‘What better way to commemorate the First World War than through music?’ – soprano Louise Alder

21 September 2018, 10:07 | Updated: 24 September 2018, 16:20

Louise Alder
Louise Alder. Picture: Gerard Collett

By Elizabeth Davis

On 9 October 2018 Louise Alder will join the massed forces of the Royal Philharmonic, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, the Invictus Games Choir and many more to perform the world premiere of the Great War Symphony, an epic work written by former Composer in Residence Patrick Hawes.

The four-part piece has been written to commemorate the conflict that became known as ‘the war to end all wars’. We spoke to the star soprano ahead of the performance at Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall.

What was your path to becoming a singer?

I always enjoyed being on stage – I did a lot of dancing as a child and played the violin throughout my childhood. But when I went to Edinburgh University for my undergraduate, I found an amazing singing teacher, Patricia MacMahon, who taught me technique, something that I hadn't really had before.

It's difficult to teach technique to really young voices, and dangerous of course to make them sing in an operatic way before they're bodies have matured enough to be able to produce the right resonances. So I think it was at the right time that I found a singing teacher who was kind and understanding and a fantastic technician. She took me under her wing and she put me on the path to music college.

Buy now: The Great War Symphony

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I think now I would say that the best piece of advice I've ever been given is: be a singer only if you really love it and there's absolutely nothing else you can do. I don't mean to sound negative, it's just a hard career path. It's very clear to some people, as it was for me, that there really was only one thing that I wanted to do.

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How would you advise a young singer to look after their mental health?

The birth of social media is both amazing and terrible for singers, because it can enable us to publicise ourselves for free and get your name out there. And of course that's amazing, but when I was starting out, we didn't have quite so many platforms to look at other people and judge ourselves. It's easy when you talk to friends, to think ‘oh, why don't I have that job?’ or ‘why don't I have that life?’. And it's even easier now to look at hundreds of thousands of different singers across the globe and think ‘why don't I have that ease of getting work, or ease of life, or excitement in life, or travel?’.

But you must always remember that, mostly, singers post positive things on their social media account. They post the highs rather than the lows. And you must remember that they're real people and that there are downsides to the travel, and you have to spend time away from people you love. And that's the part they don't post.

You’ve worked all over the world, and released recordings – which project has been your favourite?

My first solo CD that I did, an album of Strauss lieder with pianist Joseph Middleton. We recorded that two years ago now and that was a real pleasure for me. I absolutely adored – I always adore – working with Joe, and Strauss is one of my all-time favourite composers to sing. But I really did enjoy recording the Great War Symphony by Patrick Hawes. His music is lyrical and lovely to sing. It was a really fantastic afternoon of recording.

What does it mean to you to be involved in the world premiere of the Great War Symphony?

So many young men died – I had many relations and grandparents and great grandparents involved. And I think it’s right to commemorate such a huge moment in history – and what better way than through music?

Patrick said the original idea was that each movement is for each of the years of the war, and I love that idea. It was a long war and a harsh one and there's something especially cathartic about music bringing people together to remember and also to celebrate the peace that happened at the end of it.

It's always a great pleasure to sing at the Royal Albert Hall, and I can't imagine a better setting to have this symphony premiered and performed.

Classic FM Live takes place at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 9 October. Find out more and book tickets – from just £28 – here.