Rising stars of 2006: Classical music

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The Independent Culture

William Towers

With a tall and commanding frame, a piercing gaze, and that chiselled masculinity, the counter-tenor William Towers is tailor-made for stardom. And that is exactly what he has just achieved as Oberon in the Royal Opera's stylish new production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. His vocal trajectory has been unusually smooth: he was a boy soprano at school, and his voice just slid down a little - it never broke. And he's hot on the mechanics of it now: "A fundamental change occurred to it three years ago," he says. "It had been a very nice pure English sound. But then I discovered that my lower register could work all the way up, and that I had a big vibrato and a big tone."

Its dark timbre now is quintessentially masculine, which sets him apart from many other counter-tenors, and his stage presence is helped by his extra-curricular sporting activities. Next year he sings Apollo in Britten's Death in Venice for Frankfurt Opera, the title role in Handel's Poro for the Göttingen Handel Festival, and Ottone in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Buxton Festival, plus sundry performances of the Messiah. At 31, his real career is only just beginning.

Others to watch

Helen Reid

At 27, Helen Reid is an impressive young pianist: the Debussy I heard her playing at Dartington Summer School this year had enormous authority and poise. Born in Yorkshire, and educated at Chethams and Royal Holloway, she has made a specialty of her prowess in German, introducing her own recitals in Austria. She's a pioneer, recording unknown works by Ignaz Pleyel, and an entrepreneur: for a concert at St John's, Smith Square, last month, she hired the orchestra and officiated, as the soloist.

Gwen-Ann Jeffers

Soprano Gwen-Ann Jeffers, 31, was set on her operatic career from the moment her mother took her to Mozart's Figaro when she was three: "I sat there open-mouthed, wide-eyed." Of West Indian extraction, she made the black singer Leontyne Price her first role-model; now she exudes comparable charisma. No wonder her Wigmore Hall recitals are packed.

Last year's prediction: Matthew Wadsworth. The blind lutenist released another CD in 2005, 'When Laura Smiles', and his recitals are increasingly popular