Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Both my parents are classical musicians: my father is a violinist and composer, and my mother a pianist, who taught many students at our home. But even though there was always music at home, I played a bit of piano and flute, and we went to concerts, I was much more interested in drawing, painting and writing stories. And in performing Spice Girls songs in the living room, like most girls growing up in the 90s. My professional aspirations were to become a lawyer or an architect. However, there were two pivotal moments that made it clear what my true passion was.
The first one was when I was 10 years old. I wrote a song called ‘Top of the Sky’ and sent it into a competition for young composers for the New Year’s Concert at the Royal Concertgebouw. My song was chosen, and I got to perform my song live in front of a packed Concertgebouw and on national tv. I will never forget the exhilarating feeling of being on that stage, singing my song in front of thousands of people clapping and singing along.
The second moment was when I made my opera debut as Barbarina in the Marriage of Figaro at the Dutch National Opera. By that time, I was 16, had been singing in a professional children’s choir for years and had just started classical singing lessons. At the opera, they were looking for a really young soprano with an ‘unschooled’ voice, and I was lucky enough to win the audition. Discovering the witty and intense music of Mozart, getting into a role and making the character my own, and performing along with amazing singers such as Luca Pisaroni and Danielle DeNiese, was really a dream come true. After that, there was no going back. So I threw my plans to study law or architecture in the trash and went to pursue my dream to become a classical singer!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
One of the biggest challenges we face as performers is to find our unique and authentic artistic voice. In a business where we are constantly judged and criticized, we need to find the freedom and courage to be our true selves nonetheless. After graduating from conservatoire, I was doing audition after audition and it just wasn’t working. I felt like I needed to be this ‘perfect opera singer’, and in striving for perfection I lost the spontaneous sense of fun in music-making that I had when I started out.
Eventually I realized that in order to be the artist I wanted to be, I had to let go of my fear of mistakes and dare to be vulnerable. I started to listen more to my artistic inner voice, and to incorporate more of my own story into my work. The freedom I had when I first started performing returned, and this is when things started to ‘click’: inspiring collaborations, a deeper connection with audiences, and a career that I find deeply fulfilling and enormously fun.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly excited about my latest musical baby: my album ‘This is not a lullaby’ (https://www.channamalkin.com/projects/thisisnotalullaby) which will be released on May 7 by the high-end audio label TRPTK. It’s a really personal project about my journey into motherhood, with music by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, John Tavener and my father Josef Malkin, and poetry by Gabriela Mistral and Anna Akhmatova. I hope it will spark a conversation about what the intense transformation into motherhood is really like, which is very different from the idealized picture we often see in art and music. The project came about during the Covid lockdown and it has been a blessing to pour my creative energy into it. Recording with two fantastic musical partners, cellist Maya Fridman and pianist Artem Belogurov, has been particularly inspiring, especially in the majestic Great Hall of the Philharmonie Haarlem.
In terms of performances, I’m really proud of ‘Händel goes Tinder’ (www.handelgoestinder.com), the multimedia opera I created together with violinist Anastasia Kozlova and writer/director Michael Diederich. Anastasia and I came up with the idea to combine various (disastrous) love stories from Händel’s operas into one modern-day romantic comedy taking place on Tinder. We not only created the show itself, but also found funding, arranged all the bookings and produced it ourselves. In the summer of 2019, three months after giving birth to my son, we performed over 30 sold-out shows on major festivals across the Netherlands. We introduced opera and the music of Händel to thousands of young people who had never seen an opera before. It was crazy, as we were performing multiple times a day and I was breastfeeding at the time, so I spent the breaks in between the shows attached to a milk pump. I was so tired, yet the energy from the audience and their spontaneous laughter and applause made it an exhilarating experience. Next year, we will perform at the International Göttingen Händel Festival, which is one of the world’s most important early music festivals.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Anything with fiery coloratura, by composers like Händel and Vivaldi. Also late Renaissance or early baroque composers like Monteverdi, Cavalli, Strozzi: I just love the freedom and sensual character of this type of music.
In terms of chamber music, I have a particular fondness for Sephardic folk song, which I recorded on my debut cd Songs of Love and Exile with guitarist Izhar Elias, and anything Spanish with guitar, like songs by De Falla or Garcia Lorca!
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
It may sound cliché, but just living life brings so much inspiration already. Becoming a mother has been a huge source of inspiration for me. The unimaginable depth of love I feel for my son and the strength I had to muster in childbirth and to ‘survive’ the first year filled with sleep deprivation have made me more confident and a stronger performer. I feel more grounded and I allow myself to feel the emotions in the music more deeply than before.
Another topic that fascinates me is my cultural heritage. Coming from a Jewish family, it’s a story of constant migration and exile. I’ve always really missed having my extended family around, as they are spread out across the world. Performing music that has to do with my cultural heritage is a different way to connect with my roots, whether that be Sephardic folk songs, Russian songs by Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, or songs by my own father Josef Malkin.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
There isn’t really a process that I follow, it’s more a matter of being open to new ideas and they will pop up by themselves. For example, when my son was a few months old on a particularly sleepless night, I randomly encountered the song cycle Rocking the cradle by Mieczyslaw Weinberg . It was the perfect description of new motherhood put into music, by a composer whose family history almost perfectly mirrors that of my own grandparents. This is what sparked the creation of This is not a lullaby!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
That would have to be the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. It’s where I did my very first public performance when I was 10 years old, and I’ve been lucky enough to return there numerous times since. The acoustics are amazing and it just has this really special atmosphere. Plus I love that I can bike there!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I strongly believe that there is a huge potential audience out there of people who love classical music, but just don’t know it yet. People who will go to a museum, who read interesting books, go to indie music festivals, but who don’t yet find their way to a classical concert because it’s not on their radar. Many people I talk to think classical concerts are boring, difficult, expensive and stiff, even though there are so many great initiatives nowadays that prove this doesn’t have to be the case.
What I have personally found to work really well, is to present classical music in a casual setting like a (non-classical music) festival where there is an audience generally open to new experiences, and to create a storytelling format inspired by more popular genres like comedy, tv shows and musical theatre. Without losing the authenticity of the music or oversimplifying the original material, as even new audiences can handle more than we sometimes think. When we performed at the Parade Theatre Festival, we were the only classical music performance there, and we were sold out every night. These type of festivals are a great way to connect with new audiences.
In the classical music world, we are sometimes hesitant to approach our work from a commercial perspective, as if that means ‘selling out’ or losing our artistic value. But there is much inspiration to be gained from the way successful genres of entertainment reel in their audiences, from the way influencers use social media to connect with fans, and from the business models of big tech companies. These are all topics I’m really keen to explore further.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
At conservatoire, there is a lot of focus on technical mastery, which of course is very important. But what is often overlooked is the role our mindset plays in improving our technique and becoming interesting and well-rounded performers. From performance psychology we learn that being kind when we talk to ourselves, whether in the practice room or on stage, is much more effective than tearing ourselves down. And yet, our perfectionist tendencies often prevent us from extending ourselves the same kindness we would when we are giving feedback to a friend. There are many excellent resources like Bulletproof Musician, where we can learn more about mindset, effective practice and performance psychology. I would encourage any aspiring musician to work not only on their instrument, but also on their minds, in order to be happier, more productive and more successful.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
At the forefront of innovation in the opera world, singing in and creating new productions combining old and new music and presentation forms. And of course sipping wine on the terrace of my vacation house on some gorgeous lake in Italy with my husband while our children are frolicking in the pool…
Channa Malkin’s album ‘This is not a lullaby’ is released on Friday 7 May on the TRPTK label, featuring music by Weinberg, Tavener and her father Josef Malkin.
Soprano Channa Malkin was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands into a family of classical musicians. Known for her compelling musical personality and unbridled creativity, Channa was praised by De Volkskrant as “a young sound with a mature treatment. Her story-telling is profound”. She excels in a broad repertoire, from Italian baroque opera to Sephardic chamber music. A nominee for the Grachtenfestival Prize 2020, she was hailed by the jury as a “captivating musical personality”.
She debuted at the age of 16 as Barbarina (Le Nozze di Figaro) at Dutch National Opera. Since then, she has performed roles such as Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea) at the Rotterdam Opera Days, Despina (Così fan tutte), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Charite (Cadmus et Hermione), Eve (In the beginning, a world premiere by Carlijn Metselaar), and all female roles in a staged production of Grieg’s Peer Gynt at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
Notable concert performances include the boy solo in Bernstein’s Chichester psalms with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the baton of Mariss Jansons, Händel’s Dixit Dominus and the modern premiere of William Hayes’ The Fall of Jericho with Holland Baroque conducted by Alexander Weimann, as well as Bach’s Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra conducted by Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, among others. Channa regularly performs as a soloist with baroque ensemble La Sfera Armoniosa, led by theorbist Mike Fentross.
Channa has demonstrated her unbridled creativity and entrepreneurship with the creation of her own multimedia opera pastiche Handel goes Tinder, together with violinist Anastasia Kozlova and writer/director Michael Diederich. Channa has performed this production 33 times for sold-out venues and festivals in the Netherlands. In spring 2021, Handel goes Tinder will play at the Handelfestpiele in Göttingen.
In addition to opera and concert, Channa enjoys telling stories and connecting intimately with audiences in song recitals. Her debut album Songs of Love and Exile, together with guitarist Izhar Elias, was hailed by the international press as “Glorious“. In the 2020/21 season, Channa Malkin and Izhar Elias will continue to perform their album programme at various festivals and concert halls as part of their Dutch tour, having already performed it at Dutch National Opera, among other venues. Her latest album This is not a lullaby is inspired by her journey into motherhood, containing the little known song cycle Rocking the Child by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, John Tavener’s Akhmatova Songs for soprano and cello, as well as various Russian songs by her father, Josef Malkin. The album will be released by the high-end audio label TRPTK in May 2021.
Channa studied at the Utrecht Conservatoire with Charlotte Margiono, while simultaneously performing as a soloist in the Netherlands and abroad. After graduating with honours from the conservatoire, Channa went on to study with Rosemary Joshua, with whom she discovered her love for early music. She continues working with her vocal coaches Manuela Ochakovski and Roberta Alexander on new repertoire.
I am an artist and the spontaneous fun you lose from perfection resonates with me so much.