The Voice Returns

Star soprano Dawn Upshaw on truth, beauty, and the SPCO

Q: You’re starting your second three-year stint as an artistic partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. What brought you back?
Dawn Upshaw: I love the personal interaction that I have with the players, musically and socially. Also, the SPCO has offered to commission a piece for me every season of our partnership.

Q: In fact, on February 17 you’re premiering a work by a young composer who won a Latin Grammy in 2009.
DU: I perform a lot of new pieces these days because I’m less interested in repeating things. I’m interested in expressing something of truth and beauty that’s going to resonate with people, and I like finding new ideas for doing that.

Q: You asked Minnesota native Maria Schneider, the Grammy-winning jazz composer, to write a classical piece for you a few years ago.
DU: And she’s writing another! Her music is complex and thoughtful but speaks directly, and I find that incredibly beautiful. There’s an honesty about it—no baloney.

Q: Where do you stay when you come here?
DU: The St. Paul Hotel is my home away from home. And [SPCO violinist] Ruggiero Allifranchini organizes trips to restaurants, though I owe myself dinner at the 112 Eatery. Last time, I only had appetizers.

Q: In your standard bio, you’re said to possess a “rare natural warmth.” Are other singers cold fish?
DU: [Laughs] I didn’t write that. I do approach classical music differently, having grown up with the songs of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, in which the text is everything. This was music meant to change the world. So maybe the notion of my warmth comes from that: I certainly don’t want to be a performer with any artifice.

Upshaw performs the Britten Les Illuminations with the SPCO on February 11 and 12, and a new work by Gabriela Frank on February 17, 18, and 19.

Read more about Upshaw’s life and work at