Jean-Max Lattemann, countertenor

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?

That is a very difficult question to answer; there are many artists and teachers who have had a lasting influence on me. I was very fortunate that my parents are great music lovers; as long as I can remember we always listened to classical music. They took me to the opera house in my hometown Wiesbaden when I was four years old to see ‘Hänsel and Gretel’. It was a mesmerising experience; I remember seeing the gingerbread children on stage and I wanted to do that as well. I then joined the children’s chorus and was hooked immediately – the fire has never gone away. To this day there is no greater excitement than to walk out on a stage to perform.

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

Learning to be patient. As young musicians we are eager to get going and to progress fast, fuelled by a market with a constant demand for new faces and ever younger and ‘perfect’ voices. Nobody wants to miss the boat. Allowing myself time to develop has been tough at times but a very beneficial lesson to learn. As a result, I have had the breathing space to find my own musical language, so to speak, what I want to say as a musician. I know I am still far from having reached the end of that path and that it will be a lifelong search and journey. Continuing to find patience is the greatest challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Any performance where I feel that I have managed to really connect with the audience, when people tell you afterwards that something in your performance spoke to them, moved them. Those are the moments that make me remember why I am doing what I am doing and why I love it so much.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That is a very interesting question and one which I’m not sure I can answer objectively – this would be something for my audiences to give an insight into! I would say what gives me most enjoyment is when the piece speaks to me, when I feel a connection with the music and the text. When I have had time to work on the music, I put it aside for a while, then dig it out again and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and ears. I also very much enjoy performing brand new works that are the result of a collaboration with a composer. You get the composer’s ideas first hand and this gives you an incredible sense of artistic freedom when you are the first person ever to perform a piece of music never heard before.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I like doing things that completely take my mind off music and singing, such as cooking, gardening, going for a run, or watching the sunset with a glass of wine. Meeting friends and new people, people who have a story to tell. There has to be life outside of music and the practice room, something I can draw inspiration from – otherwise, how could I have anything to say as a musician?

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

That depends. As a singer and at the current stage of my career a lot of my work is determined by auditions for repertoire that is planned by opera companies and concert promoters. But there are also other collaborations, for instance where I plan the programme for a song recital. The process for this can start with something I have been wanting to perform for a long time, or a piece of repertoire I am not familiar with, I have stumbled across, a work someone has mentioned to me or something I have heard somewhere and has caught my attention. I like searching for works that aren’t standard repertoire. I then delve deeper into the piece, think about what it says to me, what I could pair it up with, and slowly but steadily a red thread starts to emerge and a programme takes shape. I also take into account my surroundings, the current climate and situation in the world. For the coming season for example, together with pianist Dylan Perez, I am planning a song recital programme which we have entitled ‘A New Beginning’, echoing the current mood and yearning around the world (not to be confused with ‘back to normal’!).

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I feel it is too early for me to say, there are so many venues I would love to perform in. I think that almost every concert venue has something special and unique about it, but an interested and enthusiastic audience is what really makes a memorable performance.

As we have learned during this pandemic, you can have the most amazing and beautiful venues, but if there is no audience to interact with, one of the key parts of live music is missing. The emptiness is baffling.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think it is important to start as early as possible, encourage and enable children to make music, to sing or to learn an instrument. Make the most out of children’s natural curiosity and bring them in touch with classical music. We also have to get music out of the concert halls and opera houses and into the communities, into new venues and areas where live classical music is basically non-existent. Classical music shouldn’t be an elitist privilege for those who can afford the ticket price and right attire. Many organisations are already doing wonderful work in this area, but we still have a long way to go to make classical music education and concerts feel welcoming to everyone regardless of background and social standing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago, I jumped in at very short notice to sing my first Nerone in Handel’s Agrippina at Dartington Festival. I had two weeks’ notice to prepare and we had one week to rehearse and stage the entire opera. I was very nervous before we went on stage, but there was such an inspiring and infectious high energy on stage, everybody gave it 150%, it was an incredible experience and I probably gave one of my best performances. It confirmed to me what Leonard Bernstein once said: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time”.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I manage to fully immerse myself in the music, move people and connect with them through the music, thus creating something unique, something that cannot be replicated.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Never to forget that the main reason why we choose to become a musician is because of the joy it brings. It should always be about the joy of making music, not about fame or money, both are in short supply anyway. Keep working hard, remember that there is not just ‘one right way’ and trust that you will find yours.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I honestly cannot say; I hope I will still be able to make music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being happy with what you’ve got and what you are able to do.

What is your most treasured possession?

An autograph album I started when I was 8 years old. I collected newspaper clippings and autographs of so many singers I had the privilege to be on stage with, at a time when there were no selfies or social media, and the album is full of wonderful memories I cherish. Every time I look at it, it reminds why I took up this profession.

What is your present state of mind?

Pensive


Young German countertenor Jean-Max Lattemann appears equally on the opera and concert stage and is unanimously praised by critics for his interpretations and vocal expressiveness. His repertoire ranges from early baroque to modern and contemporary music, having worked with conductors such as Robert Howarth, Richard Hetherington, Eamonn Dougan, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Matthias Jung and Franz Brochhagen.

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(Photo credit: Kate Mount)

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