ENCORE
Hayley Westenra

Pure class



24aug03

SHE was like a ray of sunshine suddenly illuminating a rather bleak winter's day. Sixteen-year-old Hayley Westenra, who comes from Christchurch in New Zealand, was on a brief visit to Brisbane to promote her international debut album Pure, which has been in or near the Top 10 since it entered Australian charts four weeks ago.

Not bad for a teen with a pop take on a classical sound. But Westenra is no ordinary teenager.

Not only has she been blessed with a most beautiful pure soprano voice, she is lovely to look at and has the intelligence to treat such natural gifts with care.

"I still can't believe such wonderful things are happening to me I couldn't be happier," Westenra says.

"It all started when the president of Decca classical records in London heard a CD I made through Universal Music New Zealand. He liked it and, would you believe, he flies out to Christchurch to meet me and my family."

The close-knit Westenras consist of mother Jill, who travels with her oldest child while father Gerald, a gemologist, stays at home with sister Sophie, 13, also a talented musician, and brother Isaac, 10, whose interests are flute and archery.

The result of the Decca meeting was an exclusive recording deal with international release, which Westenra describes as "like a fairytale".

Westenra's entry into the performing world came via ballet when she was four.

"I didn't even know what ballet was but my little friend went to class so I told my mother I'd like to go too," she says.

"Then at six I was the Littlest Star in a primary school Christmas play. After the performance, a teacher told my mother I ought to take up a musical instrument because I had perfect pitch.

"Violin lessons began, then two years later I added piano to the list. When I was 11, I started proper singing lessons and at 14, we made a CD just for fun."

Hayley is no stranger to performing for large audiences. In 2001, she made her first Australian appearance at the Carols in the Domain, Sydney.

This was followed last year by a performance on national TV at the Bledisloe Cup and live at the Carols from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne.

"In October that year, the superstar Russell Watson heard me sing and I couldn't believe it when he asked me to sing with him at his Sydney Opera House concert. I then sang with him again at Carnegie Hall, New York and on his UK tour."

Following a promotional tour of Australia, Hayley has 1 days at home before a big tour of South-East Asia, then concerts with Bryn Terfel and Jose Carreras in Wales, and two open-air performances outside London.

"I feel confident about what I'm doing now and much of that is due to my wonderful teacher, the famous New Zealand opera singer Dame Malvina Major. I can be shy off stage, but on stage I'm in a different world. Making this new album, Pure, has broadened my repertoire.

"While I see myself as primarily a classical performer, I don't want to put myself into any special category yet. I want to explore all different styles.

"Pure has a lot of variety: classical pieces, pop songs, traditional New Zealand music.

"I was so honoured when legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin arranged a version of Amazing Grace and also composed Beat of Your Heart especially for me."

Westenra also enjoyed the luxury of Sir George's son, Giles, as producer of Pure.

Opera is "definitely" an option further down the career track, Westenra says.

"But not until I'm older and my voice has developed further."

Pure is out now through Universal.

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