Leeds Concerts interview with Rakhi Singh

Manchester Collective brings their 2018/19 season to Leeds Town Hall - five concerts in the round, in the building's more unusual spaces. Here, the Collective's Music Director Rhaki Singh talks music, inspiration and what the future holds for the Collective. 

The Manchester Collective is only a few years old and is already making a name for itself on the national stage - tell us more about how this all began, and your ambitions for Manchester Collective.

Manchester Collective emerged quite simply out of discussions about how we could play what we wanted, where we wanted. I had been in a professional string quartet for ten years and was guest leading orchestras and chamber groups. All of this work was wonderful, but there were still many restrictions on the repertoire I was playing and traditional expectations of how I should be expressing myself as a classical musician. I met Adam at a really crucial time - we were both interested in starting up a new organisation and curating and shaping something artistically, so we went for it! 

Pierrot Lunaire is a rather unique work - how would you describe it to a classical music newcomer? 

Er, pretty mental! It’s not quite atonal, but it's probably a sound world that you may not have experienced before. It is theatrical, fantastical, nightmarish and ironic - Schoenberg writes the music so voice constantly morphs between song and speech. To put it in context, at the same time that Schoenberg was composing Pierrot, Kandinsky was challenging the art world with his abstract paintings and Freud was publishing psychoanalytical papers. Ten years earlier had seen the splitting of the atom, and artists, thinkers and scientists were all starting to question the rules. You can definitely hear this in Schoenberg's music. 

Why should we come to see the show, and what should the audience expect from Manchester Collective?

We have a very simple philosophy at Manchester Collective: we play music that we believe in 100 percent. We do absolutely everything in our control to ensure this music has a chance to speak to others as directly and powerfully as possible. When we get it right, I truly believe this leads to powerful human experiences and judging by the feedback from our audiences, they also feel this. A Manchester Collective show is personal, challenging, playful and explorative. We take away the fourth wall by talking with our audience, wearing our own choice of clothing rather than what is traditionally expected and we make spaces feel as comfortable and engaging as possible. 

Who has been the biggest influence so far on your life and music career? 

I am constantly drawing influences from colleagues, writers, musicians, artists. There is a particular teacher that during my time in the Barbirolli Quartet, we travelled regularly to Berlin to study with - Eberhard Feltz. He has a wonderful brain and challenged us immensely and intensely to study our scores. He talked a lot about philosophical and social context to the music we were playing, be it Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms or Britten. He's truly a “complete musician”, and helped me learn how to interpret music deeply on both a musical and intellectual level. 

If you could only play one piece of music for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

I'd be loathe to pick one piece as I'd inevitably get fed up of it! 

What advice would you give to your 18 year old self? 

My advice to my 18 year old self would be to try and trust your instinct as much as possible and embrace failure as part of creative development. My education was focused more on the pursuit of perfection which can be dangerous, often leading to inhibitions and fear of uncertainty. Risk should be exactly that - a chance that it might not work, but when it does - which is more often than not, you have grown both as person and artist and pushed yourself in to new territory. This is fundamental if you are striving to be a creative artist of any kind. 

What’s next on the horizon for you? What are you most excited for? 

Of course there's Pierrot to focus on over the next month but as well as all the Manchester Collective projects, at the end of the year I'll be recording Janacek Quartet No 2 (Intimate letters and Written in Fire)  a piece for string quartet and electronics co-created by myself and electronic musician Vessel. It's a very personal project and my first large scale festival commission. We debuted the piece in Aldeburgh last June and will be touring in Spring/Summer 2019 following its release on record. It's coming to Leeds so keep your eyes peeled! 

Who is Rakhi Singh when she's not playing the violin? 

I find cooking very relaxing, rustling up a mean curry now and again, thanks to my Indian father passing down Punjabi recipes. I also try to get a decent dose of countryside where possible to counteract the noise of the city. Growing up in west Wales and attending Chetham's School of Music in Manchester meant I got the best of both worlds, working hard in the city during school time then hopping on the Heart of Wales train line to head home through the Brecon Beacons.