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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Thursday, 17 January 2013 11:15

IVA, Emily Samson TepeJanuary 17, 2013 - Emily Samson Tepe, of Wilmington, Del., was an aspiring opera singer on a classical trajectory when she was invited to perform as a pop singer and actress on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Her interest in pop music kindled when her friend violinist Joshua Bell introduced her to a producer of ambient electronica music whom he knew from Sony Classical. Tepe jumped at the chance to write background tracks and then her own pop songs.

She nurtured her pop songwriting while studying Scandinavian classical music on a Fulbright to Stockholm in 2004, developing the pop songstress persona she now performs under: the luminescent “IVA.”

IVA and her band perform with Philadelphia chamber ensemble Tripod Trio in a ClassicAlive concert on January 25; we caught up with her to talk more about the switch between pop and classical—and why she feels classical music should be performed in a more casual setting.

Describe your sound:
In my first two albums, people said I sounded like a mixture and Enya and Madonna, but now I’d say I sound more like Rufus Wainwright as I’m channeling more of an operatic pop sound. It is still pop music, but with more epic-sounding vocals.

How did the stage persona of IVA develop?
As an opera singer, you’re always singing somebody else’s songs and playing somebody else. I was really interested in writing my own music and developing what I considered to be the ultimate expression of me, so I came up with IVA as an expression of a person’s full potential.

Are you still performing classically?
Locally, yes, although I stepped off of the opera circuit for a while in order to develop my pop voice. I still sing with both voices — and they sound very different. When I sing opera, I sing with my full voice, using full vibrato. I have worked hard to develop my pop voice from there!

IVA, Emily Samson TepeWhat was it like to collaborate with a group like Tripod Trio?
It was actually pretty easy to pick repertoire since we’re all classically trained musicians, and they do some great modern music. It’s neat, because when you focus on modern composers’ work, you don't feel pressure to compete with the likes of Mozart. I mean, when you have a mixed program of new music and very traditional stuff, you’re going to walk away saying, "oh yeah, that new music was cool — but the Mozart was so amazing!"

What are the highlights of the program for you?
We’ll be doing some pieces that I brought back from Sweden. Those are beautiful songs that were arranged specially for Tripod Trio and me and my band. They’re unusual, beautiful songs that range from sentimental to a modern setting of an e.e. cummings poem. They create a very visceral response.

Has the collaboration challenged you to approach your own music differently?
Yes, definitely. I can see the same language running throughout my pop and classical music, but I really love performing my own music with professional classical musicians like Tripod Trio. I also believe that classical music needs to be presented in a fresher, more accessible format. A lot of classical musicians are presented in a very formal way that makes people in my age group shy away from it. You don’t want to go to a very strict concert where you have to follow protocol. This is not that kind of concert.

 

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