Music News & Reviews

Tenor Ronan Tynan settles in as guest artist at UK

Ronan Tynan, left, worked with Jermaine Brown Jr. during a class on Tuesday. Tynan says the students' training makes the work easy.
Ronan Tynan, left, worked with Jermaine Brown Jr. during a class on Tuesday. Tynan says the students' training makes the work easy. Lexington Herald-Leader

Jermaine Brown Jr. finishes his rendition of Felix Mendelssohn's Then Shall the Righteous Shine Forth at the University of Kentucky's Schmidt Vocal Arts Center. The teacher jumps up, clapping.

"That was wonderful — you get the job," he exclaims. "How old are you?"

When Brown answers 19, the teacher replies "Oh, my God. You have a stunning career ahead of you."

It's powerful praise considering the teacher is Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, famous for appearances on PBS and at Yankee Stadium, concert halls around the world and occasions such as President Ronald Reagan's funeral.

For two weeks this fall and each fall and spring for the next three years, Tynan will be at UK working with students as the Alltech Visiting Artist in Residence.

The engagement was the result of a quick Celtic bond formed between Tynan and Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons.

"Dr. Lyons has been an amazing support to me," says Tynan, who met Lyons when he performed in Lexington in the fall of 2009 as part of the Alltech-sponsored Fortnight Festival.

Tynan returned last fall during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, where he performed at the opening ceremony, at a concert featuring the Chieftains and other events during the two weeks of the Games. While here, the tenor also got to know UK's opera program.

"We did a master class, and we had a ball," Tynan says during an interview in UK Opera Theatre Director Everett McCorvey's office with his longtime pianist, William Lewis. "The quality and the standard of the singing was extraordinary. We have world-class singers, wonderful tuition, and what makes it even more special is you have a wonderful group of teachers who work in unison for the betterment of the students."

When he got the offer to be a guest artist, Tynan says, he told Lewis, "Drop everything, we're going to Kentucky."

Lewis, Tynan says, is "a valuable asset to the students" because of his extensive knowledge of opera and the voice. And indeed, in the Tuesday afternoon master class, he is as active as Tynan in dispensing advice and commentary.

While here, the duo's role is to actively engage with students in individual coaching sessions and master classes and act as an all-around resource. They were at a Wednesday night rehearsal of UK Opera's current production, Roméo et Juliette, seated with McCorvey in the back of Lexington Opera House.

Tynan's only scheduled public performances for this trip are a black-tie gala for the National Horse Show on Nov. 1, when McCorvey and UK Opera students also are slated to perform; and at the horse show's opening ceremony on Nov. 4.

Tynan and Lewis allow that on future visits, the general public might have more of a chance to see them in performance.

"We've got some things we're cooking up," Tynan says and Lewis concurs.

But for now, they are enjoying teaching and the slower pace of Lexington from Boston, where Tynan is based.

"You can see it in the driving," Tynan says. "And it's not just in the pace, it's in the politeness, which you do not see in New York or Boston."

Teaching is not heavy lifting, Tynan and Lewis say, because the students already are really well-trained.

"We will tell them something, and they'll say, 'Oh, yes. My teacher told me that,' " Lewis says. "So this is to reinforce what they may already be getting here."

And the opinion of a world-famous tenor can be a powerful reinforcement.

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