Sally Matthews and Toby Spence


As Scotland’s various concert promoters revive themselves in the wake of the festive season, two organisations - totally coincidentally - choose to start the new year with stars from the younger generation of British singers. Tenor Toby Spence was unforgettable as the Madwoman in the Edinburgh International Festival’s 2005 production of Britten’s Curlew River. But while that remarkable stage appearance involved completely stripping off, an Edinburgh New Town Concerts Society programme of Beethoven, Brahms and Britten, especially in the winter season, is unlikely to feature full frontal nudity.

At 31, Sally Matthews is five years younger than Spence, and also has Britten in her sights. Coincidence again as she appears with the SCO in his youthful Les Illuminations, for high voice and strings, which Spence recorded with the Scottish Ensemble just last year. While Spence’s ascent has been rooted in steady growth, at home and abroad, Matthews’ career rocketed after winning the highly prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Award in 1999. Love them or loathe them - it’s mostly the latter - competitions can be a vital factor in young artists establishing themselves in a highly competitive field. ‘It was a real gear change,’ says Matthews, who had actually entered the competition simply for experience, with no intention of being placed. ‘Suddenly, lots of people wanted to hear me, Covent Garden wanted me to audition. It was scary!’

Although awards such as the Ferrier can be a launching pad, there is endless hard work to follow. ‘There are no short cuts,’ says Matthew, ‘and it’s certainly not about Katherine Jenkins style glamour and making loads of money. You have to really push yourself and go for every opportunity - some of the best jobs I’ve ever got were ones I thought would be crap. But you never know who will be there watching and listening. You’ve just always got to do your very best.’

Toby Spence, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 15 Jan; Sally Matthews and the SCO, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 18 Jan; City Halls, Glasgow, Fri 19 Jan.

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