I had the pleasure of interviewing the three operatic tenors known as Ultimi before their performance at the Kahilu Theatre last Sunday. It was their third Big Island appearance, and debut performance at this venue. In the six years they’ve been together, they’ve performed numerous concerts across the U.S. and internationally.
Ultimi features Isaac Hurtado, Tyler Nelson, and Brian Stucki, who also plays the cello. In case you were wondering about their name, Ultimi means “latest,” and has a connection to the Italian name of the shared Mormon faith of Isaac, Brian and Tyler.
Ultimi’s Kahilu matinee concert also featured pianist Jared Pierce, one of Utah’s emerging pianists and composers. Their musical program covered many favorites from opera, Broadway, and even Billy Joel’s pop hit “She’s Always a Woman.” The trio’s set closed out with the Hawaiian favorite “White Sandy Beach” with Stucki on the ukulele. The Kahilu Theatre made this concert a youth-friendly show and offered students ages 8-18 free admittance when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult.
Can you give me a brief overview of Ultimi, and how the three of you came together?
[Isaac] The three of us were rival tenors in Utah and auditioning for the same things. At times, we were at the same universities together. So, I just got this crazy idea to call the others up, and we had a conference call and suggested we sing together.
[Tyler] It was really that simple.
[Brian] We started in 2014 and have been going for about six years now. From the beginning of working together, one of the things when we first got together was how is this going to sound? We all have different voices. like the timbre, the weight of our voices is quite different. We all felt like there was a synergy there that we weren’t expecting and were struck by the audience’s response when the three of us performed together.
What are some of the concert experiences like when you’re out on the road?
[Brian] It’s been really diverse, actually. We’ve done everything from private concerts at individuals’ homes, private ranches, resorts, to concerts like today at the Kahilu, and some at sports arenas too.
Well, you know you’re in competition with the Super Bowl’s halftime show today.
[Isaac] Tyler has got a wardrobe malfunction planned. [laughs]Heads up. We’ll have a viral moment. [laughs].
[Tyler] It’s that I’m always splitting my pants. [laughs]
Have you had any challenges along your musical journey?
[Brian] Just life!
[Isaac] I think what’s hard is that the three of us are all dads and also professors, at three different universities, with full-time gigs teaching.
What do you teach?
[Isaac] Voice. I direct opera and teach voice and these guys both teach voice and vocal programing. So, the hardest thing is we can’t get together as much as we want to.
[Tyler] I threw a wrench in the works a few years ago because I took a job at Vanderbilt in Tennessee. But because we’re so busy, there’s not often time to get together on a weekly or monthly basis. We’ve come up with a plan in the meantime. It usually involves me getting out to Utah and find a block of time to get things done.
What does the rest of the year look like? Time in the studio? More touring?
[Brian] This summer, we’re hoping to carve out some time to get going on another project. We did a CD a couple of years ago which is kind of a sampler of what we do. We’ve talked about doing a CD of spiritual music.
[Tyler] That seems to be something that’s interesting to all of us. We’ve got a lot of different ideas, but next, we go our separate ways for some individual gigs.
Are there any plans to head back to the Big Island?
[Brian] Yeah, as much as possible! [laughs]The idea of not coming back here fills me with existential dread. [laughs]
[Tyler] It’s pretty vocal-friendly here to us. The climate and altitude don’t affect us. We’re used to it coming from high altitude. We live at 5000 feet.
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
[Tyler] Just that if you like what we’re doing, check out our album, Ultimi 3 Tenors. We also love suggestions for things that people are interested in hearing. We’ve been surprised by some of the things that folks have suggested after concerts. Some of those have come to fruition and have been our favorite selections. We find that we really like to experiment in those other styles, too. We love input like that.
Be sure to keep up with Ultimi’s tour schedule and music via their website.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the managing editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos from the Feb. 2, 2020, Kahilu concert by Steve Roby