This past Sunday, April 3rd, the 64th Grammy Awards took place. One of the real notable winners in the classical category was the recording that was done with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel of Mahler’s Symphony no 8. This recording won for best choral performance. Mahler’s 8th symphony is very often called the Symphony of a thousand, because when it was premiered, with the combination of orchestra, huge chorus and soloists there were 1000 performers on stage.
One of the soloists on this Grammy winning recording was the amazing New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neil. O’Neil has had a much storied career. He has performed with the likes of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Placido Domingo, Antonio Pappano, Sir Colin Davis, and Daniel Barenboim, to name just a few. O'Neil has also been appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of merit.
For O’Neil the news of the Grammy win came in the middle of the night. He was in Munich performing, and got a call from his wife saying that his recording had won a Grammy. “At about 1:30 in the morning…the phone went. It was my wife from New Zealand calling up and saying ‘Hey you should get up because the recording has just won the Grammy.”
Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is divided up in to two movements. The first section is a setting of the Latin text “Veni Creator Spiritus,” and the second movement is a setting of the final section of Goethe’s Faust. All performed with the gargantuan forces that Mahler asks for. For O’Neil he needed to be careful while performing the tenor part. “You have to be very careful. You can’t just go out there and blat it out in the first movement, because you have some serious singing to do in the second movement. You have to be very, very detailed from a technical point of view to have your voice be in good shape for the whole piece.”
One of the highlights for O’Neil was to be able to work with the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. “I’m such of fan of his, and on stage he is just electric. I can say the whole cast of this recording including Dudamel is a nuclear reactor of energy…. and it goes into you.”
The Grammy for this recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.8 is well deserved, and for the always humble Simon O’Neil a big thrill! “It was mind blowing that it actually won. I was so proud that it got a nomination… I was just so thrilled to be part of such a massive, massive work that had been looked on by the academy…and nominated and eventually won for the big award.”