Hidden Gem: Brett Brown’s Postcards will resonate with audiences far and wide
Firstly, did you know that Art Gallery of NSW has a special concert series – Resonate – which opens this weekend and brings the best musicians from Australia and beyond to the gallery’s performance space?
Secondly, did you know that award-winning London based Australian actor and singer Brett Brown will open the 2017 Resonate Concert Series with the premiere of his cabaret POSTCARDS?
Brett Brown is one of Australia’s hidden gems. A graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), he has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe, the BBC, in plays and musicals on London’s West End and theatre festivals throughout Europe. He also appeared in the Academy Award winning film The Theory of Everything in 2014.
We spoke with Brown ahead of his world premiere performance of Postcards about the show, story telling and the (surprising) similarities between Shakespeare and cabaret.
Can you describe Postcards for us?
Postcards is a classical-cabaret. Often I find classical music gets relegated to the sphere of recitals, where a personal or collective journey is of little importance. I wanted to bring a journey and ‘classical’ music to the forefront of this concert. Through the music of great composers – Vivaldi, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Satie, Piaf – we fly from one place to another. Each song is like a postcard sent home, or collected along the way. On this journey, I couldn’t have greater travelling companions than the pianist Glenn Amer (Opera Queensland, Pacific Opera and Opera Australia) and violinist Judy Hellmers (Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra).
You are performing Postcards to open the 2017 Resonate Concert Series. How did this invitation come about?
Last year I was invited to sing at the Art Gallery as part of Dr Christopher Hartney’s lecture series ‘You Say You Want a Revolution’. This was a fascinating exploration of Revolutions through history.
Between lectures I reminisced with the Art Gallery Society staff about my first visit to the Gallery as a child. I was six years old. Hand in hand with my grandmother, we wandered the Gallery’s Grand Courts. Dwarfed by the paintings, I saw far away lands, dramatic scenery, exotic people in striking costumes – life in extraordinary colour. Before we left for the day, my grandmother bought me several postcards of my favourite paintings from the gallery gift shop. On the ferry back to Manly my mind was ablaze – I was taking home The Queen of Sheeba! Something sparked within me during that first visit – I think it is what inspired me to become an actor.
So between singing about revolution in America, France or Russia, I went back to the European Courts and started mapping out ideas this show. It’s serendipitous that several of the paintings I shall sing in front of on Sunday are the same paintings I saw when I was six year old.
Do you have a favourite “hidden gem” in the show? Something you didn’t expect?
One of the joys of creating my own show is that I was able to chose repertoire I loved – even songs not traditionally sung by men. Selecting songs from different countries of the world has been a fascinating journey. Most of the repertoire is in fact new for me. Astor Piazzolla’s Yo Soy Maria has become one of my favourites. It tells the story of a fiery and passionate woman from Buenos Aires. She’s got real pluck! I started arranging it for my voice months ago, yet events of recent weeks and in light of the Women’s March that took place around the globe – including Buenos Aires! – the song has taken on a new potency. You might even see me don a skirt for that number…
Another revelation is the Hungarian Gypsy piece for violin, Herje Kati (Pretty Kati) by Jenö Hubay. My violinist, Judy Hellmers, found this piece on a trip to Hungary years ago. I had never heard it before – and it’s stunning!
You perform across many disciplines (cabaret, opera, stage, screen). How do they inform each other? Do you have a preference?
At the end of the day, and no matter which discipline I’m working in, for me it all comes back to telling a story. However, there is something magical about ideas fusing with music – one informing the other, or leading to a new idea through an unexpected melody or harmony. I often feel that instruments have their own voices, which add to the telling of a story. Part of my challenge is singing the story in a variety of languages!
You have Postcards and a season and your one man adaption of Henry V coming up. What are the similarities between Shakespeare and cabaret?
The most striking similarity I see is the relationship with the audience. A great deal of my one-man Henry V takes place as a conversation with the audience. Henry is at his most vulnerable and private moments trying to understand who he is by sharing his thoughts and feelings. For me, cabaret is no different. While the songs I’m singing are in French, Italian, Spanish German and English, at the heart of each song is a person trying to understand their life in relation to the world around them. With walls rising, it feels to me that exploring our shared humanity has never been more important.
Postcards – a classical cabaret
Sunday February 5 2017
Grand Courts, Art Gallery of NSW