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Interview with Claudia Stein

Modern music

I had the good fortune whilst still at a special music school to meet composers and literally ‘grow up with them’, so that contemporary music was a natural part of my background. When I was 15, my classmate John Rausek wrote a piece dedicated to me. Later on I developed a close relationship to the composition students and teachers at the Dresden Conservatoire, a relationship that carries on to this day.

Composers such as Gisbert Näther have written especially for me, as has David Robert Coleman (3 Pieces for Flute and Piano, a piece for flute and electronics called ‘For Claudia’ and a new arrangement of the CPE Bach Flute Concerto in D minor). I am a naturally curious person who loves discovering new things. New Music provides the opportunity to combine the new and the familiar and to opens up new perspectives and directions. That‘s what fascinates me. I love projecting my own personality into music and making it my ‘own’. This applies to all music. However in New Music this is a special challenge as new performance techniques are often required. I always feel a deep responsibility to the composer’s notation or text. However, in contemporary music I feel a particular freedom, or the ability to make things in my own image.

This inspiration permits me to find a new approach to traditional music. Extended performance techniques expand the possibilities of the instrument even if, after extensive use of them, it may be difficult to go back to playing Mozart. It is a definitely a challenge to integrate these styles.

I had the good fortune to work closely with composers who wrote for me. Gisbert Näther listened to many of my concerts before he wrote a flute concerto for me. I requested of him long cantilenas and some passages requiring circular breathing. When John Rausek wrote the piece Empire of Love for me, we had long discussions about content, playing techniques and even argued about things towards which I was sceptical. Sometimes he convinced me and sometimes I covinced him. It was an intense co-operation.

My longest association has been with the English-German composer and conductor David Robert Coleman. As he is also an excellent conductor and pianist, we have often performed together and inspired eachother. We always find new ideas and projects that leave their mark in his compositions. In this way his 3 Pieces for Flute and Piano are a hommage to Weinberg that came about as we worked on Weinberg’s flute concerti together. We philosophize together, talk about life and develop new ideas, some of which are realistic and others less so. I have learnt a lot from David and I hope he would say the same about me.


Learning new works

This is always the same thing as learning the Boulez Sonatine. At first glance I think ‘Oh my God, how will I ever be able to play this!‘ But one has to stay calm.

First I try to form a picture of the whole piece and then I divide it into sections. Where is the structure? Which sections repeat themselves? Which bits are particularly challenging? Which parts are rhythmically difficult? Which playing techniques are new and which do I already know.

Many contemporary pieces are difficult to read because the notation is unfamiliar. In this case it is important to analyse the text before picking up the flute. When I approach a piece by, eg Sciarrino, it is all about playing techniques. Here it’s about what we need to hear and how we can achieve this technically. I have friends, who are specialists in contemporary music who I can phone up, meet and ask for advice. Not all performance notes are practical or work. In general one should seek advice from other flautists.


Orchestral playing

I was 23 when I auditioned for the principal flute of the Berlin Staatskapelle and had never played first flute in an opera before. I enjoyed an excellent education in Dresden involving a lot of orchestral playing. I was a substitute as second flute in the Dresden Staatskapelle when I was 20 years old, and often played together with my teacher Prof Eckart Haupt, who was principal flute in the orchestra.

I think it was important during my education that we had a lot of possibilities to play in chamber concerts, had an exam every half-year under strict competition conditions, and started learning orchestral excerpts at an early age with the principal flautist Gerhard Schöne. Schöne always told us stories and gave us mental pictures for the excerpts, which helped a lot. Young musicians should play auditions as often as possible in order to practise being calm and concentrated.

The Berlin Staatskapelle has a wide variety of repertoire and it is a special challenge to rehearse Sciarrino in the morning and then do a concert in the evening with Schubert or Wagner. Maestro Barenboim has been forming and leading the orchestra like nobody before him for many years. To play with him is very inspiring as he brings together so much musicality, spirit and discipline in one person. This is great and I have learnt a lot over the years.

Between chamber, orchestral and solo performances I have to adapt, of course.

For solo concerts, I have to play much more freely, than in the orchestra. Here I need a lot of discipline and flexibility, but in the moment of a solo in the orchestra, I can use the experience of solo and the chamber music playing. Chamber music is very important for me, because here you can learn a lot and it is a lot of fun. Experience in chamber music helps in orchestral playing and in solo concerts.


Flute teaching

The Barenboim Said Academy is an institute, which not only aims to shape good musicians on their instruments. All students have to study philosophy and, you can believe me, they work a lot on philosophy. That means, they will play the music in a different way; it is not just a skill. The Academy wants to connect Arab, Jewish and Christian students through music and philosophy. They have to play and discuss together. This is very interesting and hope-filling.

The academy of an orchestra like the Akademie of the Berlin Staatskapelle is the best preparation in the formation of young musicians imaginable. Here the young people can play in a very good orchestra beside the best of musicians and have the help of mentors, who give them the skills to prepare for performances. Our experience is that nearly all of our academists can get a good orchestral position after their time with us.

If we are choosing new academists, we are looking for following things:

  • First is the overall level
  • Are the basics O.K.?
  • Is the sound compatible with our orchestra, or can the sound be compatible after some weeks work?
  • Is the pupil flexible, and what is the reaction if we ask him to play another way?
  • What can they learn with us?

To prepare for orchestral auditions, I propose to organising beforehand some auditions yourself with friends, teachers as often as you can. It is necessary to know the whole pieces, if you are playing orchestral excerpts and you have to know how you want to play it and with which character. Start very early in your study to work on the orchestral excerpts. Play as much chamber music as you can, and try to take part in orchestra projects. I think the best preparation is in practical tasks. I played a lot of chamber music when I started to play flute. When I was a child, we played in hospitals, old people’s homes, parties and so on. At this time, it was normal and organized by the school. I think it was very helpful. Chamber music is especially helpful for the orchestral playing. Here you need an excellent intonation.

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