The year’s first major classical performance is an evening featuring a Kenyan opera singer who is widely acclaimed for his unique talent and ability. Zachariah Njoroge Kariithi, also known as Zak, who is an internationally trained opera singer will stage a concert at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi this evening.
Zak, who currently performs in Germany, has emerged as one of the most promising new talents from the International Opera Studio of the Hamburg State Opera where he performed for two seasons 2015-16 and 2016-17. The first half of the concert tonight will concentrate on the art of Lied (German classical song) and Zak has chosen Dichterliebe “A poet’s love” composed by Robert Schumann, the influential German composer of the Romantic era, with text by German poet Heinrich Heine. “The song cycle is a personal favourite,” says Zak.
He explains that the text and the music take the performer and the listener through a range of emotions.
“There is hope, love, sadness, anger and depression expressed in just 16 songs. In my opinion, these are emotions we all go through at certain period of our lives and so many people can relate to the text and the music.”
The second half of the concert will feature a set of Opera arias that Zak has carefully chosen to compliment the message of the first half of the same show.
The arias range from the Classical period, by Wolfgang Mozart, to more contemporary composers like Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold who is renowned for popular Hollywood film scores. “You can say the whole programme of music is a testament of love and the emotions that come with it,” is how he sums it up.
Zak who was born in 1987 started by playing the violin while in primary school in Nairobi before enrolling for piano training at the age of 12. He later joined the Kenya Conservatoire of Music under the guidance of his tutor Gachigi Kungu who incidentally will be accompanying him on piano during tonight’s concert.
After two years of training he received a distinction in the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music examinations in voice and piano. “I was tired of just singing in the choir and wanted an opportunity to express myself through singing alone,” says Zak.
His early interaction with classical music had been through listening to tapes owned by his father, himself a church choir conductor. In fact, music surrounds his family with his mother, singing soprano in the church choir and a sister who still sings with the Nairobi Music Society.
Zak’s voice is a lyric baritone that has a lighter, smoother edge than an ordinary baritone and is commonly heard in music theatre.
“Opera performers do not use microphones when singing and so one must be able to project their voice, learn the right breathing techniques and drink lots of water. Above all, this is a demanding field that requires commitment and enthusiasm,” he says.
In 2008, he was one of the two singers from Kenya, selected to join a choir of more than 80 singers from around the world to perform at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in China.
He studied music performance at the Buchman Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Israel, an institution established by the legendary maestro, Zubin Mehta and the philanthropist, Josef Buchmann. After four years studying in Israel, Zak graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in opera performance in 2012.
He has taken part in master classes in Europe with famous accompanists and was winner of the third prize at the 2011 Hilde Zadek International competition in Vienna, Austria. One of his highlights was performing with the Buchmann Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra as a soloist conducted by the great Zubin Mehta himself. He has also performed with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and as a soloist and at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York under the direction of his college head Professor Zeev Dorman.
In May 2017, Zak made debut at the Daegu Opera House in South Korea in the role of the painter Marcello in the four part opera “La Boheme” by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. After his performance tonight, he will be heading back to Germany because as he puts it, “I must get back to work after the holidays at home”
Just as he mentioned during his first interview with the Business Daily four years ago, his dream remains seeing the opening of Kenya first opera house in the not too distant future.