Wednesday, July 28, 2004 12:41 PM_

News Menu Button A 'Pure' star at 17

By Jacob Stockinger


Hayley Westenra (AP photo)

Few singers are hotter names right now than Hayley Westenra, the New Zealand 17-year-old sensation who makes her U.S. orchestral debut with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell at tonight's Concert on the Square at 7.

Having sold 2 million copies of her first two CDs (the latest titled "Pure"), Westenra has developed an international following for her charming yet soulful crossover versions of classical music as well as for the native Maori music of her homeland.

The WCO reports getting calls from people in Minnesota and Michigan planning to attend tonight's concert because of Westenra, who will sing arrangements of Bach, Gounod, Vivaldi and Ravel as well as a Maori song. (University of Wisconsin tenor James Doing will also appear in a program that includes music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien.")

Westenra, who has toured Europe and the Pacific, recently spoke to The Capital Times about her Madison appearance from Ottawa, Canada, where she just finished performing in a "Lord of the Rings" concert tour:

As a youngster, you played piano and violin as well as sang. Do you come from a musical family?

My younger brother and sister are musical, too. They both have gorgeous voices, but I don't know if they will pursue music or not. My dad and mom are musical, but it comes more from my grandparents. My one grandma was a great singer and my grandfather could play any instrument by ear. So it's definitely in the blood.

You're known for doing crossover music that combines classical music with pop music. Do you have a preference?

I love both. That's why I chose such a range of different styles. I didn't want to restrict myself. That's why I couldn't give up one or the other. I love classical and pop.

It makes life interesting to switch between the two. There's something on my albums for everyone. People who usually don't like one kind of music or the other find my music opens them up to new things.

How does singing and performing make you feel?

It's very fulfilling. You get this amazing electricity from the audience. That's what I enjoy most. It's an amazing feeling, making other people feel happy or connected.

Making my U.S. orchestral debut is going to be so much fun. I don't really know the conductor. By my management told me about him and I'm really keen to doing anything with another Kiwi.

What do you think people find so appealing in your voice and your interpretations?

I really don't know. I think it's a mixture of everything. Maybe it's just that both my voice and my music sound pretty clean and pure. It's quite relaxing and chilled-out music.

The fact that I come from New Zealand may have something to do with it. That makes me different and kind of exotic.

What are your new projects?

I just finished filming an episode of "American Dreams." After Madison, I go to New York and New Jersey, where I will make a PBS show that will air in the fall. I'm learning how to play the guitar, which is so portable, so one day I can accompany myself.

I'm also writing songs as well as looking for new ones to record. Ideally I'd like to have a little more input into the writing of the songs. The lyrics are the most important part. I've struggled to find ones I can really relate to. They have to come directly from me. I have a notebook next to the bed in case I come up with something.

I enjoy writing songs. It's fun, but the hardest part is showing your ideas to someone else. Then you feel very exposed.

A lot of recent entertainers in America have come from Australia and New Zealand, including opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa; movie director Peter Jackson of "Lord of the Rings"; actors Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Guy Pearce. Why are they such hot names? What about them appeals to Americans?

People are just very curious because we're tucked away at the bottom of the world. People have become a lot more aware about us.

But I love it in America. There's so much happening here. I was so impressed with New York and Los Angeles. Plus, the people here are lovely and friendly, just like New Zealanders and Australians.

You'll perform here before about 10,000 people. Do you get nervous?

I always get a little bit nervous, but just a bit. But I've been performing for quite a while, since I was 6 when I sang my first solo at a Christmas concert. So I'm used to it. It feels pretty natural being up on stage.

But you still have to get used to the traveling, the planes and the changes in time zones. It's a lot of wear and tear on your body. Especially for a singer, the wear and tear shows up in your voice.

You're only 17 and already a worldwide phenomenon. Do you plan to go to college or pursue other training?

I'm pretty happy to continue to sing. I just want to make the most of this amazing opportunity. Further down I may decide to get a degree. But ideally I'd just like to continue performing, although I would like to do some serious study of singing. But I want to continue performing for the rest of my life, if I can do that.


Published: 8:05 AM 7/28/04


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Thanks to Roger Mansbridge for forwarding the link to this article
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