Vocal Arts D.C. presents
Ben Bliss (tenor) and Lachlan Glen (pianist)
Tuesday, Nov. 15
Theatre of the Arts
University of the District of Columbia
Van Ness Campus
4200 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Classical pianist Lachlan Glen calls himself a “performing entrepreneur with a passion for challenging the classical music industry’s status quo.”
The 27-year-old Sydney, Australia native, who came to New Jersey in 2008 to study at Rutgers University and then earned a master’s degree at Juilliard, will be in Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 15 for the fourth annual Gerald Perman Fund for Emerging Artists recital with tenor Ben Bliss. It’s also the first concert of Vocal Arts D.C.’s 26th season.
Out, proud and eager to balance traditional recitals with flashier, more show biz-type endeavors, he spoke with the Blade at length by phone from Atlanta (he lives in New York) where he was in rehearsal with Bliss. His comments have been edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: You have no trace of an Australian accent. Why?
LACHLAN GLEN: I chose to let it go when I moved to New York. People usually had no idea what I was saying and … would always bring up stuff like shrimp on the barbie or ask me if I rode a kangaroo to school and all these, you know, kind of cute questions that get annoying when you’re asked them about 600 times. … I knew I’d succeeded when my diction teacher at Juillard had no idea I wasn’t American.
BLADE: How did you meet Ben Bliss?
GLEN: We met at the Metropolitan Opera — we met at the Met, that’s cute. … We kind of entered on the same wavelength of, “Let’s just do this music how we feel it.” So much thought at conservatory is put into thinking about or imagining how someone would have played certain notes 300 years ago and I really like to just be spontaneous and live my life on my terms. Ben and I decided to just have fun doing it and not get caught up with people who try to make it more serious than we believed it was. … I feel super lucky that we met and that he wants me to come and play with him on these shows. It’s a lot of fun.
BLADE: Did this conviction present problems for you at Juilliard?
GLEN: I had a really great experience there. I had a fantastic team of people and my teacher, Brian Zeger, who runs the vocal arts department there, he was one of my most valued mentors. … But I always loved things that sparkle, I love glitz and glamor and even when I was younger, I would perform in these crazy shirts. That kind of evolved into wearing a ton of rings. That kind of thing is just never done on the classical performance stage. … I have this Alexander McQueen bag that I take everywhere that’s gold and sparkly. I wake up in the morning and see it across the room on the floor and it gives me energy to get out of bed.
BLADE: So you’re basically a big unabashed flamer?
GLEN: (laughs) Yeah, I guess so. I just love things that make me happy and I’m not ashamed to embrace those things.
BLADE: So do you mind being more in the background when you’re accompanying Ben?
GLEN: No. I’m accompanying him so I’m helping him tell his story so I really tone down my own personality. I can’t overpower the singer when I’m in that capacity. So I leave the sparkly stuff at home and maybe just wear some rings. I’m working on a one-man show that’s more entertaining in kind of a throwback way, so there I can be as flashy as I want to be.
BLADE: You have all these different projects going on with conducting and offering vocal coaching in addition to what you just said. When and why did you branch out from wanting to be a more straight-up recitalist?
GLEN: I was training as a solo pianist and one day I just almost had a breakdown because I’d been spending like 10 hours a day practicing — and I’m not exaggerating even slightly — for years. I’d take little breaks, but I was essentially practicing all day every day for years and years. I finally said, “You know, I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” I’m a really social person and I need to spend time with people. Not just by myself in a room all day every day.
BLADE: Don’t your rings get in the way when you play?
GLEN: It depends how big they are. I try to find ones that don’t have a lot of weight in any one area. … It’s usually not much of an issue. I’ve definitely played concerts where I’ve had a ring on every finger.
BLADE: How many do you have?
GLEN: Oh, a huge bag. I definitely have more rings than anything else. I have this beautiful everyday topaz ring that my boyfriend gave me for my birthday this year which is from 1908. And many others.
BLADE: Tell me about him. Is it serious?
GLEN: His name is Sam. We’ve only been together since earlier this year though we met a little over three years ago at the Fire Island Opera Festival. But yes, it’s very serious. He’s 11 years older and is British. He’s a finance director at Christie’s in the impressionist and modern art department.
BLADE: How long have you been out?
GLEN: I came out to friends at 19, family at 20. It was a process. I would say I’m a Christian, but my understanding of Christianity is different from my parents. But (my boyfriend is) coming to Australia with me in December and my parents and sisters are very excited to meet him.
BLADE: Were you into classical music growing up or did you have a pop side too?
GLEN: More classical as a kid then in college came more of the pop stuff. I know it sounds strange, but I rarely listen to classical music now. … I have a huge obsession with Pink Floyd and I love Beyonce and Snarky Puppy and some really great jazz. I love Chick Corea.
BLADE: Is classical too close to work stuff to be enjoyable for pleasure listening?
GLEN: That kind of might be it. I have always liked to keep my professional life and home lives very separate, but it was never a conscious thing.
BLADE: Tell us more about your one-man show.
GLEN: I’ve always had a huge love for pianist entertainers and there are so few of them. Several great ones from the past, but the only one who’s even kind of still prominent in that vein is Elton John, but he’s more of a singer. … Liberace is first and foremost. People love to hate on him because he kind of sold this quote-unquote sacred music to a mainstream audience … but I love how he feels the music. He’ll take a Chopin piece and just spontaneously add an octave or something. He really knew how to read his audience. … I also loved Victor Borge and I think that kind of comedy is incredible. … So this will be me as an entertainer just talking and joking with the audience,. Really just me being fully myself without worrying about overshadowing anyone else on stage. Just the most over-the-top thing you could possible imagine playing some of the most beautiful piano music that’s ever been written along with some older pop songs and even jazz standards.
BLADE: Do you hope to tour it in the U.S.?
GLEN: I don’t really have the energy or time to shop it, sell it and book it myself so for this first performance in Australia, we’re going to video it and then hopefully shop it to some booking agents. … It takes quite awhile to develop a whole act like this so at first it won’t be the full finished product but it will be a start. … I cannot wait to get it going and see how it develops.
BLADE: There’s so much hand wringing in classical music as millennials just aren’t investing in our classical institutions the way Boomers and even Gen Xers have. Will they eventually or are some of these outfits just dying a long slow death in your opinion? What do you see happening in the big picture here?
GLEN: Both of those things are happening and the biggest part of the problem is that the classical music industry is using these business models that are in large part really, really old and not something that has come out of American culture. We’ve picked up these models from Europe and tried to transplant them and it doesn’t have the same value here. You can’t just pick up a cactus and try to plant it in Alaska. You need some kind of genetic modification or something if it’s going to thrive. A lot of the big opera companies are just large companies with lots of unions and lots of moving parts. They’re very heavy — opera by its very nature is big. So in an era where we have to adapt and be light on our feet, it’s just impossible for them to change course. … A lot of senior administration people tend to think that young people are too obsessed with their electronic devices to sit and watch an opera when they can just watch one aria on YouTube. … But what they’ve forgotten is that we are humans and we want to be together and we want to communicate and socialize and people will always be going out seeking bonds with other like-minded people. It’s not really the existential issue a lot of people think it is. … There are something like 30 small opera companies in New York alone right now and they’re selling out and people are obsessed with them. It’s just the spotlight shifting and companies that can function financially and artistically are having huge successes.