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?
Music was just about the only subject that I connected with as a child. I played the violin, piano and sang in the church choir and a local children’s choir. This was all made possible through the generous and patient encouragement of my parents. By the time I was 15 and studying singing at Junior Guildhall, I began to find my voice. I would listen to Emma Kirkby recordings and was definitely influenced by her pure soprano sound, which I related to as the type of sound that I would be able to make. I also began to discover so much of the Renaissance and Baroque Music that Emma made famous, often singing along to her recordings. I knew I wanted to be a professional singer from around this time, aged 15 or so and started to focus properly on my singing, with the dream that I could be a singer.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The greatest challenges have been the things that no one teaches you at music college, like managing a family timetable for two children, dog and partner who also works in the music industry, also learning to decline work when the repertoire doesn’t really suit you. Accepting too much work was something I got caught out with and had a period of time where I was running on empty, afraid to decline jobs for fear of not being asked again. These are examples of what have been personal challenges for me, but over the years I have finally found a better balance as I have become more established and grown in confidence. The challenges of a career in music never go away though and keeping positive through a pandemic has certainly affected us all!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Travelling to Sydney Opera House and performing Max Richter’s overnight performance of Sleep certainly has to be up there on my list of most memorable performances that I feel very chuffed to have done. Performing on Lindisfarne Holy Island with Christian Forshaw was a special one too. And performing and recording the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s Requiem with the LSO orchestra and my husband Nigel Short conducting, was very special for me.
What did you enjoy most about the process of making your new album Historical Fiction with composer and saxophonist Christian Forshaw?
Working with Christian is a genuine pleasure and he makes great coffee too! We have worked together for 15 years now and we are both friends and colleagues. Christian knows my voice extremely well and I feel very comfortable singing in his company, so this is a great starting point for recording together as I trust him and know he write and arrange music that is tailored to suit me. It was a great luxury to record Historical Fiction with no time constraints and full control artistically. The only small downside of this is that we were both quite picky and hard on ourselves during the editing period, but overall, it’s the best way to make an album and worked well for us
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
This is a tricky question as there is too much repertoire to choose from. I am in heaven singing Bach, Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi…. the list goes on. My natural habitat is to be singing in a beautiful cool, dark church with a smallish period orchestra, but then I also love doing my contemporary performances, often using amplification and am hugely looking forward to performing Historical Fiction live and feeling the audiences reaction.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
My offstage life is very busy. I have two kids and a beloved Golden retriever, so I walk miles every day that I’m not working and I cook a lot too. I sing at home and practice when I’m not working, but I’ve also learned to leave my voice alone on days off. Having these natural distractions is lucky and allows me to switch off.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I am generally approached to perform and record works that whichever organization has invited me to join, so I don’t tend to choose my repertoire, but I am more often than not revisiting Baroque, Renaissance or contemporary works that I have performed before. Next January I am embarking on recording a brand new setting of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, so I have very much chosen this repertoire and am already spending time learning it too.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I adore singing at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The acoustic is so pearly and pleasurable to sing in and somehow enhances the sound, plus knowing how many amazing performances have taken place there feels special. This December I am due to do a Handel Messiah there with the Academy of Ancient Music, so I am praying that it doesn’t get cancelled by covid.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
The first memorable concert experience that has just sprung to mind is sadly not such a happy one, but a few years ago I was invited to sing the soprano solos in the Handel Messiah at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. During the opening tenor aria, an audience member threw up into the aisle and although the performance kept going, I just remember trying to stay focused whilst I sat there watching someone from the festival mop the floor of the chapel. Not something I expected!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
From a practical point of view, having a full diary and making a whole living out of being a freelance/salaried musician is an admirable degree of success. From a personal point of view, I feel happy that after 20 or so years of performing and recording as a completely freelance singer, I still come away from my work loving it and wanting to do more.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Being able to cope with the ups and downs of the vulnerability of this profession – not something that anyone can teach us, but something that we all have to learn and experience individually. In most cases, musicians/singers are freelancers and there is no guarantee of anything. There isn’t a structured career path to climb, like in other professions. Being someone who can fit in and get along socially really counts for a lot too, especially in small choirs/consorts. It’s almost taken for granted that we will be good at what we do, and getting along socially is also a big part of the equation to being a musician.
Grace Davidson’s latest album ‘Historical Fiction’ with the composer and saxophonist Christian Forshaw is out now on Integra Records. More information
Grace Davidson is a British soprano who specialises first and foremost in the performance and recording of Baroque music.
Grace grew up in a house whose hallway was entirely filled by a grand piano which was being stored for a friend of the family – music was physically unavoidable. She learned the piano and the violin but it was singing that she loved best. Taken to ‘Cats’ when she was three years old she sang along throughout or, rather, whenever her mother’s hand wasn’t clamped over her mouth. And it was her singing that won her a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where she won the Early Music prize and gained her degree and postgraduate. In 2016 Grace was appointed an Associate of The Royal Academy Of Music.