Alexander Bower-Brown, baritone – a profile

Alexander will be singing the role of Zebul in Handel’s oratorio Jephtha at this year’s Festival alongside soloists from London’s top conservatoires and backed by local choral societies. The concert, conducted by Paul Spicer and accompanied by Southern Pro Musica, takes place on 18th March at 7.30pm.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at the Petersfield Music Festival this year?

This year will be my first time performing at the festival and I’m looking forward to it immensely. To perform in a festival with such a good reputation for high-quality music making will be very special. This is also my first time performing Jephtha which is a great work and one that I think the audience is going to love.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My musical career started at the age of 8 when I was a chorister at St John’s College in Cambridge. This not only gave me a fantastic early education in music, but it allowed me the opportunity to sing in some of the most incredible spaces, including the Royal Albert Hall and St Peter’s, Vatican City amongst many others. These opportunities were immensely inspiring for me at a young age. They gave me a taste of what it means to be a working professional singer.

So many phenomenal singers have passed through St John’s, including my favourite baritone, Simon Keenlyside. Simon and his work have been hugely influential on my career so far and my overall interest in music. It gives me great satisfaction and drive that we started our musical journeys in the same place, alongside so many others. I would also say my parents have been greatly influential in my career with their unwavering support of perusing what I love.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There have been many challenges along the way, it’s hard to pin down just a few. I think certainly one of the greatest has been coming to terms with my own confidence as an artist. This is a profession in which you are open to a lot of criticism. When your own body is your instrument – as is the case with singing- it’s important to develop an intrinsic sense of value or confidence as a musician and artist.

There are many ways in which confidence can be knocked, but for me taking the good weeks with the bad weeks and treating them as equal opportunities to learn and grow has been very helpful. It has also been a hard process for me to bring emotion into performances, particularly when I am not feeling anything like the emotion I am trying to convey at the time.

It can be quite a draining process if you let it get on top of you, which is always why I like to relax as much as possible before and after any performance.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I love collaborating with other musicians: for me, working together encapsulates the very essence of music. Different ingredients come together to form something greater than the individual. The challenges involved with that can be aligning multiple different interpretations to achieve a result that is satisfactory for everyone. However, that’s part of the fun of collaborating; discussing the music in detail and being open to changing your interpretation of the music.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?

That’s a tough question! There are so many out there, if I had to say just a few I would definitely say Bach. I have always loved Bach; the sheer volume and variety of his works is staggering. There is a humble element to his music, as in you are almost always just a small part of an immensely complex web of music; It’s virtuosic definitely, but never egotistical.

I would also say Tchaikovsky. Every time I listen to his music I am blown away as if I am listening for the first time. There is so much tragedy and majesty in his music. He also wrote my favourite opera of all time, Eugene Onegin. I hope one day to get the chance to perform the title role as I think the whole opera is stunning.

I also love the works of Poulenc; I particularly find his ballet suites to be absolutely delightful. There is such an element of fun, but also grounded mystique about Poulenc’s work.

Which works do you think you perform best?

I think I am very used to performing Bach and I would definitely say that is one of my strengths. Ever since I arrived at the Royal Academy in 2017 I have performed a lot of Bach and I have absolutely loved getting to know the ins and outs of the style and phrasing, and so on. I also love performing works by Vaughan Williams. His writing is particularly excellent for the baritone voice and there are so many incredible songs to get stuck into. Because of the way he writes music, it’s very easy to connect emotionally to it, that is what makes me enjoy performing his work so much.

Which performances are you most proud of?

I would say my debut at Wigmore Hall where I sang some Bach was particularly memorable. I remember singing in a fantastic concert of Monteverdi’s Vespers at Cadogan Hall which I am very proud of. Singing Pilate in Bach’s St John Passion, conducted by Philippe Herrewheghe, was also very special. Singing bass in a one-to-a-part performance of Purcell’s Fairy Queen with Laurence Cummings was also an excellent night. Performing as Zurga in a scene from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers in the Royal Academy’s opera scenes was one I was very proud of. I am also proud of a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Five mystical songs in Richmond.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Go for it! It’s a hard profession in many ways and by no means the most lucrative, therefore the reason you pursue it as a career has to be because of the love you have for the art. The love of the singing itself is what gets me through a lot of tough weeks and hard graft; suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad when you remind yourself why you love music. So that would be my advice: occasionally you have to actively remind yourself why you love music, whether that be just playing through your favourite repertoire or listening to your favourite piece (and never feel guilty about taking a break from practising).

I would also say to anyone considering music as a career that perfection does not exist. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in trying to create the ‘perfect’ performance and by extension, easy to beat yourself up if things don’t match up to your own expectations. Whilst it is still important to work hard on improving, know that all musicians will constantly doing that, and that there is no perfect end goal.

How would you define success as a musician?

I think there’s so many different forms of success. The most important one for me is happiness; is a performer really happy with what they are doing? It is so nice as an audience member to see someone at ease and enjoying themselves on stage. That doesn’t mean portraying happiness all the time, but just being comfortable with yourself as an artist. That all comes through hard work on both the instrument and the mindset. We all have goals of what we want to achieve as artists and I think success is when people are at ease with where they are and what they have achieved so far. I think of it like this: success is when hard work meets opportunity.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

In 5 years’ time I have no idea what’s going to happen! I’m just focused on what I have got on at the moment and doing the best I can with what I know is in front of me. I’ve got lots of exciting things to look forward to this year. I guess my next ‘step’ (as it were) is joining the opera school at the Royal Academy of Music, which I’m looking forward to greatly. Beyond that I have no idea; I would love to still be singing of course in 5 years’ time, but what form that will take I have no clue!

About Alex

Alex Bower-Brown is a British baritone, currently studying with a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Alex studies with the professors Glenville Hargreaves and Iain Ledingham. Whilst at the Academy, Alex has been a regular performer in the Royal Academy Bach consort, performing with some of the best conductors of our age including Philppe Herreweghe, John Butt and Jane Glover. A highlight of the series was singing ‘Pilate’ in a production of Bach’s great work, the St John Passion, conducted by Philppe Herreweghe. In 2020 Alex performed the title role in Michael Finnissy’s new opera Mankind in a series of premier performances around Norfolk.

Alex has a wealth of experience singing both as a soloist and in choirs. He has performed as a soloist in a wide variety of works including Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Brahms’ Requiem and Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. Alex was also part of the chorus for Hurn Court’s production of Dido and Aeneas. As a member of professional choirs Alex has toured much of the USA and Europe, singing in some of the most illustrious venues in the world including the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Sheldonian Theatre, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and St Thomas’ 5th Avenue in New York.

Alex’s opera experience includes playing the following roles in scenes at the Royal Academy: Onegin (Eugene Onegin), Guglielmo (Cosi fan tutte), Zurga (Bizet’s Pearl Fishers). Alex played the role of Die Sprecher in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Cavatina opera) and was also part of the chorus for Hurn Court’s production of Dido and Aeneas. Upcoming roles include Tobia Mill in Rossini’s Cambiale di matrimonio with the Royal Academy Opera.

Alex is very excited to be joining the Opera school at the Royal Academy of Music in September this year to continue his studies.