Penn Live Arts Blog

5 Questions with Nora Fischer

Posted October 31, 2022

ListenHear Music New Music Philadelphia Premieres

Silkroad Ensemble member Nora Fischer is renowned for her adventurous approach to live performance and her creative and genre-defying collaborations. On November 6, Fischer joins several other artists from Silkroad Ensemble for the Philadelphia premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's gripping song cycle, Falling Out of Time. Get to know more about this Amsterdam-based vocalist in just 5 questions.

1) What first got you into music?
I started playing the piano at an early age, but I never fell in love with it, and I wasn't particularly focused on music in general. But when I was 15 years old, I joined a youth choir and my dream of pursuing a career in music was born. I clearly loved to sing, but my enthusiasm might have had even more to do with the wonderful feeling of sharing that experience with like-minded people; with making music together. I remember we would keep singing the pieces during the lunch breaks of the (long!) rehearsal days because we loved making music together so much that we simply couldn't stop doing it. Coming from a pretty lonely and confusing period as a teenager, this group felt like a warm bath, and I decided that this world would be my home.

2) Who are your biggest influences?
As a singer, I've let myself be influenced by vocalists who have the courage to show themselves and their voices fully, including the raw and unpolished parts of it, rather than those who have shaped their voice like a perfect diamond. I have always been interested in freedom of music more than the perfection of sound and have been drawn to vocalists such as Björk or Thom Yorke (the lead singer of Radiohead), whose voices hit me by their realness rather than their perfection. Both of them are not afraid to sound rough, distorted or harsh: if the feeling they want to convey asks for that sound, they'll do it. This is generally not welcomed in the classical world, but for me, these types of vocalists have been an important inspiration in my personal search for vocal freedom.

3) What themes do you pursue in your work?
I don't necessarily pursue certain themes, but I think what drives me is my strong belief that audiences can generally take more than they are given credit for, as long as it’s presented to them in an exciting and accessible way. I love to challenge my audience by offering something they might not have expected, or they might have thought was not for them, and presenting it in such a way that speaks to them anyway. This is also one of (many!) reasons I have such deep respect for Osvaldo’s work. He is a master in taking inspiration from a variety of musical realms (and his knowledge is a profound one) and then reimagining it in such a thoughtful way so that it hits the exact right nerve in his own work. Just like him, I don't believe in musical hierarchy, in which some styles are 'better' or 'more interesting' than others. To me, all music speaks to a certain part of us, and all of it is equally fascinating. I love to surprise an audience by bringing pop music to classical venues, classical sounds to pop festivals, theater influences to jazz venues... You name it. And within that, I will always search for that which connects and is universal. As long as a few people walk out of the room feeling like their world is even the tiniest bit more open than it was before, I can sleep happily!

4) What role does the musician have in today’s world?
Somebody once told me after a performance that I was able to go to the place in myself that she had a hard time accessing, and by doing that, I helped her open that door as well. I had never looked at it this way, but her words were an eye-opener for me, and a strongly motivating idea. Music is one of the most abstract forms of art since the absence of words or meaning causes it to bypass our rationality and logic thinking brain. It enables us to go directly to our emotions, without knowing why or how that happened, or what it is 'about'. In my opinion, a direct and non-judgmental willingness to connect with our emotions – whether they are pleasant or unpleasant – is something we strongly lack in today's (especially Western) world. If musicians can help open this door for anyone, even just for an instant, I feel that is an important role we can fill. Falling Out of Time deals with this very specifically, since it revolves around the process of mourning: a process filled with intense emotions that our culture doesn’t generally learn how to deal with well. As all of the (incredible!) musicians on stage are opening their own doors to these emotions, this performance is also an invitation for the audience to take the leap and step inside with us – without that agonizing feeling of having to do it all alone.

5) What do you do to clear your head when you need to?
I have a daily meditation practice, and I regularly attend intense meditation retreats. They help me to clear my mind, but also to keep my focus and attention on the right motives to do this work. It can be hard not to get sucked into the many distracting and sometimes emotionally challenging aspects of living a musicians' life in the spotlights (as well as of regular daily life for that matter!), and meditation helps me pull myself back to what I feel I need to do in order to be my best self – and to give my best self to the stage. Among many things, I mostly practice the willingness to open up to my own emotional world fully, so I can bring this openness into the music I perform.

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