BIGGER READ: Tenor back on home turf after worldwide acclaim
The last time George Chambers – singer, composer, conductor and rising star of the classical music scene – performed in Suffolk he was still at school.
Since then his career has taken him to some of the world’s most celebrated venues, but never to the county where he was born... until now.
The eight years since he left school have been, in his words, a whirlwind.
But he will never forget the the debt he owes his family, friends, and the local teachers who helped his talent to blossom.
Later this month the 27- year-old tenor is back on his home turf for a one-off concert.
Despite being used to singing in top concert halls he has not gone for a high profile location.
Instead he has chosen somewhere he went once with his dad, because even then he was spellbound by its brilliant acoustics.
He and soprano Rebecca Hardwick will be performing at the Unitarian Meeting House in Bury.
“I used to play the saxophone and went there with my dad to see a sax quartet,” he says.
“I remember the sound being so wonderful, and I’ve always wanted to go back and do something there because it’s such a beautiful venue.”
George and Rebecca will perform In the Sky I am Walking, settings of Native American poems by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
George also sees it as a chance to introduce a new audience to the unconventional 20th century German composer.
“It’s beautiful. People sometimes think of Stockhausen as quite scary but this is very accessible. The piece is very visual, very theatrical.”
Also on the programme is a work for two voices he commissioned from young composer Daniel Fardon.
George grew up in Kentford, where his mother Nancy was a hairdresser and his father Alan an electrician.
“Neither of them are musical,” he says, “but they are my greatest supporters even if sometimes they are a bit confused by some of the weirder and whackier stuff I do.
“I went to primary school in Moulton and that’s where I really started to have a love for music.
“But my greatest influence was my gran, Edna Fisher, who taught me to play the piano ... until I became a teenager and wanted to do other things.
“Gran owned the village shop and worked there all her life. She had taught herself the piano, and I think she played Beethoven better than I have ever heard it.
“She lived into her 90s and was still giving piano lessons at £5 a time.
“I heard her play a week before she died in 2009 and it was still stunning.”
George went to St Felix Middle School in Newmarket where he took up the saxophone.
“I had free extended music lessons which I treasured and adored, and joined the Suffolk Youth Wind Band.
“But a big turning point was when I went to the upper school, now Newmarket College, which allowed me to start my exploration and experimentation as a musician.
“It was suggested that my music was getting very serious, so I should do more outside school.
“Music had become more than a hobby, I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
“But I was not fixated on the idea of being a performer. It was more a path of discovery.
“At 16 I started to take singing lessons and got a scholarship for classes at Trinity College. I remember so clearly getting the 6.02am train from Kennett station every Saturday to go to London.
“It was the best thing I had ever done. I’d spend the whole day doing everything from choirs to ensembles, come home shattered at 10pm, then spend Sunday working in a pub.”
He won a university place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, as a music degree student and choral scholar.
“At Oxford singing started to take precedence. I used to write pieces for the choir.
“In my final year the college principal asked me to compose something for the opening of a huge new wing of the college.
“That was a real honour, but one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve ever had to do.”
After university he threw himself into the challenge of earning a living as a musician.
He soon found it is no life for shrinking violets. Behind the fulfilment of bringing joy through music is a tough and relentless quest for work.
“There’s a go-getter culture. You have to work hard for the jobs, and once you get a project you have to prove you were the right person.”
George will happily turn his voice to the well-loved, familiar works. But he especially loves to experiment and push the boundaries.
“The most important thing to me is to take on things that scare me just a little bit,” he says.
His current role in one of the world’s nost prestigious arts competitions falls under that heading.
You would probably not expect to find a musician involved in the Turner Prize.
“Last year I conducted the premiere of a piece for six voices by an artist called Janice Kerbel,” he explains.
“It was a set of songs about the misadventures of a character called Doug. Later on she invited me to dinner and told me it had been nominated for the Turner Prize.”
Entries for the prize have changed vastly over the years, through installations and beyond. But Doug is still a groundbreaking choice.
“There have been sound pieces in the past, but never live,” says George.
“Janice is presenting parts of the work every day for four months live. It’s astounding – one of the biggest projects I’ve ever worked on.
“There are three different teams of singers. I was there all last week to pass it over to a new conductor.”
Now a tense wait follows before the winner of the prize is announced at the beginning of December.
Tickets for the Bury concert on October 31 at 7.30pm are available at www.inthesky.co.uk, or on the door.