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Ludwig Van
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Interview: Newcomer Toronto tenor Zach Finkelstein lands his first Messiah season

By John Terauds on December 18, 2012

Toronto-based tenor Zach Finkelstein sings Messiah at Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York City on Dec. 9.
Toronto-based tenor Zach Finkelstein sings Messiah at Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York City on Dec. 9.

Toronto has long produced bumper crops of fine baritones, but great tenors are more like rare, delicate cereus blooms. One just coming into view is Zach Finkelstein, who gets his first Toronto Messiah moment with the Ontario Philharmonic.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

He is one of the soloists in the orchestra’s single performance of Handel’s immortal oratorio with the Amadeus Choir at Christ Church, Deer Park, on Friday night.

Finkelstein has lived in Toronto for a while but we don’t yet know who he is. That’s because, so far, he was a backroom public opinion research analyst, not a mainstage singer.

The 28-year-old McGill University political science graduate dabbled in a cappella singing while in school and loves musical theatre, but it didn’t occur to him that he might want to actually sing for a living until he had spent a couple of years at a big firm on Bay St.

“I was in charge of a major project for a big political client,” Finkelstein recalls. “They won an election and we had a lot to do with it. On election night, everyone was whooping and hollering but I was like, okay, now what?”

The tenor says the sweet feeling of professional success that night was no match for a good performance high.

Shortly afterward, a musician friend from McGill student days came looking for a backup singer on a pop album he was making.

“I hadn’t sung in four years. It was like the skies opened,” says a smiling Finkelstein.

Even with hopes of future performance highs dancing in his head, this married former political analyst kept a level head.

“I made a plan,” he explains. That roadmap started with saving money intensely for more than a year, enrolling in the artist diploma programme in vocal performance at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School — he graduated in 2011 — and signing up for every big-name master class, workshop and summer festival he can get his hands on.

This has included spending the last two summers as a vocal fellow at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony’s summer home in the Berskhire hills of western Massachusetts.

Finkelstein also gets regular private coaching from University of Toronto-based soprano Lorna MacDonald.

The singer sounds like a young entrepreneur when I ask if his childhood piano lessons were enough to help him accompany himself when learning new music. (Finkelstein also plays saxophone, thanks to summer band camp.)

“We have to reduce our startup costs,” says the tenor in regard to not needing to hire a pianist for rehearsals. “We have to be conscious about where we put out investments.

“I have my budget and I stick to it,” declares Finkelstein. ” I have X amount for auditions and X amount for private study.”

And the investments are starting to generate returns.

Finkelstein’s work with Mark Morris Dance Group at Tanglewood in 2011 landed him an American tour in 2014-15 as Damon in a Morris-conceived production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. “This is my fourth project with them,” beams Finkelstein. The conductor is going to be Nicholas McGegan, the man leading the Toronto Symphony’s Messiah this week.

New York City’s Julian Wachner, who has many connections with Canada, is also an early advocate, hiring Finkelstein to sing in two performances of Messiah this month — at Trinity Church, Wall St and Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center.

Finkelstein has many more concert dates coming up in the new year, including a March performance with Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings, led by Torontonian Kevin Mallon.

The lyric tenor is interested in opera and has an affinity for new music, but concert work is coming first, right now.

“There are many ways to do this,” Finkelstein explains. “I want to build my foundation with oratorio, nice and slow.”

His dream gig? Right now, it would be singing the Evangelist in the Bach Passions.

Finkelstein smiles. “If I could sing Handel and Bach for the rest of my life, I’d be as happy as a clam.”

+++

For all the details on Friday’s Ontario Philharmonic Messiah, click here.

Here is the Dec. 9 Trinity Church performance of Messiah by the Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra led by Julian Wachner. If you want to hear Finkelstein alone, go to minute 100:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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