Biography

"With her absolute precision of pitch and huge range, Poppy Holden is a truly outstanding artist"Glasgow Herald.


"In the 1970s, the soprano Poppy Holden was a vital - not to say unique - part of Europe's musical avant-garde. Singing for the likes of György Ligeti and Bruno Maderna, she could hit notes just below a dog whistle. Oliver Knussen composed his second symphony for her voice, but after the first performances in 1970 and 71, was obliged to rewrite it: no one else could sing that high. These days, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Poppy Holden teaches singing, conducts walking tours of the Northumbrian countryside and writes and lectures about Border Ballads: that genre of dark, sad, mysterious songs from just north of the Scottish/English border. This is the subject of our conversation on The Music Show, as Poppy talks about ballads such as 'Willie's Rare', 'The Unquiet Grave' and she recites from 'Thomas the Rhymer', an account of a 13th century seer and adventurer and his journey to the land of the elves." Andy Ford, ABC Radio, Sydney.

Poppy Holden studied at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide, and at the Royal College of Music, London; with Nadia Boulanger, Paris; as a Fromm Fellow at Tanglewood Music Center, USA; and as a postgraduate at York and Newcastle universities, having graduated from the OU.


She has performed and recorded contemporary and early music with the Fires of London, Trevor Wishart, Wilfrid Mellers, the Consort of Musicke, Gothic Voices, the Tallis Scholars, Musica Reservata, the Taverner Consort and the English Concert. She premièred Oliver Knussen's Second Symphony at the Windsor Festival and at Tanglewood; Knussen’s Pooh Songs at the South Bank; and Bruno Maderna's Satyricon with the Nederlands Opera. Head of Vocal Studies at Newcastle University from 2007-2013 and voice coach at Durham University since 2015, she also coaches members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia Chorus. Since 1991 she has been a professor at the Czech Music Society’s early-music summer school in Valtice.


She has written for early-music magazines and presented Mainly for Pleasure for BBC Radio 3, and she researches, composes and performs music connected to the Scottish Borders, and the Northeast where she lives.


Since 1973 Poppy has taught in universities and in her own studio, helping singers at all stages of ability to achieve a healthy, comfortable vocal technique with which to tell their stories in song; some have gone on to professional singing careers, others thrive in local choirs and ensembles.


To stay fresh as a teacher, Poppy continues to learn languages, and has trained in the Estill Method at the Royal Academy of Music in London.


Her lectures on border ballads are popular and her books on the subject, Border Ballads from Ettrick & Yarrow, Thomas the Rhymer and Unquiet Graves are published by Belle Grove Press.


In April 2019 the composer Andy Ford interviewed Poppy for The Music Show on ABC Radio, Sydney, Australia.


Increasingly, Poppy walks the landscape, both near, and as far as Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal!



Portrait by Felicity Laurence