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Principal Flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Who, out of your teachers, has helped you the most with the the audition preparation for you first job in a professional orchestra and how?

I learned something unique and important from each of my teachers, but by far my biggest influence was Jim Walker, former principal flutist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He gave me the incredibly important foundation I needed to develop as an artist and to become a confident principal flutist. He taught me that my sound needed to be distinctive, personal and persuasive; that impeccable intonation and rhythm are essential elements of good musicianship; that my vibrato must always sing and support the line of the phrase but never intrude; and that my playing should project confidence and assuredness at all times. I found that with those characteristics solidly in place, I could focus my energy on developing the character of the music and on digging deeper and deeper into my interpretations.

“Far too often, Brahms, Stravinsky, Mozart and Debussy all sound much the same.”

How do you prepare your students for auditions? Do you have a special system that you use?

I try to provide each student with the guidance that would be most beneficial to their specific needs rather than follow a more general system. For some students I focus a lot on overcoming the psychological challenge of performing behind a screen, for others we need to work on developing a much stronger understanding of the context of the music they are preparing, and for others I have to really drive home the basics of style, intonation, rhythm, and expressive freedom within an orchestral framework. Without exception, though, I work with my students to develop and refine the specific character of each piece they are preparing. Far too often, Brahms, Stravinsky, Mozart and Debussy all sound much the same. Even though the student may have a clear idea in their mind of what sort of characters they intend to convey, they don’t yet have the tools to communicate those distinct differences through the flute. This is work I really enjoy, since it brings together the creative and the technical elements of musicianship. Great artists need both the imagination to develop a compelling interpretation and the tools to deliver it.

Many of our subscribers are professional freelancers who are always busy. How would you recommend planning a strategy for your practice?

I am a huge believer in quality over quantity. So often, I see musicians working on just one element of the music at a time. For example, I might see someone slowing down a difficult passage and repeating it a number of times to clean up their fingers, but all the while they’re using a relatively poor sound and not inflecting the music with much shaping or character. They then have to circle back to add those elements in later on. I always try to layer on as many musical elements as possible when working. So I don’t just play scales, I try to play beautifully shaped scales with a singing sound, perfect intonation and some sort of interesting rhythmic element. I don’t just work on playing the Firebird with excellent rhythm, but while I’m working with the metronome I ask myself if those rhythmic figures are conveying the character I want. In other words, use your whole mind and soul when practicing. This is the quality part! If you do this at all times, the work will be very intense, efficient, and tiring!! Twenty minutes of this sort of in-depth work accomplishes much more than an hour of drills. I also advocate practicing without the flute if you can’t find a practice space or only have 2 minutes to spare—our minds are powerful tools, and simply thinking through a phrase or imagining a certain quality of sound can produce results later on.

“…it’s really the combination of many different qualities that creates a moving, compelling artistic voice.”

What is the most important quality that you look for in a musician or flutist when you are on an audition panel?

This is a good question, but my answer might be frustrating: I look for someone whose playing makes my heart sing. So many things have to be in place to move an audience in this way—when it happens in the context of an audition I can hear the orchestra playing in my mind as the musician plays, I am drawn in and invested in where their interpretation is carrying me, and I just simply want to hear more and more of what this musician has to offer! I wish I could boil this down to a list of qualities, but it’s really the combination of many different qualities that creates a moving, compelling artistic voice. It’s an elusive goal but it’s attainable! This is what I strive for in my own playing every day, and it’s exciting to be part of the process of finding new musicians to work with who are inspiring in this way.

“My goal is to keep growing and learning—as far as I can tell there’s no point in our artistic development at which we’re “done.””

 

You have played in many orchestras. How have they developed or changed your playing?

I’ve been fortunate to play in several orchestras, each of which has influenced me, but it’s hard to come up with specifics associated with each orchestra. My playing has definitely grown over the years, much of which is due to the tremendous inspiration I draw from hearing great artists perform. I am often inspired by a turn of a phrase I hear from a colleague in the orchestra, or by a Mozart concerto performed by a brilliant pianist, or by a conductor’s way of drawing a unique and specific sound from the orchestra. My goal is to keep growing and learning—as far as I can tell there’s no point in our artistic development at which we’re “done.” Also, the practice of keeping an open mind and looking for creative inspiration is one of the ways I keep my life in the orchestra interesting and rewarding.

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Q&A with Peter Verhoyen

Q&A with Peter Verhoyen

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Q&A with Walter Auer

Q&A with Walter Auer

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