17, New Zealand soprano has a voice to be reckoned with
Westenra sings her way up
Joan Anderman, Globe Staff
YORK -- The vocalist who will accompany the Boston
Pops on its 2004 Holiday Tour is not a beloved pop singer.
Nor is she an operatic soloist. She is star of neither stage
nor screen, and although the chatty New Zealand teen has performed
for the Queen of England, odds are good you've never heard of
Hayley Westenra -- who on a recent afternoon was sitting in
a Manhattan cafe picking at a plate of undressed lettuce and
marveling with equal enthusiasm at her rabbit's cage break and
her record-breaking climb up the classical music charts.
At 17, Westenra is a sweet-natured, high-spirited, clear-eyed
girl who is methodically going about the business of becoming
an international singing sensation. Her debut album for Britain's
Decca label, the well-titled "Pure," has been
certified twice-platinum in that country, making Westenra the
fastest-selling classical artist in UK history.
quite disciplined," she says in a runaway New Zealand lilt.
"The most important thing is to eat healthily and get plenty
of sleep. I get my schoolwork done. I just sort of deal with
each thing as it comes, one thing at a time, and don't look
too far ahead. This is what I've spent my whole life dreaming
12, Westenra was busking on the streets of Christchurch, singing
arias and Bee Gees tunes in an angelic soprano and saving up
to make a recording at a local studio over the school holidays.
Westenra's mother, Jill, made cardboard CD covers at the kitchen
table and hand-delivered them to friends and fans and, on a
long shot, a few local record companies. Universal New Zealand
offered Westenra a deal before they'd even met her, and in 2000,
then 13-year-old Westenra released the first of two hit albums
in New Zealand. When Decca president Costa Pilavachi heard one
of the recordings by chance, he was so impressed that he got
on a plane to New Zealand to offer her a $4.5 million, five-album
contract in person.
made her US solo debut last month at Joe's Pub in New York (where
she returns Aug. 4) and spent a good part of the spring on a
Radio Disney-sponsored middle school tour -- a pair of promotional
tacks that seem to make strange bedfellows until Marc Johnston,
senior vice president and general manager of Universal Classics
Group, explains that "a lot of the Radio Disney audience
is moms listening with their kids."
audience is as broad as her taste in material, which falls squarely
into the vast and vague classical crossover category. Her hero,
Andrea Bocelli, and Josh Groban have both carved massively successful
careers with repertoires much like Westenra's, which includes
Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," the New Zealand
folk song "Pokarekare Ana," an excerpt from
Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," and a handful
of ballads. "Pure," on which she is backed
by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was produced by Giles Martin,
son of Sir George, who himself contributed a pop song ("Beat
of Your Heart") and an arrangement for "Amazing
love having the variety," says Westenra, whose porcelain
complexion alone justifies the album's title, never mind her
spring-fed soprano and wholesome upbringing. "There's something
for everyone on my album."
"I see her almost as a classical singer-songwriter,"
says Giles Martin, who has also worked with Elvis Costello,
Sting, and the Medici String Quartet. "I wanted to keep
things as organic and real as possible, not overly sweet or
too sophisticated. Hayley is a real girl, very kind and compassionate
and also very straightforward. She has a great voice and she
knows what she's good at, and with that you're halfway there."
Pops conductor Keith Lockhart has worked with his share of young
musicians. He first heard Westenra six months ago, when her
career was beginning to explode in Europe, and agreed that she
would be perfect for a Pops holiday tour, which takes place
Nov. 28-Dec. 9.
not a big fan of the latest flavor-of-the month kid," Lockhart
says. "I think they're often the products of media hype
and that frankly what happens in the process also amounts to
child abuse, being pushed beyond their maturity level. But I
think Hayley is being well managed, conservatively managed,
and her voice is just beautiful."
father, Gerald, a gemologist, has been traveling with his daughter
for the past six months; his wife, Jill, was on the road during
the preceding half year. The whole family, including 14-year-old
Sophie and 10-year-old Isaac, has taken up residence in New
York City for the summer -- during which time Hayley will fly
to LA to tape an episode of the NBC hit series "American
Dreams," jet to New Zealand to film a PBS "Great
Performances" special, record songs for several movie
scores, appear as a featured performer with the Wisconsin Chamber
Orchestra, and study for her November exams.
I feel overwhelmed," she says. "I've started writing
in a diary, which I haven't done in a while, and I can always
talk to mum and dad. Sometimes I do miss home. But if I were
home, not doing what I'm doing, I would be dreaming about it.
So I just want to continue recording and performing and hopefully
moving up. That's what everyone wants, isn't it?"
Anderman can be reached at email@example.com.
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