18 Jul 2018

Lexus Song Quest: Pianist hits the right notes

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 18 July 2018

For the young New Zealand opera singers to excel at the Lexus Song Quest it’s instrumental to have a pianist there to support them.

Terence Dennis is the Lexus pianist, accompanying the 10 semi-finalists performing on Saturday and Sunday during the semi-final round.

Terence Dennis

Terence Dennis Photo: University of Otago

Terence Dennis has been the pianist for the Song Quest since 1991. He says no two competitions are the same.

“They are all different. Each has a new complexion. They judges are different, they are looking for different things,” he says. “But the base is still the voice of quality and the artist of quality that will be able to represent this country well abroad.”

When Dennis works with performers at this level, he can tell early on whether they will go on to have great careers. “The quality of sound and the musical instinct you can assess that in two bars.

“An international voice will always shine. The amazing thing about the … Song Quest is how many young voices from this country have done well.”

Pianist Terence Dennis and cellist Heleen du Plessis

Pianist Terence Dennis and cellist Heleen du Plessis Photo: Supplied

Professor Dennis is a highly skilled and experienced pianist, having accompanied Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in nearly 50 recitals over the years.

“Our job [as accompanists] is to provide the finest mount for the beautiful jewel,” he says.

He applies the same ethos to working with the young singers in the Song Quest. “I generally will try to assist them to sing as well as possible,” he says. “The piano part is a blueprint and you need to fill it out.”

10 singers in the  2018 Lexus Song Quest semi-finals

Photo: Supplied

“Every singer has a different personality and the interesting thing about accompanying is you do get repertoire you repeat many times, sometimes in different keys, but every performance is different. You need to colour that on the piano.”

Like the singers, accompanists need to know the music and languages inside-out. “The music colours the text… the text colours the music,” he says. “You have to be like a second skin to the singer, so you as the piano player are really their thoughts.”

The semi-finals of Lexus Song Quest is on this Saturday and Sunday at St Andrews on the Terrace and will be broadcast on RNZ Concert.