The Guest Baton: Brett Weymark

Brett Weymark joins Sydney Chamber Choir on stage later this month for their upcoming Saint Nicolas program. He is recognised as one of Australia’s foremost choral conductors as the long term music director of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. We caught up with Brett for a little insight into his passion of music and love of Britten.

What is your first memory of music?

My aunt had the most beautiful grand piano and whenever we went over to visit, I would spend my entire time at the keyboard playing what I thought was the most inspired musical creations! I think she must have been either deaf or very patient to put up with my opus! I have been in love with pianos, music and singing ever since.

Was music an important part of your childhood?

Not really but it was always there. My family was not particularly musical but it was a part of every day at school. There are only a few things I remember from my early days at Neutral Bay Public and that was the smell of Chanel No. 5, which my kindergarten teacher wore and that every morning we would sit cross legged in front of the upright piano and sing! Gingerbread man, Over the Rainbow and the lullaby from Hansel and Gretel were my all time favourites – I think I had quite a loud voice even back then! Thankfully we were all taught to read music via singing and the recorder so it was never an issue for me when it came to playing the piano.

As an accomplished singer and instrumentalist yourself, how did you end up on the other end of the baton?

I was inspired by many of the teachers with whom I had the privilege of being taught during my high school years. These included the wonderful Leonie Roser at Crows Nest Boy’s High School and Mal Hewitt at music camps and combined choral concerts at the Sydney Opera House. My first time at the end of a baton was actually at a music camp – I conducted Handel’s The King Shall Rejoice – I was in heaven.

What draws you to conducting choral music?

An obsession with the human voice. At one stage I wanted to be an actor, but I realised that part of my attraction to that profession was the way in which they use their voice in such a precise and emotive way. John Bell was my absolute hero (the gold standard!) and so was Peter Pears when I discovered him. I am still amazed that as human beings we have this incredible talent to use our voices in such extraordinary ways. I hope to always work with singers as they are the bravest and most wonderful people on the planet! 

You have a history with Sydney Chamber Choir… please share with us one of your fonder memories.

I remember my first rehearsal as a young upstart 17 year old who thought he knew it all... and suddenly realised he knew nothing! I was a good sight reader but my early experience with choirs such as the Sydney Chamber Choir and the then Contemporary Singers exposed me to the greatest breadth of choral repertoire – from Bach Motets to Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erde! It was a baptism by fire. I learnt a lot from these ensembles.

How does it feel to be working with the choir again to sail the high seas of Britten’s Saint Nicolas later this month?

Britten was my favourite composer growing up as a young tenor – I found the song cycles suited my voice and I did have a certain Peter Pears quality to my voice, probably sightly manufactured. I have now done Saint Nicolas a number of times both as a soloist and conductor. I now marvel at it’s sheer exuberance and energy given it was written just three years after the end of the second world war - a trying time for both Britain and Britten! The choir itself is full of people I have know for much of my adult life so it really is like a holiday - jolly good fun.

With so many singers expected on stage, can we look forward to any choral-ography?

You will of course have to wait and see!

What are you listening to right now?

Everything - I am working on five different programs at the moment. While I am rehearsing a work I hardly ever listen to a recording as the work needs to be done at the piano with a score or in my head. I do listen to as many other works by the composer by way of immersion, so as I type this it is the Enigma Variations by Elgar as I start rehearsing The Dream of Gerontius in two weeks time.

What are you grateful for right now?

Sunshine, my family and a warm bed.