The young tenor Reinoud van Mechelen is clearly breezing ahead. Combining a light timbre, expressiveness with beautiful elocution, Van Mechelen brings a breath of fresh air to the baroque music scene. We sat down with him for a chat as part of his “Portrait” at for his residency at BOZAR throughout this season.
We will have the opportunity to hear you sing five times at the Centre for Fine Arts this season! You are spoiling us!
Initially, the idea was to continue the development of my recently created ensemble, a nocte temporis, into a more orchestral ensemble. Consequently we were fortunate as we were given the opportunity to perform together twice, as a small ensemble and with more musicians. I also wanted to add a recital to the residency programme. It is always a pleasure to work with the Vox Luminis ensemble, and this time we will perform a programme that we know quite well: Bach’s cantatas which we recorded together for a CD titled Actus Tragicus. And finally, the Concert Spirituel in BOZAR at the end of this season, with Lully’s Armide, also coincided with this “portrait”.
Does singing in Brussels make you happy?
I love Brussels. I spent several years there, as well as in Paris, after my childhood in Leuven. The residency at BOZAR is a good opportunity to strengthen my ties with the Brussels audience. I hope that it will also be the start of a long-standing relationship between the a nocte temporis ensemble and the audience.
Why did you found a nocte temporis?
There were several reasons for this. Firstly, I wanted to respond to a need. I wanted to create artistic projects which I had no access to as a mere singer. That is why I surrounded myself with fellow musicians with whom I enjoy collaborating. My wife (the flutist Anna Besson) and I also wanted to do something together. That is why we established a variable ensemble, around a permanent core of musicians. We perform a very varied repertoire, but I think the way in which we approach the music and the vision that I attempt to communicate to the ensemble, adds coherence.
The ensemble focuses on historically informed performance. So what are your ideas on this approach?
Without claiming to be a musicologist, I study how the music was performed at the time it was composed. You need this information, especially if this fuels your inspiration. I tend to pay a lot of attention to the instruments that were used. Before the 1970s, the sound colours were more generalised – and this is sometimes still the case today. While I have nothing against the fact that people perform Bach on modern instruments, I think that using historical instruments only enhances and expands the range of sound colour.
That said, you must always be critical. Our generation must be refrain from mechanically imitating the masters. We should read the old texts ourselves, make our own personal choices. Musicians such as William Christie and Sigiswald Kuijken were a huge influence on me, but I draw the line at copying them. A concert is not an opportunity to undertake archaeological research. You must convey emotions, in the here and now.
What is your ideal then?
I strive to convey the emotions in a text with accuracy and sincerity. How? By paying attention to how the text is pronounced, so the audience understands it better. Other elements that play a role are the dynamics, the colour of the timbre, the character… Should music be dancing, singing, moving, pompous…? The context, the emotion that the text and the melody suggest, offer an indication as to how you should interpret it.
Which repertoire do you prefer?
A nocte temporis prefers French baroque music, as it is not often performed in the Belgian musical landscape. It is worth remembering that the music of Lully and his successors was performed in such concert halls as the Théâtre de la Monnaie or l’Opéra du Quai de foin (editor’s note: the first concert hall to open in Brussels) at the end of the seventeenth century. So this music is part of our musical heritage. That said, we are also interested in other repertoires, including Irish music, which Anna Besson loves so much. We want to maintain a balance between chamber music and more ambitious projects, with orchestral or choral music. Our dream is to stage an opera!
You will sing a work by Liszt during your recital. Is this new?
Yes and no. I will sing a work by Liszt, and Schumann, a composer that I have loved since my early years at the Conservatoire. To be honest, I was not familiar with Liszt as a composer of melodies. Then one day, a colleague, who heard me doing my warm-up exercises, said to me: “With such high notes, you should think about the Sonetti di Petrarca.” And so I immersed myself in them, only to discover some magnificent melodies. And don’t even get me started on Petrarch’s texts, which are disarmingly simple, and so… amorous! It’s astounding how you can be so in love! (laughs). Evolving towards this type of music seems like a logical choice to me, as it requires a certain ease when you sing high notes, which is similar to the voice of the haute-contre in French baroque music. And the lyrical side of these melodies makes a nice change from my usual repertoire.
Your voice sounds very natural. What is your secret?Everybody has a different, unique voice. I was encouraged to sing, since my childhood, because I found it easy. Then I had to work to achieve this “natural” sound. I have strived to gain finesse and lightness in the high register. But my work was dictated by the nature of my voice. Each type of voice requires a specific approach. The main thing is to listen to your voice and respect your instrument.
We will also be able to see you perform as a conductor in the Charpentier programme. How will you go about this?
I will sing the solo. It’s worth noting that Marc-Antoine Charpentier also used to sing this part. I will probably conduct the ensemble in the instrumental passages, but only when necessary.
What do you think is the most important thing in music?
To feel emotions, and to inspire emotions in your audience and in the musicians who are on stage with you. An artist only feels happiness when these emotions are shared.
What are you planning to do in the next few years?
In a few years from now, I’ll be singing romantic operas. I like the idea of expanding my repertoire, while focusing on baroque music… I still have so much I want to express...