Interview with Rebecca Printz

Rebecca Printz is many things: a mezzo-soprano, a student in her fourth year at Oberlin Conservatory and College, a student of Kendra Colton's, an outstanding alumna of the Bach Institute (as well as its first-ever administrative intern), a Boston-area native, and the featured Young Artist for Winsor Music's annual Thanksgiving Concert, to name a few. She will be performing Bach's Cantata BWV 170, "Vergnüte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust," with Peggy Pearson, oboe d'amore, Gabriela Diaz and Shaw Pong Liu, violins, Shira Majoni, viola, Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello, Tony D'Amico, bass, and Peter Sykes, organ.  

Rebecca took some time out of her preparations for the cantata (and her busy school schedule!) to speak with us about the upcoming concert, her path to conservatory, and what she's learned so far. 

How old were you when you started singing?

I’ve been singing for all my life, but I started taking voice lessons when I was fourteen, at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School.


When you were younger, did you sing in any choruses?

I sang in the NEC children’s choir when I was young, and sort of made my way up the chorus hierarchy there. I did some choir in elementary school. I’ve always loved to sing.


When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music professionally, or that conservatory was the right choice for you?

It was when I was at the BU Tanglewood Institute the summer before my senior year of high school. I hadn’t really thought of conservatory as an option, but when I was there, most of the other kids attending that summer were planning on going on to conservatory, and I asked my voice teacher there: “How do you know if you’re good enough?” She said, “Well, I think that you’re good enough and you should go for it.” So when I came home from that summer, I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do. That program was organized as a kind of junior conservatory program to give you a sense of what it would be like, and I absolutely loved it, so I had a very good sense that conservatory was the right route for me. Also, Oberlin has this great double degree program where you can go to both the conservatory and the college, so that’s what I’m doing right now.


What’s your other degree?

My other degree is art history, which has ended up being very complimentary to my voice performance major at the conservatory. It gives you a bigger sense of what else was going on in the art world at any other given time.


Do you have a particular area of focus in art history?

I haven’t really so far. I’ve tried to take classes in every area. Because I’ve been planning to continue in music, I haven’t had to pick an area to focus on in art history so far.


Did you know Kendra Colton, your current voice teacher, before you went to Oberlin?

No, I didn’t know her, but my high school voice teacher knew of her and recommended that I take a lesson. Because she’s based in Boston, where I grew up, it was really easy for me to go and take a lesson with her, which I really enjoyed. Not a tough decision for me in terms of picking a teacher. It’s very convenient when I go home that she’s already so close to me.


You were the first intern at the Bach Institute, which is jointly run by Emmanuel Music, Winsor Music, and Oberlin Conservatory. Was that your first time working with Emmanuel Music?

Yeah, it was. It was great to be that close to the administrative side of a music organization; it wasn’t a side I knew anything about, or had been forced to think about before, so it was a really great experience.


What was it like to come back the following year as a student performer, to get both sides of that coin?

I definitely came back with an appreciation for things like how a program doesn’t appear from thin air, that someone puts time and work into creating those things. I was aware of this whole support system that I really hadn’t thought of before. It made me appreciate how much work it takes to put on a performance.

Rebecca Printz and members of the 2013 Bach Institute 

Rebecca Printz and members of the 2013 Bach Institute 

Had you done much Bach before you became involved with the institute?

No, I hadn’t, I’d done a good bit of Handel, in terms of early music, but not much Bach. It was very different from anything I’d done before or since. It’s really informed everything since I’ve done since taking part in that program, in terms of extreme attention to detail, and intention in every single note and phrase that I sing. It was so influential and such a great experience.

Have you been concentrating in a particular area of vocal music at conservatory?

It’s been a pretty broad survey, I haven’t gotten much into contemporary music, but I’ve done everything from Bach to post-romantic Mahler more recently. I’ve covered most of the bases so far.

What are you looking towards after graduation?

Because I’m double degree, I actually have one more year after this year, so I’ll have next year to finish up my college degree. After that, I’ll be applying to music graduate school to continue studying voice. Hopefully I’ll be in a two year vocal graduate program after I graduate from Oberlin.

What has your experience been like preparing the cantata (BWV 170)?

Without my time at the Bach Institute, this would be so, so daunting, and without my teacher, who is very much an expert in this type of music, I wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable with this music as I do now. It’s such a beautiful piece, but probably the most challenging part in preparing it has been the recitatives, just because stylistically, they’re so different. But again, my teacher has been amazing in helping me figure out just how to sing those.

Have you played with Peggy at all since the Bach Institute?

No, unfortunately! I’m not home that much during the year. I’m really excited to be performing with her again.

When did you hear about the CD release?

Peggy emailed me a couple weeks ago and sent me a file of the first movement, which is gorgeous and kind of daunting… thinking about them going home and listening to Lorraine sing what they just heard me sing. She’s one of my favorites, so I’m just thrilled that the recording will be out there so we can all listen to the whole thing.

In terms of the content of the cantata, is there anything that speaks to you musically or textually? What’s been grabbing you as you’ve been working on it?

The melodies are absolutely beautiful, and that’s personally what I connect to, and I also just love singing in German. I immediately felt very connected to this piece, I think because how unusual the melodies can be. I’ve had a great time preparing it.