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?
I was fortunate to grow up in a musical household. My father was Director of Music at our local prep school and I started piano, clarinet and singing lessons from a young age. Birthdays and family gatherings would always feature some kind of musical offering, sometimes including a choreographed performance of whatever my big sister and I had devised at the time!
When I was 8, I starred in a pantomime in our hometown. I remember finding the experience very glamorous, especially all my costume changes, and I think I knew then that I would always be interested in performing on stage.
Aside from the support of my family, my teachers played crucial roles in establishing my confidence as a performer and demonstrating what thorough practice could achieve.
I soon discovered the voices of my idols, in particular Renée Fleming and Cecilia Bartoli, and, after school and a music degree brimming with performance opportunities, I was ready to attend music college and work on developing my own solo sound.
Today, the three key influences are my teacher, coach and agent and I am grateful to them for believing in me and enabling me to pursue my dream.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The pandemic was certainly a great challenge. I felt I had lost my identity a little bit when I suddenly could no longer perform. As musicians, what we strive for most is for our work to make people feel something, whether it be a source of comfort or an exhilarating high. I really missed that connection with an audience or congregation.
I will also admit that it has taken me a little while to learn not to accept too much work. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of all kinds of new projects because you never know what lies ahead in a freelance career. However, I think I have a better work/life balance now and am more grounded as a result.
Lastly, my father sadly passed away when I was 16. There have been many moments as my career has developed when I would love to ask his advice about something or simply share the joy with him when things are going well and thank him for instilling a love of music in me.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I sang for HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the ceremony of the Diamond Jubilee Regius Professorship of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. I performed an Ivor Novello song with fellow alumna Sarah Fox and was so excited to be singing next to her!
As for recordings, it may sound a bit over the top but I am honestly proud of every single one I made and sent in during lockdown. This is because I have never gelled particularly well with technology and so having to step up and learn how to record and film music for my church choir and other various ensembles was not easy at first. The discipline of learning when to leave a take alone rather than exhausting myself by striving for perfection, combined with negotiating around neighbours in my apartment building and my fiancé’s teaching timetable was pretty intense!
You’ve just won First Prize in the Handel Singing Competition; tell us about that experience?
Oh it was such a wonderful evening! It felt like a celebration of glorious music and, really, more like a concert than a competition. It was truly thrilling to perform with Laurence Cummings and the London Handel Orchestra. The warmth coming from the live audience made it a particularly special evening. I was bowled over by the support I received throughout the different rounds and particularly at the response to my win. It was incredibly humbling to be on the receiving end of congratulations by so many colleagues I respect and admire. I am looking forward to making the most of the opportunities this competition platform has provided and I can’t wait to work with the London Handel Orchestra again.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
On the concert platform, I have a lot of experience performing Baroque music and I feel at home in an oratorio setting. In opera, I am now exploring more lyrical roles and am enjoying getting to know some of Mozart’s leading ladies. When programming a recital, I also love including some lighter numbers by composers such as Richard Rodgers since I grew up watching his musicals and I think the repertoire really brings my personality out!
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I enjoy taking part in the odd Park Run on Saturday mornings. I find it helpful to have a specific focus for those few minutes and then come back feeling refreshed for the next work or practice session.
I take great pleasure in going to watch operas, concerts and musicals. You can learn so much watching artists at the top of their game and I always come away feeling rejuvenated and inspired to make music myself.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
As a freelance singer, I am usually approached with specific repertoire in mind and so rarely get to choose it myself. It is therefore a nice contrast for me to prepare roles or songs for my own development or simply for fun!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have always enjoyed performing in St Martin-in-the-Fields. I find the church has a unique and exciting atmosphere due to the close proximity of the packed audiences, plus the acoustic is lovely to sing in.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
Earlier this year, I sang the role of Mother in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in a production by Silent Opera and British Youth Opera at Opera Holland Park. The show was double cast and one day I watched the other cast perform. It was a family friendly production and I took immense joy in witnessing children around me react to the music, costumes, dancing, humour and visual effects. It made me even more aware of the significance of exposing children to opera and other classical music from a young age.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
If I may, three different occasions come to mind.
I performed a solo song in an Orwell Park School concert at Snape Maltings. I was 12 at the time and the stage felt absolutely vast! However, my father was accompanying me and his kind encouragement made me relax and enjoy it.
In 2018, I joined the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique for their Verdi Requiem Tour. One performance in particular stood out, the one at the Vienna Musikverein. It was the most electrifying atmosphere and you could sense that every single player and singer was giving their all to the drama of the piece.
The last memorable performance I am not so proud of! My halter neck concert dress came undone during a performance of the Messiah in Suffolk and I had to clasp the score to my chest for the remainder of the aria I was singing at the time!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Juggling a freelance career is not straightforward and so I believe if you are enjoying your work and are respected by your colleagues whilst managing to stay true to your family, friends and yourself then that is a great success.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Try not to compare yourself to others. There is no one clear path to success in a career such as ours and, whilst being a freelance musician can often have its challenges, it can also be the most rewarding profession.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being snuggled up on the sofa with my fiancé watching a gripping tennis or rugby match!
After a thrilling final, 29-year-old soprano Hilary Cronin won First Prize and Audience Prize at the 2021 Handel Singing Competition. Find out more
Hilary Cronin is a London-based soprano enjoying a freelance career of opera and ensemble singing.
Hilary trained at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma and an FTCL Diploma and was a Trinity College London, Dame Susan Morden and Robinson Hearn Scholar.
Prior to this, Hilary read Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. In her final year, she was awarded the Driver Prize for Excellence in Performance and The Dame Felicity Lott Bursary to help with postgraduate studies. She was a Choral Scholar of The Choir of Royal Holloway and performed solos on Hyperion discs and live BBC Radio 3 Broadcasts.