How we met 56: KIRI TE KANAWA AND ANDRE PREVIN

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The Independent Culture
The celebrated opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, 48, was born in New Zealand of Maori descent, and came to London to study singing. In 1967 she married Desmond Park, an Australian oil engineer, with whom she has two adopted children. Andre Previn, 63, was born in Berlin of a German Jewish father and French mother. An outstanding pianist from the age of six, he made a jazz album at 16, becoming a serious conductor in his thirties. Previn has been married four times and has nine children. He now lives in upstate New York with his wife Heather and their son, Lucas.

KIRI TE KANAWA: I first met Andre in Vienna about 12 years ago, because we both happened to be working there at the time. Strangely enough, we bumped into each other there again a decade later. Over a drink in the bar of the Imperial Hotel, Andre said he had 'a glimmer of an idea' for us to do together. We discussed it at odd intervals, and came up with the idea of a jazz album - Kiri Sidetracks. We thought it would be fun to do, and it was, although fairly haphazard - we were still selecting what to put on it when we'd almost finished recording. I'd grumble and say: 'This song doesn't suit my voice', after we'd done a track, and he'd say 'Fine, fine', use it anyway, slam the book shut and move on.

I do love working with him, and always have done; it's great fun, above anything else. I lend him my frocks, he makes me lovely earrings - well, not really, but we have that sort of sense of humour, I'm afraid, and I particularly love watching him give people the look. It doesn't happen often, but he does have this terrible look that can stop people in their tracks, and I'll say to him afterwards: 'You really didn't like them much, did you?' He, in turn, says that I can turn people

into pillars of salt, which I'm sure

isn't true.

It's very difficult to maintain contact with friends when you're travelling around so much, and it's something you have to work at. I can't just ring Andre up and ask him over for dinner, because I never know where he'll be, or if I'd be waking him up or disturbing him. I'm always very pleased to see him, though, and he always makes me laugh a lot. Not everybody in this business has a sense of humour, but it sure does help.

So I travel on, round the world, bumping into musicians in every city - usually ones I don't want to see, but I'm very happy if Andre is in the same town. Some years back I was in Los Angeles when we'd really been trying to get together. Finally somebody told me he was in town - just a small taxi ride away. I'd no idea]

I wish we could meet for something as simple as a game of tennis, and maybe we will one day. I suppose I'm accustomed to the travelling by now, and I do try and leave gaps between engagements so that I get over jet lag, but the schedule is sometimes crazy. Recently I did Dallas, Washington, Boston and then Miami, which is a mad order, but sometimes just can't be helped. The change of climate is drastic, and I hate air-conditioning with a vengeance because it's so bad for my voice. One of the main things I insist upon is a hotel where the windows open, but they're increasingly hard to find - especially in New York, where I think so many people have jumped out of windows they've tightened up the law. Andre feels the same about them and we call them 'sealed hotels'. He says he gets to the stage where he's so claustrophobic he wants to put a chair through the window and I do know how he feels.

When I have a chance to shop, I buy presents for my friends and then I won't see them for an age, so I'll travel round the world with something - sometimes for as long as two years, before I have a chance to give it to them. I gave Andre an orange tennis ball. Like many conductors he suffers from a bad back, so I taught him how to press a tennis ball between the soft part of his back and the wall and then to roll it up and down. He says it helps, and it certainly helped me when I had troubles. My main weakness is tension in my neck and knots in my shoulders, and I need regular massage for it.

My life is very orderly because it has to be. I like knowing that I've got a holiday over the Easter period in two years' time, because it means I can plan something nice for the family and we'll have time together. My kids go to school here in England, but to see my calendar you really wouldn't know where I was based, and sometimes I don't myself. We've just come back from a period in France together, where we have a little place. I bought a new tractor and rode about on it, which was fun.

My musical life-span is limited, because my voice only has a finite life. But I think Andre will probably drop dead on the podium.

ANDRE PREVIN: We met about a dozen years ago in Vienna; I think it was there - I get so confused by the hectic schedules. We were doing Die Fledermaus and I know after that we did some Strauss at the Festival Hall. Musicians tend to bump into each other in the cities they visit, and I seem fated to always bump into people at Zurich airport, although, alas, never Kiri. It's always somebody I don't want to see and always at Zurich: I hate airports - they're demeaning, dehumanising, and demoralising. Once I'm on the plane I'm fine because I know nobody can reach me on the phone; I have a thing about it, I hate it.

When you get to your destination, you're surrounded by other musicians mostly, and although music is obviously a common link, I don't think we talk about it exclusively. Matisse was once asked what he talked about when he was with Picasso. He said: 'When art historians and critics get together they talk about the history and construction of pictures. When Pablo and I get together we talk about turpentine.' I think that about sums it up. I'm lucky, in that I get to stay in one place for a week, sometimes two, although I do have to say I've just done seven cities in nine days. Opera singers like Kiri tend to stay in one place for a very short while, so there's always that worry that, if I tried to ring her to make a date, I might disturb her - coupled, of course, with my hatred of the telephone.

She was a great hero of mine before we met. She says I was a hero from my appearance on The Morecambe and Wise Show, and I must say, that one Christmas show has given me some insight into celebrity status. I can't believe how many people still come up to me and talk about it, and I do have to say I wasn't bad. Eric Morecambe was such a funny man and he knew I'd crack up in the end. I was living in Surrey at the time, and when I walked into my local pub the day after it was shown, the regulars looked up and I was suddenly a celebrity. All that conducting had counted for nothing] My son, who's 22 now, and really isn't in the mood for his father to make a spectacle of himself, saw it recently and told me he thought it funny; praise indeed]

My main base is now north of Manhattan in the countryside. I have a great love of the country - I lived in the English countryside for a long time. Kiri may have just bought a tractor for her garden, but I bought a golf cart for mine. No, I don't carry clubs in it - I've never set foot on a golf course and don't intend to start now. It just carries me around and I enjoy it a lot, although Kiri is concerned it won't go uphill sufficiently well and that I should get a dune buggy. I feel very settled where I am, and my son, Lucas, goes to an American school.

I, too, have to plan my calendar way ahead, which is something I take for granted and non-musicians find very strange. I rather like knowing what I'm going to be doing on 13 March 1995 - it's a great comfort to know that at least I'll still be in work. My wife, Heather, had nothing to do with this business. When we first got married, I was on the phone to my management planning concerts, and covered up the mouthpiece to ask her if she would like to go to Paris. She said yes, she'd love to, and so I gave her a date two years ahead. She couldn't believe it.

I think friends are important, so I work at keeping in touch with them. Some of them go way, way back. With Kiri, the nice thing is that even if we don't see each other for a long time, we'll just pick up the conversation where we left off - sometimes there's as much as a year between.

When I first suggested we worked together on the jazz project over a beer in the Imperial Hotel in Vienna, I thought she might walk out. Fortunately she didn't. Now we've got some interesting and exciting plans for the future, too.-

(Photograph omitted)

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