Duo to dazzle crowds at Christmas concert

The St Nicolas cantata by composer Benjamin Britten is a beautiful piece of music, but a challenging one for singers, says tenor Russ Ixer.

Ixer will be singing the title role at the Illawarra Choral Society's Christmas concert on Sunday.

Britten's work tells the story of the 4th century saint who became the model for Santa Claus, thanks to his habit of secret gift giving.

"Benjamin Britten is not the most orthodox writer," says Ixer.

"He is a genius and his music is beautiful to listen to, but to perform you really have to find within the music the keys that he puts in there to help you perform it.

"For example, I might be pitching an F-sharp in the vocal part, but in the orchestra there is no note near it. So that is really hard to pitch that note as the orchestra is slightly off it.

"But it's a wonderful ear-trainer as well. Performing this work makes you a better musician."

Ixer began his musical career in New Zealand, studying piano from the age of 11. He then switched to singing at 20.

"I'm not the most disciplined person in the world so hours and hours of piano practise I found quite difficult," he says.

"I used to watch my fellow students who were in the singing faculty and they seemed to be having so much fun.

"I knew that I had a voice in there so it drew me, I suppose. I'm more of a spontaneous person than a strategic piano practiser.

"I love piano still, but I was destined to be a better singer than a pianist."

That was 24 years ago and Ixer has been singing ever since. In 2003 he moved to Britain where he performed with opera companies.

Since moving to Australia five years ago he has performed in a number of Illawarra Choral Society productions, including Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio in 2009, Messiah in 2011 and Magical Mozart earlier this year.

"They have been a lot of fun," he says of those performances.

"I like that friendliness - there's a bit of a family atmosphere there, people know each other really well."

He also thinks the Church on the Mall makes a great venue.

"It's got a lovely acoustic, but it's not too bright, so you feel like your voice can fill the place," Ixer says.

"I don't have a big, big tenor voice, I have more of a high, lighter, lyric voice.

"I don't have what other people would call the 'can belto' tenor voice - I don't do the big Puccini arias - so that is a lovely space because it feels like your voice is filling it." 

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