Benjamin Appl: ‘You need a certain stability of mental condition to be a performer”
PUBLISHED: 08:00 15 October 2016 | UPDATED: 09:49 17 October 2016
As a boy Benjamin Appl studied under a Pope’s brother, now he sings with Crouch End chorus
A couple of years ago I was visiting the accompanist Graham Johnson at his home in West Hampstead and, as I arrived, a tall, young man with Hollywood-potential looks was on his way out. “This”, said Johnson in his quietly authoritative way, “is Benjamin Appl. A future star”.
He wasn’t wrong. Appl – there is no ‘e’: it’s German – went on to be taken up by the BBC as one of its Young Generation Artists. Within the past few months he’s been signed to IMG, given a record deal by Sony, and named Young Artist of the Year at the Gramophone Awards. And quick off the mark, the Crouch End Festival Chorus have booked him as the baritone soloist for their Brahms Requiem at the Barbican next month.
It’s a piece he knows well, having joined the world of German choral singing from an early age, with the famous Regensburger Domspatzen choir in Bavaria.
“I was brought up in Regensburg”, he tells me, “and joined the Domspatzen at age 10; and of course it had a lasting influence. Especially the choir director who, when I was there, was Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict, who was inspirational. An important person in my life”.
Equally important, though, was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, arguably the greatest of all German Lieder singers, who entered Appl’s life in 2008.
“After the Domspatzen I went off to study business and worked in a bank for two years. But then I came back to singing. And I met Fischer-Dieskau who offered me intensive teaching that continued until he died in 2012.”
Appl was in fact Fischer-Dieskau’s final pupil and recalls that “towards the end he was weak and tired, but he taught me so much – about preparation as well as the actual process of singing. He was always well-prepared, steeped in knowledge of the background to the text, the intentions of the poet”.
With such exalted contacts, Appl might have stayed in Germany and flourished there. But he moved to London for further studies at the Guildhall School. And now, as he says, “things are moving fast, which can be overwhelming. But I started later than many singers because I took that time out, working in the bank. And that was good for me. It helps to see things from the outside sometimes.
“Young singers often go straight to music college, then straight onto careers. They know nothing different. But you need a certain stability of mental condition to be a performer. You need to find your own personality and be comfortable in it, and that takes time”.
As for the Brahms Requiem, Appl says he feels entirely comfortable singing it. “It sits well in my voice, and it’s a piece I’ve always loved. And of course, it’s in German not Latin. So I have a certain advantage there”.
Crouch End Festival Chorus sing the Brahms Requiem, with Benjamin Appl, soloist. 21st October, 7.30pm. Tickets: barbican.org.uk