Ask Urs Buhler what most makes him proud about Il Divo¹s achievements over the past seven years, and, intriguingly, he will talk not of the past but about the present and the future. For the classically trained Swiss tenor, music means moving forward ¬ maturing, fine-tuning, perfecting. “We¹re constantly trying to push things upwards, to a different level,” he says.
“Whenever we do something new, we want to do it better. And we¹re still managing to do that, which fills me with great satisfaction.”
Urs¹s musical background sowed the seeds for this spirit of restless activity and inquiry. As a five-year-old in Lucerne, he joined the local choir, and began to take lessons in violin, clarinet, piano, guitar and drums. Even then, you couldn¹t box him in. At the same time as he was studying at the music academy, Urs was fronting a heavy metal band. Later, he would travel to the Netherlands to study singing at the Sweelink Conservatorium, appear at the Salzburg Festival and earn a distinguished reputation as an operatic tenor at the Netherlands Opera and many other opera houses across Europe. So Urs has never been about standing still, artistically, and settling back into a comfort zone ¬ or respecting the barriers some insist on placing between different musical genres. “From my training,” he laughs, “I know, from the classical point of view, that this is a good sound, and that is a bad one. But in every single other style of singing, that doesn¹t apply. Blurring the boundaries upsets the purists, certainly ¬ but that¹s a good thing to do.”
If he does look back, it is to compare Il Divo now with the four singers who came together in 2003 and set about realising their vision. At the beginning, Urs says, they were very much feeling their way, all of them operating, to some extent, outside their customary field. That¹s all changed now. “The contribution we make has really progressed, especially on the new album. We¹re much more involved than we were in the past. And I think that¹s because we have proved ourselves. So people have the trust in us: that we really do know what we¹re doing.”
In the 18 months that have elapsed since Il Divo completed the world tour they had embarked on to promote their 2008 album, The Promise, Urs has been realising another dream, working on the renovation of the house he recently bought. “In my personal life, I tend to switch off. I live in the countryside, it¹s incredibly remote, just fields and mountains around me. My house is a very old property, and I¹m restoring it, which is very time-consuming, but incredibly fulfilling. I¹m project-managing the restoration, and I use local people from the nearby village, small, traditional firms. I love it, but it¹s going to take years. And I love to play guitar and ride my motorbikes, I¹m passionate about both.” He appreciates the rewards Il Divo has brought him, he says, but he would never lose sight of what real life is all about. “I don¹t need to have seven Ferraris in the garage. Yes, I have a big house, and a few motorbikes, and that¹s enough. I feel very Zen and serene about what I do and how I live my life.”
Looking ahead to the launch of the new album, Urs cannot contain his excitement ¬ or conceal his pride. “We¹ve recorded an adaptation of Samuel Barber¹s Adagio for Strings, with a new chorus. It sounds incredibly dramatic. The whole album is like that; it¹s much more serious, more mature.
Since we started, there have been so many people out there trying to do what we do. So we needed to change, or it¹s no longer interesting for us, or for the audience. We have devised material that is rooted in pieces of classical string and piano music: for instance, another new song is based on Beethoven¹s Moonlight sonata. And, harmonically, that is bound to be more interesting, more dramatic.”
Urs¹s long and varied musical journey is about to take a new turn, and he can¹t wait for Il Divo¹s fans to hear the results. “We¹re so excited about this record,” he smiles. “We think it¹s the best work we¹ve ever done.”