Joshua Oxley



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Joshua Oxley is a BBM Youth Support Awardee who travelled to Europe in 2017 to further his experiences in music. He shares his experiences here:

Last year I was overjoyed to be given the great opportunity of the BBM Youth Support Award for Music. In February of 2017 I set off to the UK, my first home before Australia, and was excited to launch the beginnings of international career in Opera. My goal during my 1 month stay was to immerse myself in as much of the classical music culture, enhance my own technical abilities, and audition for some of the more prestigious schools. I had set up many interviews, auditions, and performances in advance, but made sure to leave plenty of time for exploration and adventure.

This was the first time I had travelled since a spectacular summer school, Estivo – Verona, touring with selected students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music nearly 3 years before. Unfortunately this time I had a fresh knee injury, a pair of crutches, and was on the plane alone. For young awardees, I would recommend some time between arrival and the first meeting/ audition. I was fortunate to be staying with very close family friends for about 2/3 of my stay, and had a few days to recover from what is a monumental journey.

Before meeting with the head of music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I caught the Eurostar to Paris to meet two dear friends and colleagues of mine. We caught up to see the legendary production of Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Operá Bastille. It was a joy to see a great Australian tenor (Stuart Skelton) sing the title role with style, daring, and strength. The production was so clever in exposing new ideas within old characters. The whole cast and chorus sang with a rich understanding of the work and the music’s ability to change people’s lives. Also, make it a mission in your life to go this theatre and hear that orchestra play anything. Every musician onstage and in the pit took brave risks and played with colours that make this music make sense. 3000+ seats and you can hear every pianissimo. Upon returning, I caught the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall led by the great violinist, Pinchas Zukerman. He conducted Beethoven 7 before playing an unforgettable performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I really didn’t get to see enough of the orchestral music scene during my stay, but this opened my eyes to how accessible great quality music is in the UK.

After meeting with Armin Zanner from the Guildhall, I had a range of contacts within the school which became a great resource for the rest of the month. I was able to attend one of their opera scenes concerts a few weeks later and was amazed at the dedication and overall standard of their student performers. Unfortunately the coach I wanted to work with (Linnhe Robertson) was teaching in France at the time and I wasn’t able to see her. Hopefully there will be time enough for that in the future. My next destination was to receive some tuition at the Royal Northern College of Music from tenor Peter Wilson. He was recommended to me by Dr Rowena Cowley, my singing teacher in Sydney, and I was excited to work with him. Peter coached me on “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore and “Lensky’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and offered a lot of helpful advice for maintaining a consistent Italianate style and sound. To achieve this, we sang arpeggio exercises to “O dolce amore”. I have tried to put this into practice as much as possible along with his idea of ‘calling’ with the voice, no doubt a nod to his Scottish heritage.

After a few sessions with Peter, I was given a surprise tour by a friend who had studied with me in Sydney. Lucy had recently started her Masters at the College with Lynne Dawson, and was able to showcase and explain the intricate details of the course and culture. I was invited to audition for 2018 and have made new friends and contacts in Manchester. Back in London, I was happy to receive another tour from another colleague from Sydney who is studying her Masters at the Royal Academy of Music. This is truly one of the most beautiful buildings to study and perform in. Although there seems to be more of a focus on early music, it is a place I would love to return to.

For the past 3 years, I have been a Lay Clerk, deputy, and choral scholar at St Andrew’s Cathedral Sydney, St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney, and St James King St. I was thrilled to be in the midst of some of the finest choral music in the world. During my last visit, I had received a tour of Westminster Abbey from a family friend who has a full time position singing in their choir. As inspiring as that tour was, unfortunately the choir was on holiday. This time I was able to hear a few choral evensongs at the Abbey and at St Paul’s Cathedral. Even if this is not the music I am training to sing, I still have a great passion for it. Church music can be a great avenue into improving musicianship and sight-reading and yes, even getting paid. Later, during my time in Cardiff, I visited Llandaff Cathedral… but more on that soon.

The first opera I ever saw was a Royal Opera House production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni starring Bryn Terfel in the title role. This Award allowed me to return to Covent Garden to see a beautiful David McVicar production of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvrer starring Angela Gheorgiú in the title role. I was incredibly lucky to know one of the Jette Parker Young Artists in the company. Emily Edmonds and I also studied in Sydney together, and I was a vocal example in her thesis during her honours degree. After seeing her perform art songs, arias, and duets with fellow Young Artist Francisca Chiejina accompanied by Artistic Director David Gowland, There was a Q and A with other students. This was a great way to meet David and learn more about their amazing program giving so many young singers the opportunity to sing on the main stage and learn what it truly means to be an opera singer. Emily very kindly offered to give me a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House, from dressing and orchestral rooms to even standing on the stage. I even got to sing in one of the main orchestral rehearsal rooms which I’m sure I’ll never forget. I will definitely be auditioning for this program and would be honoured to work with such an incredible company.

Due to a complication with tickets (and thanks to my crutch which seemed to cash in okay for some sympathy points) I got upgraded to a seat in the front row of the Donald Gordon Grand Tier for the performance of Adriana Lecouvrer. Nothing could have made that experience more memorable. This was a piece I knew less well, but was treated to a powerful international cast singing the tragic love story.

Other performances I saw were at the Coliseum with productions from English National Opera, another company I would love to work with one day. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance is a timeless masterpiece and it’s always a joy to hear it sung by the fine singers. The main reason I went along was to hear legendary Bass John Tomlinson, who was unfortunately suffering from a chest infection. Nevertheless, he is coming to Sydney in 2018 to perform in Shostakovich’s The Nose. The other production of ENO was Verdi’s Rigoletto. Be sure to look out for Sydney Mancasola, a soprano recently graduated from the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist program.

Great to see what is possible in years to come and to see how far singing can take you. Not hearing the usual top note cadenzas was an adjustment, but I walked out feeling as though I had heard a new piece. Although this is a revival of Jonathan Miller’s great mafioso production, the cast and conductor had obviously thought about turning these operatic caricatures into people.

I’m not sure how much English Verdi spoke, but I would imagine he would have loved it. It was fantastic to see the Coliseum full, and with people of all ages! There is definitely a young audience interested in the restoration and evolution of opera in Europe.

The greatest highlight of my adventure was my trip to Wales. This was the biggest reason I had applied for the award and was most excited to sing for the internationally acclaimed tenor and teacher Dennis O’Neill. I had 2 sessions with him and as a teacher and mentor he fit like a glove. He was everything I had hoped for in a teacher. I was thrilled at the end of our first lesson when he offered me a place in his masters program: Wales International Academy of Voice. Sadly I have deferred this offer to commence September 2018 as I have been offered a full time contract with
Opera Australia since then.

There is a lot of technical jargon that I could go into about keeping the voice in the pharynx, the complexities between different vowels and how to shape them etc., but, if you are still reading this, know that the stories from his own career and inspirations were the real things I took away. I cannot wait to resume my study with Dennis, and return to the land of cytches and cuddles, hillsides and vale’s, hymns and arias, ahh the beauty of Wales. Oh, and Llandaff Cathedral music department have offered my a deputy position with their choir when I return, which will be such a beautiful place to sing.

Since getting back from the UK I have completed a Postgraduate Diploma of Opera Performance with Sydney Conservatorium of Music, played Pane in Cavalli’s La Calisto, Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, preformed the tenor solo in Rossini’s Stabat Mater, and was awarded 1st place in the Joan Carden Award.

I owe so much of my progression and success this year to my journey in February and owe tremendous thanks to all the people at BBM who make it possible for people like me to take a step forward in achieving their dreams.

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