Young Artist Interview: Meet one of the winners of the inaugural New Elizabethan Award, Lotte Betts-Dean
Mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean is a winner of the Musicians’ Company New Elizabethan Award 2019 following her duo with Company Yeoman and guitarist, Andrey Lebedev. We caught up with Lotte as she prepares for her Australian tour to find out why she chose to study in London, her plans for the future and how she looks after her amazing voice.
When did you begin singing?
Very early on!! My first singing experience was a production of Hans Krása’s children’s opera “Brundibar”, on tour around Germany, when I was about seven. My early years were spent living in Berlin – a long way from my native Oz – as my father played viola for many years with the Berlin Philharmonic. He left to focus on composition, which involved moving the whole family to Australia when I was 10 – first to tropical Noosa, then down to Melbourne. Moving to Australia gave me the chance to join Gondwana Voices, a fabulous organisation that not only led to a rich variety of performances, international tours and recording experience, but also instilled in all of us the importance of teamwork, dedication, preparation and professionalism – qualities that have helped shaped me into who I am today. Many choristers from this organisation have gone on to become musicians, some of whom I performed with just last week!
Why did you choose to train in London?
On graduating with a BMus from Melbourne University and completing a Fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music, I freelanced and sang in several productions with Australian companies including Victorian Opera and Sydney Chamber Opera, before deciding to head back to the northern hemisphere for further study. I auditioned around Europe and the USA, but London was always at the top of my list, and I was very lucky to win a full scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, so I moved there in September 2014. Aside from the wonderful music coaching, the Academy is an amazing place for the like-minded to make life-long contacts. Here I met Andrey Lebedev (somehow Australians always find each other, even when we’re the other side of the world!) with whom I share a lot of artistic interests and musical goals. Andrey and I recently won the Musicians’ Company inaugural New Elizabethan Award 2019 performing a range of British and Australian music, from Dowland to Britten and even a brand new Australian song cycle written for us by Brett Dean (who, as you might have guessed from the name, is the viola-playing composer father I mentioned!). Winning this award gave us the chance to perform at Wigmore Hall in February, which is of course one of the most treasured venues in the world for chamber music. It’s always such an incredibly special experience performing there. As part of the New Elizabethan Award, Andrey and I also performed at the Guildford Festival and the Charterhouse, and we have further concerts coming up at St Bartholomew The Great in London and The Red House, Aldeburgh.
Any memorable performances recently?
London is a wonderful city with no end of musical opportunities and events… one of the most exciting recent events was the Barbican Centre Sound Unbound Festival, where Andrey and I performed a Brazilian programme. The UK is also much quicker and easier to travel across than Australia which is 32 times its size! Consequently, I’ve had the chance to perform across the UK at venues and festivals including the Two Moors Festival, Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, Buxton, Cheltenham, Gower Festival… I’ve been lucky to see a lot of the UK in recent years!
Last November I was involved in a new staged production of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” with Manchester Collective which was by far the most wonderfully challenging thing I have ever done. We toured all around the north and it was a fabulous experience! I’m quite proud of that show and of getting such an infamously complex score into my memory – it’s a great piece to have in my repertoire and I can’t wait to do it again. Despite my UK-wide commitments, I’ve also recently performed in France (with La Vaghezza ensemble), Italy (as Associate Artist with Southbank Sinfonia) and New York, and I do at least one trip to Australia every year. Some of my recent Australian gigs include tours with Australian Chamber Orchestra and Van Diemen’s Band, and concerts at Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre. I love the Australian music scene and am really glad I am able to keep performing there despite being based on the other side of the world now!
Is being a versatile singer important to you?
I’m too interested in different types of music, be it opera, oratorio, art song, vocal consort, early music, folk, or chamber music to want to tie myself down to only one area of music! I love using my voice in different ways and have performed different sub-genres of classical music right from the very start of my singing career. Exploring the fast emerging trend for mixing classical music with non-classical music and engaging new audiences is also something I’m very keen to encourage and explore. Andrey and I have recently started including a Bossa nova set in our repertoire, which we performed at the Barbican Sound Unbound Festival. I really enjoyed the process of finding a more jazzy sound in my voice through this repertoire. I also like the idea of using my voice to explore social issues. As a City Music Foundation artist, last year I performed David Lang’s haunting song cycle Death Speaks as part of the CMF’s day of music at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The concert featured a broad range of contemporary and classical music including Purcell, Bach, Ravel, Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie, as well as Lang’s work, and was an attempt to destigmatise death and make it more of a celebration of life. I’m also really passionate about contemporary experimental music, and perform regularly with contemporary music groups Ensemble x.y (London) Rubiks Collective (Melbourne) and Dots+Loops (Brisbane).
What do you have planned for the coming year?
I’ve just kicked off a two-month tour of Australia, which includes performances in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart and all around Tasmania. I’m currently on the road with Tasmanian baroque ensemble Van Diemen’s Band as we speak! Coming up, I have my debut with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis narrating Stravinsky’s Persephone, and I’ll also be a guest artist at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, held in northern Queensland and run by British pianist Kathryn Stott.
Straight after this tour, I will be premiering a short one-woman opera by Isabella Gellis in London’s Tête à Tête Festival, then I’ll be singing the role of Anna 1 in a production of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, for Opera In The City Festival, which is a role I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It’s always great when a bucket-list piece comes up on the agenda!
In the concert field, I’m also really looking forward to performing at this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival in October after being selected as one of their 2019 Young Artists, and I have a few performances coming up of Messiaen’s enormous and incredible song cycle Harawi, which is one of my favourite works to sing. As always, it’s a very mixed bag!!
How do you look after your voice?
Of course there are periods where it’s not so hectic, but when the schedule is busy, it’s incredibly important to take good care of the voice and the body – it’s the one instrument you can’t replace! Subsequently, there is some sacrifice involved; I don’t touch any alcohol and avoid loud places, never go outside without a big scarf if it’s chilly or windy, and I have a full arsenal of germ-fighting remedies in my cabinet. One of the most effective inflammation-preventers is a cayenne pepper and salt water gargle – it’s not fun, but very effective! I never fly without a brilliant little Australian invention called the Humidiflyer, which is a rubber face mask for air travel that prevents vocal dehydration and in-flight infections and allows me to jump straight into rehearsal even after a long flight. Every singer who travels should invest in one! Then of course, the two most important things of all – plenty of sleep and plenty of water!
To find out more about Lotte visit www.lottebettsdean.com
Piece by @suzywillmott