Do you think that in this climate one has to be able to do many things apart from just playing?
It’s a difficult balance between remaining focused enough to excel in any particular area, whilst at the same time developing a broad enough skill set to find opportunities in a range of areas; some disciplines necessarily require excellence in multiple abilities. I think that the current climate encourages an open-mind. I also think that it is possible to do more than one thing well although this has obvious challenges. Importantly it seems possible to create work, and not just audition for it. There are many stories of pathways that people have taken in the past and are taking nowadays; no doubt there are many more yet to unfold. The terminology here seems to be a portfolio musician. Perhaps musicians have always done this when we stop to think. One wonders whether things have become too specialist in recent decades, at least to some degree. For example it strikes me that big name international concert violinists or pianists are not generally known for their compositions nowadays … this isn’t true of many historic figures. At the moment the flute-world seems vibrant with different kinds of personalities doing a range of things. Of course as flute players we are more aware of the happenings in flute-land.
Looking back at the training that you had, would you say that you knew that you would become a composer/soloist?
No 🙂 I just liked playing and making music. Many will know that it wasn’t until part way through my degree in Mathematics that it began to dawn on me that I seemed to have the music bug more than I’d realised; I was still practising. I really wasn’t quite sure where it would all end up. My training was not conventional as my CV intimates.
How did your views of your career differ when you were 20, 30, 40?
When I was 20 realised I wanted to give music a serious go and knew I’d have to work very hard to make something happen.
When I was 30 I had doubts that I would ever earn a good enough living from music to bring up a family but somehow still couldn’t stop and so kept going. I’d written Orange Dawn and The Great Train Race a few years before turning 30 and they were getting a great reception with the people who heard them so this was encouraging. However, I wrote them ‘just because’ and not part of any great plan.
When I was 40 and was getting a name internationally, I realised the flute player-composer thing was really happening in its own right. The years of playing, of hard work, along with a strange need to periodically create on the flute meant I needed to view my career differently. This was about the point that it took even more centre stage in what I did. I was always a flute player who did other things and not a composer who played the flute … hence I think of myself as a player-composer. However, between my numerous flute publications and hundreds of other co-written published film & TV bits I guess the composing is not just ‘another thing’. Generally speaking I find playing easier than composing. As you might imagine the story is a little more complex than it might seem here of course. I’ve only touched upon the co-writing with Simon Painter which has been an important and long running thread.
More “flutey” questions. When you play in orchestras do you find that the quartertone fingerings come in useful when you have to go to the extremes of the dynamic? Or how about the third register? Do you use special fingerings?
I think many players have non-standard fingerings they acquire to help in different circumstances. This brings up the issue of what we mean by ‘standard fingerings’ where a few notes in the high register in particular bring about differing points of view. Interestingly Ervin Monroe published a book of special fingerings for the advanced flautist using his 40 years of experience with the Detroit Symphony. They all relate to different orchestral excerpts. I guess that speaks volumes in terms of what he thinks at least. Wibb is always thinking about ‘sensitive’ fingerings and I rarely seem to meet an orchestral player who doesn’t have some favourite tricks. There are other fingering books of course. I’ve picked up tricks from all over the place as well as experimenting myself. If it works and sounds good then why not.
Your latest CD is absolutely great and we love it. Could you tell us what inspired you to write some of the pieces?
Each piece has a story around what inspired me to write it. In the case of Curves I have Philippa Davies and Sarah Newbold to thank for encouraging me to write something for us all to play in a flute faculty concert at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama GSMD, along with some support from the research department. When I began to explore some ideas I somehow stumbled upon the germs of the first two movements, including the idea around the title of curves, and from there it took on a life of its own. Hatching Aliens emerged from the title and a fragment that went with it. The opening soundscape was originally a short ‘imagination piece’ that had been gestating for many years … then it hatched! That’s the short story! Touching the Ether, Deep Blue and Beverley all have particularly personal inspirations.
Do you have any courses or tours coming up you would like to tell us about? How would you describe your courses/classes to prospective students?
When I’m teaching I work with the central repertoire and don’t just specialize in contemporary or my works. I love playing Poulenc as much as the next person 🙂 At flute events I also enjoy working with players of all standards whilst of course my regular flute teaching nowadays is at music college. I think it’s great if we can hang on to the thrill of being able to play a simple melody as well as explore our creativivity and develop our instrumental skills at whatever level. Your US readers might like to know that I am travelling to Florida and New York at the end of January 2014 to play at the Florida Flute Festival, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, The New York Flute Club, New Jersey Flute Club, Thurnauer School of Music and Montclair State. In March I’ll be back in the US at more flute festivals and universities. In some recitals I include some non-Clarke repertoire alongside pieces from the new CD ‘Deep Blue’ and some old favourties from ‘Within…’. There are other UK events and courses in 2014 including Kent, St. Andrews in Scotland and Cambridge to keep an eye out for.