Click here for the archive of profiles that takes you behind the scenes with some of the featured performers who bring their special talents to Emmanuel Music.
When tenor Jonas Budris was studying environmental engineering at Harvard, he expected a future in the hard sciences, not the fine arts. In between lectures on aquatic chemistry and applied statistics, Budris sang in the University Choir and became one of a select group of Choral Fellows who sang every morning in the Memorial Church morning prayers service.
"I didn't realize it until years later, but singing may have been the most important thing I did in college," says Budris. He was greatly influenced by two mentors and colleagues, Edward Jones, the director of the University Choir, and tenor Frank Kelley. "Being a member of the Choral Fellows was an amazing opportunity. I got a stipend to help pay for vocal training, and I got Frank Kelley as my teacher. Working with Frank definitely helped to set me in the direction of a musical career."
After graduating, it took a stint working in a finance job to make Budris realize how much he missed having music a part of his daily life. So, when the financial meltdown of 2008 left him jobless, it actually helped him make a successful career transition. Living on savings for several months, he performed in community musical theater productions while looking for a new job. Eventually, he found work as a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, investigating new methods of managing hospital patients' medications. "I still needed to pay the bills, but I wanted to make a positive change in people's lives," he said. "Helping to keep people safe while they are in the hospital – a troubling time for anyone – seemed like a good way to do that."
Few people found those tumultuous times so satisfying. A researcher by day, a singer on evenings and weekends, Budris found the beginnings of a musical career slowly coming together. He became a tenor section leader at Old South Church and found a new mentor there in Harry Huff, Old South's Minister of Music. They had worked together previously at Harvard, when Huff was an organist with the University Choir. "When Harry Huff invited me to sing with his group, it opened the door for me, and I'm so grateful," Budris says. Soon thereafter, he sang in his first Opera Boston production, in the chorus of Madame White Snake. When the company later offered him a chance to understudy for a leading role, he scaled back his hospital working hours and devoted the time to practicing and refining his craft.
Budris came to Emmanuel Music in the fall of 2011 as a substitute and became a regular in the fall of 2012. "Frank Kelley was instrumental in bringing me into the fold, and it is a rare and wonderful experience to sing with my teacher. Being a part of Emmanuel Music is a dream come true," Budris says.
Emmanuel Music has become Budris’ core ensemble. "It doesn’t get much better than the musicians at Emmanuel Music," Budris says. "We all learn from each other and never stop learning. And tenors have a special benefit with Artistic Director Ryan Turner. He’s a tenor who both really understands the singer’s role and can sing the part to demonstrate what he wants. He even joins us in the chorus sometimes when there’s a guest conductor for the cantata."
If Emmanuel Music was an immediate fit for the young singer, Budris also has been a valued addition to the ensemble. He has performed as a soloist in the Bach Cantata Series on numerous occasions, his first such appearance (Cantata 172) even before he became a regular with the group. This season, Budris has been named a Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellow. This award recognizes younger Emmanuel Music artists who have demonstrated exceptional artistic talent and have enthusiastically participated within the Emmanuel community of musicians.
As a Fellow, Budris was featured in the role of Henrik in the January 2014 performance of Steven Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. "I am so lucky – this is another part of the feast of amazing music I’ve been able to dig into with this ensemble." Budris counts himself a "big Sondheim fan" and started preparing for the role by digging into the text. "When I first start preparing for a role, I am thinking about acting choices and making both the character and the music part of my soul." No detail was too small. Because Henrik plays cello, Budris studied and copied the bowings of Emmanuel Music’s cellist Rafael Popper-Kaizer.
Budris’s Emmanuel Music connections have also opened up other musical worlds for him. When Aston Magna's artistic director Daniel Stepner asked him to step in for another singer, he joined several of his Emmanuel colleagues (including Frank Kelley, Lynn Torgove, and Deborah Rentz-Moore), singing Monteverdi madrigals and scenes from Dido and Aeneas at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall.
These days Budris can be heard singing with a variety of ensembles. In the world of early music, he sings regularly with the Handel and Haydn Society, most recently his second Messiah in their annual performance for the 2013 Christmas season. He has also performed with Boston Baroque, where in April 2014 he will perform as Anfinomo (one of Penelope's suitors) in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. In the growing world of Boston’s contemporary music scene, Budris has appeared twice with Guerilla Opera, first in the premiere of Adam Roberts’s Giver of Light and then in a new production of Andy Vores’s No Exit. Budris loves working with this company. "There’s no conductor, so it’s very collaborative. And it’s challenging and rewarding to perform new music."
Budris is also a member of the Skylark Vocal Ensemble, a chamber choir created by Matthew Guard that performs both early and new music. "There are 8-16 singers on any project, and it’s both a science and an art to blend and tune our voices to make something not only beautiful but incredible. I love the process of hearing a new set of voices and figuring out how I fit in," Budris says.
Just as Budris develops his musical career by developing both early and new music strains, he has found ways to be an artist without leaving science and technology behind. "These are ways of thinking about the world and asking questions that will always be a part of me. I’m a massive nerd who loves reading up on new ideas and asking questions," he says. Budris recently enjoyed reading about an idea for a spacecraft that one day might travel faster than light. "That may seem preposterous, but it’s a fascinating concept. After all, a hundred years ago, who would have imagined we could talk with friends all over the world, the moment we wake up in the morning, without leaving our beds and down comforters?" The artist’s imagination and scientist’s mode of inquiry clearly enrich this young singer’s art and life.