Kiwi baritone having princely time in company of Kings

By William Dart

Christopher Bruerton (second from left) says the King's Singers auditioned him twice before offering him the job. Photo / Supplied
Christopher Bruerton (second from left) says the King's Singers auditioned him twice before offering him the job. Photo / Supplied

New Zealander Christopher Bruerton is the new baritone on the block with King's Singers, who close their 40th anniversary Australasian tour with a concert in Auckland Town Hall tonight. Bruerton hails from Christchurch and his solid musical background includes years as a Cathedral chorister and regular stints with the New Zealand Secondary Schools Choir as well as the National Youth Choir under Karen Grylls.

Grylls' utter professionalism has made him aware that "many of our choral conductors need to have a better understanding of the singing voice and the techniques it demands.

"If you're running a 100m race, you need to know how the muscles work," he explains. "And you require that same knowledge to unlock the colours the voice can produce."

Moving to England after his studies at the University of Canterbury, Bruerton joined the prestigious Choir of Christ Church Oxford and, just last year, was invited to audition for the prestigious King's Singers.

"It came out of the blue," he laughs. "And, after the second audition, I was offered the job. I had to sing in all sorts of combinations. There was an arrangement of the folk-song Loch Lomond where I started off solo, and the rest of the group joined in around me, gradually moving to the full six voices."

Bruerton has been with his new colleagues for a matter of months. "It's a real delight to be able to work so regularly with the same line-up. We have a symbiotic relationship. It's almost like osmosis when you all breathe together and come in together."

Talking through tonight's programme, which opens with a set of Tudor madrigals, Bruerton confesses he is "a bit of a sucker" for the slow ones.

"If there'd been a chance to do Orlando Gibbons' The Silver Swan I'd certainly have put my hand up."

But tonight's Weep, weep mine eyes by John Wilbye is "absolutely stunning. And our challenge is to sustain the legato in acoustics that change from venue to venue".

He singles out Mateo Flecha's La Bomba from a set of Italian madrigals.

"It's a mixture of folksong, medieval Portuguese Latin and the secular, meshed into Flecha's own composition about these guys who are shipwrecked. It's a great story," he adds, without divulging its denouement.

An Australian and New Zealand selection has Po karekare ana and Po ata ran, arranged by fellow KS baritone Christopher Grabbitas in a way that "just lets the melody do its own thing".

On the contemporary side, there is the specially commissioned River's Lament from Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, who was present at its Antipodean premiere last week.

"It's based on poetry by the American Charles Anthony Silvestri which tracks the journey of a river and the life it gives to each area it flows through."

The concert will end with music stands being put to the side, and the six men doing a close-harmony popular bracket.

Bruerton himself first sang some of these arrangements, of songs like Michelle and Blackbird, back in his Christchurch days, in the Cantores Youth Choir under Brian Law.

Although, in Australia, the King's Singers popped Michael Buble and Jason Mraz in amongst the Beatles and Gershwin, how might a 27-year baritone update the list?

Celine Dion's name briefly passes through our conversation.

"But I'd be quite interested in a bit of reggae if we could do it. I'd certainly be open to Ben Harper's Steal my kisses in a good arrangement."

What: King's Singers.
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Saturday 25 Feb at 8pm.

- NZ Herald

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