Let’s #BaRock: Interview with Jakub Józef Orliński

Before the arrival of the countertenor’s upcoming new album,  “Anima Aeterna”, Mordents Magazine got the chance to chat with the star about the experience of going viral, his favourite tour venues, and breaking down concert dress codes.

Mordents Magazine: Hello Jakub, how are you doing?

Jakub Józef Orliński: I am great, Thank you!! To be honest I wake up every day with the excitement of the things that await me that day. Cannot lie that a lot is going on right now, so maybe that’s why!

MM: You sang with the Gregorianum choir for more than a decade. How has that community experience shaped you, as a person and a performer?

JJO: After so many years I finally understood that this particular experience of being in that vocal group for so many years shaped me musically but also as a person. It was one of the most important things in my life and I had no clue how much I have learned from my teachers Berenika Jozajtis and her husband Leszek Kubiak. They taught me how to shape music, how to enjoy music-making with others, how to have fun creating art and performing it. Besides that, I have learned there how to collaborate and most importantly how to exist in a group. Because it is not as easy as one might think. Because of what I have experienced in those years of singing with Gregorianum I love music, and I truly admire meeting new people, traveling and I have an easy time making new friends. Probably because when I was a kid I just had to talk with others on all of those camps that we used to go to so I got those social skills.

MM: Going viral can for some be a very negative experience – for you it was, of course, the exact opposite. How did you feel with that amount of sudden publicity?

JJO: To be honest there was no sudden publicity. Of course, the video went viral and it gave me an extra boost but I did not see any big change. For sure there were more people on my Instagram and Facebook and the video got to so many people and places that it gave me a much bigger recognition, but there was no sudden boom with publicity because I have already existed on the map for a bit.

MM: Your career has taken you all over the global stage. Do you have a particularly fond memory of a certain performance venue or place you visited during your tours?

JJO: I absolutely love traveling so I have a lot of those memories. For example, my first time singing in Paris with Il Pomo d’Oro orchestra. Definitely, a night to remember. An opera production in Zurich where I made a lot of really good friends plus visited so many beautiful places in the mountains and I love nature so it was like living a dream. My first time in Palau de la Musica in Barcelona was also something extraordinary. There were so many more that it is hard to list them all, so I will just leave you with those few.

MM: Did you have any negative experiences during performances?

JJO: I think only at the very beginning. I remember that when I was studying in Warsaw we used to have those class concerts in some houses of culture. We once had a concert when I was in my second year of studies and at that concert, I was singing an aria from Rinaldo by G.F. Handel. We had a great public of I think 7 people and when I started singing 3 of them left… It was painful. Not only I was just a starting countertenor so I was aware that my voice is quite bad, but also in Poland back then I think some people were not yet ready for a countertenor’s voice. They just did not know what is that.

Photo by Jiyang Chen

MM: Opera stardom is not a thing of the past by any means – the idea of it just keeps evolving. What do you think would be the most important qualities of an opera star of the 21st century?

JJO: I don’t know what will be the most important thing, but I know that it’s important to do your things and stay true to yourself. As long as you do that, you should be ok, because it will be authentic and authenticity is something that people are seeking in all sorts of arts.

MM: Countertenors are once again taking center stage. How do you understand this great rise of interest in this rare voice type?

JJO: We observe a big comeback of a male high voice because it has something different to offer. That color, the tone is really grabbing and very interesting. There is so much material from the past to be explored so countertenors are doing that and not only countertenors. There is also a rise in popularity for Early Music which helps with the growing fame of that voice type. But we have to add that there is a huge interest in this particular voice type in contemporary music. New music composers seem to really like the things they can write for a countertenor because they can use their high voice but also the low register so the natural parts of the voice. There are great compositions like “Flight” by J. Dove, “Akhnaten” by P. Glass, and many, many more which include that voice type.

MM: You made a point to explore never before recorded pieces in your debut album, Anima Sacra, and your upcoming album, Anima Aeterna will also consist of sacred arias and motets from the 18th century. How would you describe the beauty of sacred music, in contrast to opera, Romantic Lieder, Baroque cantatas, or Renaissance chansons?

JJO: For me, baroque music, in general, contains true human emotions. Of course, sometimes it is over-decorated, ornamented, and has that splendor and glory which is a bit much but also has that purity and authenticity which really touches the soul. That is why I decided to go on a journey called Anima, so the journey of the soul. Sacred music has so much beauty and with those two albums focusing on sacred music I wanted to show different colors of that style. I wanted to focus on the aspect of emotion, music, form, and style. Those are not religious albums. I wanted to demonstrate how even a sacred text can be relevant to basically everyone.

MM: What is your dream operatic role?

JJO: My biggest one was Rinaldo by G.F. Handel but I have already achieved that so now there are quite a few more Handel roles like Cesare, but also roles like Oberon by B. Britten and once in my life I want to play a tree on stage!!

MM: The Times has called you a “baroque’n’roll” star, and your profile in the New Yorker emphasized your “pop star appeal”. How does it feel to be described by the media in this way?

JJO: I guess they took that “baroque’n’roll” thing from my Instagram where I put #LetsBaRock, anyways I don’t really take much time thinking what media says about me. I am passionate about what I do and I have my ways of doing those things. I always try to deliver the best possible level of my art so that’s what I focus on. The media stuff is a side thing that comes after.

MM: How different is the audience in Poland compared to other countries? Do you feel differently when performing in your home country?

JJO: I feel a difference almost everywhere. Every place has its own vibe and different people. In Spain, people are super alive and sort of crazy enthusiastic, and at the same time in Germany people are very focused and quiet and then after the show, they won’t let you out because of their enthusiasm. It is always good to perform in Poland and here people are also reacting differently so it is actually fun to travel and notice all of those little nuances.

Photo by Michael Sharkey

MM: What music do you listen to when you want to relax and unwind from your repertoire?

JJO: Usually some relaxing ambient music, but also, jazz, hip-hop, classical instrumental music, house, funk. I have quite a lot of options.

MM: What are your guilty pleasures?

JJO: A TV series called “Brooklyn 99”.

MM: Choose a karaoke song you’d sing

JJO: “Stand by Me”.

MM: When you go out with your friends, how do you party? Do you go to clubs, or dinners or prefer house parties?

JJO: All the options!! I used to go to clubs a lot, now a bit less, but also love house parties and outdoor situations plus of course it is sometimes nice to go out for a normal dinner with friends.

MM: Do you think breaking down classical dress codes is key to attracting younger audiences? What are some other ways you’d like the industry to approach to keep up with the times?

JJO: Hmmm… I was just tired of the black tuxedo… It’s a bit of a joke. The thing is that I create concept albums and for my albums, I also create the whole visual effect of it. So the cover, booklet the packaging, and the outfit. For “Anima Sacra” program my concert uniform was a black tuxedo with red socks and a red pocket square. For “Facce d’amore” I asked my friend Chi Chi Ude to create those two super cool crazy colored suits for me. And for “Anima Aeterna” I will have another thing. So to answer your question. I don’t think a dress code is a key, but it can attract. I think using new tools is very helpful and just having ideas and delivering them is some sort of a key.

Photo by Kamil Pionkowski

MM: When do you find time for breakdancing with your busy schedule?

JJO: Time management is one of the most important skills to have. I think I developed that skill quite well so there is always time to do things like breaking!!

MM: You understand the importance of an effective album cover. What are some of your favorite album covers by other vocal artists?

JJO: There are few like Funkadelic, ‘Maggot Brain’ (1971), The Roots, ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1999), The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’ (1969), and there are actually quite a lot more, but those are the classics I like.

MM: Your collaboration with Louis Vuitton for the “Louis 200” project has birthed a version of their famous trunk that emphasizes human movement and passage of time – but also shines with a sense of childlike wonder. How did this collab look like and what has inspired your design?

JJO: I was very happy to take on that adventure. I got approached to participate in the project and what spoke to me was the fact that they hired 200 artists from around the world and we all did it for charity. We could choose one of the charities and then LV did send the money to them in our name. Plus later this year they will put all the trunks into an auction and the profit from that will also go to charity.

Speaking about my design, I was inspired by time and individual personalities. Those were my inspirations. The whole description of my project is on the LV website so if you want to know more I highly recommend checking all the other works and mine too.

MM: As someone who has also modeled before your major career lift-off, how do you see the relationship between fashion and classical music? Do you think artists today need signature styles to capture the new public’s attention?

I don’t think it is necessary but if there is an idea behind the outfit then I buy it and it speaks to me. In general coming also from the background of streetwear fashion I just like it when people have an idea for themselves on what they want to wear and look like.

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