Behind the Curtain

Get to know our soloists for our all-Bach program, Magnificat!

Zach Finkelstein, Tenor

Soloist portrait

Q: Do you have a pre-concert ritual?

A: On the day of a show, I try and take it pretty easy: wake up, work-out to get the blood flowing, eat a huge breakfast. I’ll do a slow warm-up in the morning and then relax in the afternoon, maybe meet a friend or family for coffee if I am in a familiar city. If not, I’ll just walk around and find a nice coffee shop to read my Kindle. A few hours before the show I’ll start warming-up again, do some breathing and meditation right before I go on and then at that point, whatever happens, happens!

Q: Who is your favorite contemporary musician or composer?

A: There is such a wealth of contemporary music out there and I’ve only been exposed to a tiny fraction of the great new music. Composers I worked alongside at Tanglewood, young professors with new ideas like Jesse Jones, John Liberatore and Adam Roberts, are writing really terrific stuff. Out of the new canon of established composers, I like bits and pieces. John Adams’ ‘Batter my Heart’ just blows my mind. Oliver Knussen’s operas for children are incredibly charming. And I recently sang a concert of Steve Reich’s music at Trinity Wall Street that I really enjoyed.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: Currently reading ‘Cooked’ by Michael Pollan and ‘Jailbird’ by Kurt Vonnegut.

Q: What piece of music or role (that you have not sung) would you most like to perform?

A: I would love to perform Evangelist in one of the Bach Passions.

“Before I became a singer, I managed a team that ran the daily election polling for a major political party in Canada.”

Q: What is something about you that might surprise others?

A: Before I became a singer, I managed a team that ran the daily election polling for a major political party in Canada.

Q: Do you ever get nervous performing in front of an audience?

A: Every single time! Preparation and breathing help. Even if you think you are over-prepared, your brain drops about 50 IQ points when you get on stage. After a few seconds on stage though, everything usually clicks into gear and your body relaxes and then you remember how to sing. For a staged role, I try and have my first action—usually in the form of a short sentence—prepared back-stage, so when I step in front of an audience I am in character ready to go.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

A: Hopefully, still singing Bach! I really enjoy the business end of music as well so I could see myself transitioning to arts management. It certainly would be interesting to be on the other side of the audition table!

Q: Do you speak any other languages? Which ones?

A: I spent five years in Montreal so I speak some French and I am in the long process of learning German and Italian. Sometimes it feels like the arcade game Whack-a-Mole though: I’ll prepare a French concert in October, a German oratorio in November, English in December, Italian in the Spring and then by the time I get back to French I forget everything:).

Q: What is the most challenging piece of music or role you’ve performed? Why?

A: Probably the Holy Sonnets of John Donne by Benjamin Britten. He asks for such a wide, very specific range of musical colors and dynamics and the text is both incredibly dense and intensely spiritual. And of course as a North American it is always a challenge to sound authentic in the Queen’s English.

Q: What is the quality you most admire in yourself? In others?

A: Empathy and a sense of humor. All the people close to me in my life share those two qualities.

Q: What goes with you on every trip?

A: My Kindle! Reading keeps me sane on the road! I probably burn through two or three books a week when I am traveling.

Q: What other types of music do you like to sing?

A: I am a sucker for old-school R&B/soul. I love singing Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. And of course MJ.

Q: Where is home?

A: Wherever my wife Devora is right now.

Q: What is your favorite word?

A: “Contract”:).

Q: What is your favorite deadly sin?

A: Definitely gluttony. I am a huge foodie and the only way I control it is I love to cook and can portion myself.

Q: What have you been listening to lately on your ipod?

A: Peter Gabriel! Love his voice and such a beautiful writer.

Q: What is your idea of happiness, or the perfect day?

A: The perfect day: big breakfast, puttering around the house with my wife, great coffee, reading, nap, a little singing, sushi and a movie, sleep.

Q: What is your idea of misery?

A: Schmoozing at a political fundraiser as an intern and no-one wants to talk to you.

Q: If not yourself, who would you be?

A: Chris Hatfield, Canada’s (and Twitter’s) favorite astronaut.

Q: Who is your favorite composer?

A: Bach. He wrote this amazingly complex music that at the same time is hauntingly beautiful.

Q: What is your favorite fairy tale, myth or legend?

A: When I was a very young child, my mom used to read me all kinds of myths before I went to bed. Greek and Roman were probably my favorite and I also loved the Norse myths. We used to have a picture book of the story of the Ring that she would read to me over and over again.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

A: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Q: What is your present state of mind?

A: Relaxed and focused.

Q: Faults for which you have the most tolerance? The least?

A: Most tolerant: Faulty logic.

Least tolerant: Constant lateness, showing up to rehearsal without your music learned.

Q: What is your motto/favorite quotation, or words to live by?

A: “Let’s go exploring!”—the last line of Calvin and Hobbes

Q: What piece of music could be the soundtrack to your life?

A: Something minimalist with a peppy melody:).

Q: What three recordings would you take with you on a desert island?

A: Yo-Yo Ma—‘J.S. Bach: The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites’
Radiohead—‘Kid A’
Otis Redding—‘The Very Best of Otis Redding’

Q: What are your thoughts about October’s performance with Music of the Baroque?

A: The Magnificat is one of my favorite Bach works with some of his most beautiful and challenging music. There are an incredible range of emotions and colors in a very short period of time—just 25 minutes. In particular, ‘Deposuit’ has fiery lightning-fast coloratura that is probably the hardest Bach ever wrote for tenor. Also, it’s incredibly dramatic and sits low in the voice. The challenge with ‘Deposuit’ is to keep the dramatic color of the piece without punching out the low notes, while maintaining the beautiful legato line and enormous breath control you need in Bach. At approximately two minutes running time, you have to nail every note—there are no second chances. Following it is ‘Et Misericordia’, a slow, powerful alto-tenor duet that requires changing gears quickly into a whole new range of color.

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