Star Westenra Impresses The World
Paul Sexton and Christie Eliezer
and Gerard Westenra's daughter is making them proud. Not only
for selling 1 million albums at 16 years of age, but also
for managing to fly around the world while keeping her feet
on the ground.
Westenra's voice, as pure as the title of her hit album, is
a jewel discovered and developed in her native New Zealand
and now reaching audiences worldwide.
April 6, "Pure" -- which shows Westenra's fluency
in classical, operatic and pop repertoire -- will arrive in
North America on Decca Records, after selling more than 1
million copies worldwide, according to the Decca Music Group.
Following its release by Decca Sept. 15 in the United Kingdom,
"Pure" became the fastest-selling album in the history
of the U.K. classical charts and hit the pop top 10, snuggling
up next to mainstream giants like Daniel Bedingfield and David
Holland, divisional director of Universal Classics and Jazz
U.K. and a 40-year industry veteran, remarks: "In some
ways, it's the most phenomenal result I've ever seen for an
sales figures still haven't sunk in," Westerna says.
"I'd be singing regardless [of sales], but it's humbling
that so many people appreciate it."
artists from New Zealand receive awards from their prime minister.
But Feb. 20, the 16-year-old Westenra was acknowledged by
Prime Minister Helen Clark as the first New Zealand artist
to receive an award for tenfold platinum status in their home
market. The album also holds the record for most weeks-18-at
No. 1 by a New Zealand artist.
can be no better promotion for New Zealand than our artistic
excellence," Clark said at the event, "and the success
Hayley has forged will open new doors for other New Zealand
young singer has been getting used to mixing with musical
royalty. Last year, her idol Andrea Bocelli told her, "You
have the voice of an angel." Andrew Lloyd Webber is writing
a song for her. And she lived in London while recording "Pure"
with producer Giles Martin, who co-wrote "Beat of Your
Heart" with his father, George Martin. The venerable
producer also adapted "Amazing Grace" for the album.
Martin says, "I think her success is up to her, as opposed
to me or the record company. She and I worked one-on-one for
six weeks. When I met her, the first thing she asked was [if
she] could make me a cup of tea, and I thought, 'This is going
to be easy.'"
took her first steps onstage a decade ago. At age six, a teacher
noticed her perfect pitch when she took the title role in
a school Christmas play, "The Littlest Star." Encouraged
by her teacher to learn the violin, she soon added piano and
recorder. By the time she was seven, she was reading music,
and she had made some 40 musical-theater appearances by age
year later, Westenra recorded a personal souvenir of her fledgling
talents. After completing this self-recorded disc, she went
"busking" -- street entertaining -- as she often
did with sister Sophie and brother Isaac in their hometown
one point, the crowd that gathered to watch the trio included
a local TV journalist. That led to a TV appearance, the attention
of concert promoter Gray Bartlett and, eventually, a deal
with Universal Music New Zealand.
Decca Music group president Costa Pilavachi learned of the
excitement surrounding Westenra in New Zealand, he flew from
London to Wellington to see the teenager sing in front of
100 people during a corporate function at a rural racecourse.
"I thought I should pop down to New Zealand and meet
her," he says. "I was blown away by her charm and
is very far from London and New York, and I thought if she
and her family were really serious about having a major international
career, it was important they know who they were dealing with,"
Pilavachi says of his meeting with Westenra and her parents,
Jill and Gerald Westenra.
wanted them to audition me just as much as I wanted to see
her in action. And, frankly, I wanted to meet the family,"
he continues. "There've been so many horror stories of
young proteges with manipulative parents, I'd hate to be part
of an exploitation like that. But they're lovely people. I
was really impressed with the whole environment [she] came
three-album deal with Decca followed, and Westenra says of
Pilavachi, "He gave me more than the opportunity to be
released internationally; he's part of my family."
March 29, Decca will release Westenra's version of Kate Bush's
1978 No. 1 hit "Wuthering Heights," rerecorded from
"Pure," as a U.K. single. "My mum had Kate's
version in her record collection and suggested it when we
were choosing songs for the album," Westenra says.
will immerse herself in her U.S. launch just as she did in
the United Kingdom. "I'm going to be living in New York
with my family for at least six months," she says. "It's
a big challenge because there's so much area to cover, but
I'm fine with it."
singing is Westenra's main focus right now, recent showcases
in Los Angeles had a bonus result of a few impromptu film
and television auditions. The artist has already been booked
to appear on a third season episode of the NBC drama "American
just flipped over the sound of her voice -- it's so angelic,"
the show's music supervisor, Greg Sill, says.
reporting by Anastasia Tsioulcas in New York.
item thanks to Roger Mansbridge
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