composer, who was right there. I’ve never worked with a composer who wasn’t wonderful and gracious and willing to talk about this their work and adapt, right then and there.
I have a line in my bio about how I am “Hailed for [my] ‘focused soprano and crystal tone.’ ” I think it fits me and it’s what people hear when they hear me. I feel like my voice can be many things. Which is part of my strength, but was also difficult for me to figure out where I fit in the classical singing world. At any given moment I have a lot of options, and ways to sing a certain line or ways to present myself. But this is why I love new music. There are no preconceived notions about how a line or aria is supposed to sound. A lot of pieces ask for unusual or nontraditional colors. “Sing in straight tone here, use chest voice in this section.” In the rehearsal process I can ask, “What do you want here?” And I can try it out. If I can’t do it, at least we gave it a shot. Singing new music is when I’m happiest and feel the most like me.
What I’ve seen happen in New York, with all of these large classical music companies all over the country, a lot of them are closing, going bankrupt, scaling back, because of economy. Almost as a reaction to these larger companies closing, I’ve seen a lot of little tiny new companies popping up, run by people in their 30s who love classical music of any kind, chamber series or opera, and are attracting younger audience by bringing these things back to life. Going back to the idea of seeing a work that was written last month… this feels more like a community rather than resurrecting something that’s been dead for 200 years. Or trying to recreate something that happened in the past. It’s about what’s happening now. Before, audience members would look at it and say, "Oh I guess if I was living in 16th century France I could see how I’d feel that way,” and now it’s, “That totally happened to me and I felt that way.” It brings an immediacy to this art form. If pop songs can be about current events why can’t classical music be as well?
Classical music started out at very accessible when people would show up to the opera in the 1700s with a chicken leg and bottle of wine. It’s becoming that again in a new way. Grab a beer and listen to something you’ve never heard before and then go ask that person about their work.
Listen to Maggie and her collaborator Hui-Chuan Chen in the first ever Fringe Chamber Music Series on September 1st at 8PM in the Trinidad Theatre at the Logan Fringe Arts Space.
Individual Tickets $20 See all for only $60!