Egyptian soprano Fatma Said is one of the most recently appointed BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists. We spoke to her before her first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 about her musical life so far, and her plans for the coming months…
How did you first come to music?
I can’t recall my first encounter with music, because it simply was always a part of my life, despite the fact that my own parents weren’t musicians. I’ve always loved singing and listening to music, and I used to share the joy of doing this a lot with my younger siblings.
Did you always know that you wanted to sing rather than play another instrument?
At one point my dream was to become a professional pianist. I’ve always been infatuated by musicians who know how to play this instrument. But at the same time, I saw that I was definitely much better as an opera singer than playing the piano and decided to keep my piano playing as a hobby.
Did you go to a specialist music school?
No, I went to a normal, German school in Cairo, actually. It was only when I graduated from high school that I started to study Opera Singing on a professional level at the Hanns Eisler Music School in Berlin, where I also received my BA in Music.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
When I started studying classical music and opera in Germany and had the possibility to know and understand how inspiring and life-changing this art form can be.
I realised that music is simply everything: it’s history, it’s poetry, it’s languages, it’s maths, it’s therapy, it’s medicine, it’s politics, it’s philosophy… it even has some physics in it if you look at it from a certain angles.
Did all the time practising set you apart from other people you were growing up with?
Well, singing practice is not as time-consuming as instruments practice. It’s quite normal for a pianist or a violinist to practice over four hours a day. In singing, that’s too much. I never felt that practicing bothered me in general. What actually mainly set me apart from other people I was growing up with was leaving home at a very early stage of my life. I was away from my family too early and that wasn’t easy, I must say until this very day.
How have your musical tastes changed?
I don’t think that my musical tastes have changed as much as they’ve developed and have become richer and more diverse. I meet friends who aren’t so familiar with classical music and they make me listen for example to classic rock or introduce me to the world of Jazz and I think that’s great. It’s very important for a musician to never stick to one taste, in my own opinion.
Living in Italy for three years made me develop a very strong taste for Italian classic songs, and living in my country makes me also develop a strong taste for my own oriental Egyptian music.
How did you choose the pieces for your first NGA recording session?
I chose them because they are pieces very close to my heart. I feel I have a very strong connection with Schumann in general and his music speaks to my heart directly. His Op. 104 which sets the poetry of Elisabeth Kuhlmann is rarely sung today, but I think the cycle is really extraordinary.
Apart from German Lieder, I love French melodies. There’s something amazing about singing in French. Its pronunciation is so elegant and I always feel that usually the poetry matches and fits perfectly to the musical phrase composed to it. Duparc burnt many of his compositions because he didn’t like them, but I find the songs that are left very beautiful. It’s sad he didn’t leave us more of his compositions.
Kurt Weill is probably one of my absolute favourite composers. His music has this great mixture of classical and jazz. I simply adore singing any song by Weill!
Finally, having something Egyptian in my repertoire is kind of important to me because it also represents a very big part of who I also am. I enjoy very much singing in my language and the oriental phrasing feels extremely natural to me.
How did you find the experience of making the recording and listening back?
It was definitely a new experience that I haven’t gone through before. It was a little bit strange at the beginning because I almost didn’t like anything of what I heard after we recorded. Nothing comes out perfect! However, I learnt a lot and started to see perfection in the imperfection. One song can be sung in a million different ways and the difficult part is accepting that this time we’re choosing only one version.
Doing this kind of song repertoire is very difficult because it doesn’t depend only on the singer. Without the support, the musicality and flow of the pianist that should completely be in harmony with the voice, doing this repertoire would never be possible. Dearbhla Collins is a great pianist and it was so wonderful making music with her. It was so much fun exchanging our ideas together and trying out always different ways to express the music and various interpretations.
What do you want to explore in the future, both on the NGA scheme and elsewhere?
I would like to get much more used to this recording experience. I think I already learned from the first experience a lot so that the next time I have a feeling I can get other things even better.
This kind of work has so much detail and I would simply like to learn how to keep on polishing my details more and more in order to be able to make them shine to the listener.