How do you think a modern flute player should now approach classical and baroque repertoire? Would you recommend learning the traverso flute?
Nowadays it is relatively easy to get hold of baroque and classical flutes, a wealth of music is readily available online and there are many performances and recordings on period instruments. Therefore modern flute players are increasingly aware of, and willing to experiment with playing the earlier flutes. I think this is a valuable and important development because it opens up the ear and the mind to different musical possibilities on any flute and broadens our knowledge of both technical and musical issues.
For example, in order to get some old flutes working and really ‘singing’, one needs to be very flexible with both the volume and speed of the air in order to search out resonance….AND play in tune (!) Of course, this is also true on modern Boehm flute, but I think the discipline of doing it on earlier flutes, which can sometimes be rather quirky or elusive, can be very useful and instructive to the player and encourage them to be more adaptable all round.
I know that most of my students would say that playing traverso actually helps their modern playing, fires their imagination and that they learn to be more flexible, which is very useful. I would also say that this flexibility also helps them to relax physically when playing – a valuable skill to possess in a high-stress profession!
There is also great subtlety in the variety of baroque articulations available and these can be adapted and incorporated when playing later flutes, giving the player more choice and possibility for expression. And, by the way, it’s also a lot of fun!
So, even if you don’t become the world’s greatest traverso player, there is a still a lot to gain from the learning experience.
The most important thing is that the study of early flutes can positively influence the way we understand and play the music, whichever instrument we choose to do it on.
How did your studies in college prepare you for your career not just as a specialist traverso player but an orchestral and chamber musician in general?
Traverso study was something of a ghetto activity when I was a student and, for various reasons, seemed to be generally disapproved of by the flute ‘establishment’.
How things have changed!
I first fell in love with the baroque flute when, quite by chance, I heard Stephen Preston play a lunchtime recital; I was captivated by the sound and the expressive range of the instrument and was mad keen to get hold of one immediately and start
lessons. Stephen was a huge inspiration – his passion for the music and for research into early flute techniques and their practical application set a high standard for all his students.
Unlike today, there were no student opportunities to play in baroque or classical orchestras on period instruments so my first orchestral experiences were all on modern flute. However, organising chamber music was an easy way to get practical experience on traverso and to explore the fabulous repertoire. When you’re passionate about an instrument you just want to play as much music as you possibly can on it, don’t you?!
Another thing which really helped my musical development, particularly in terms of learning to listen and understanding harmonic structure, was learning to play keyboard continuo and accompanying my student colleagues. There is so much to learn from being able to play even a very simple baroque bass line and realise the harmony – everyone should do it! And it is essential to the proper study of J.S.Bach. It gives one a better understanding of harmony in classical and later repertoire and it’s also very useful to accompany students in lessons.
My first experiences as an orchestral player on period instruments were as 4th flute in Bach’s St Matthew Passion or 3rd flute in Haydn’s ‘Creation’ and later I was very fortunate to get professional work as second flute to Stephen Preston (Academy of Ancient Music and English Concert), Nicholas McGegan (English Baroque Soloists) and Konrad Hunteler (London Classical Players). I learned a huge amount sitting as an apprentice alongside these excellent flautists and knowledgeable pedagogues playing Rameau, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms. As I progressed to playing Principal Flute in these orchestras I was very fortunate to be involved in many exciting and pioneering concerts and recordings of repertoire which had not been played on historical instruments since their first performances!
Which early and historical flutes do you play?
My flutes fall roughly into three basic categories of wooden conical instruments with transitional overlaps between each period as new features were adopted and became standard:
1) The simple one-keyed baroque wooden traverso which evolved just before 1700 and was played, with modifications, throughout the 18th century (Bach, Handel, Hotteterre, Blavet, Rameau, Quantz, CPE Bach, Mozart)
2) The ‘classical’ flute which developed from the later baroque flute design and typically had from 4 to 8 keys. The addition of these keys made hitherto ‘weak’ notes
much stronger and chromatic scales more homogenous (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert)
3) 19th century multi-keyed flutes (8-13 keys or more) Beethoven, Rossini, Donizetti, Schumann, Brahms…
Although Boehm had revolutionised flute design by the middle of the 19th century and the cyclindrical silver flute was more or less universally adopted, particularly in France, the simple-system wooden conical flutes remained popular and desirable in Germany, Bohemia and Russia.
Are there aspects of playing which become easier for you when you switch between the traverso and modern flute?
I think there are things which you learn and become more aware of when playing the early flutes and which feed into your modern flute playing and vice versa. The most obvious issue is intonation: in order to play in tune you must listen keenly and blow in a flexible way on early flutes, especially when using alternative fingerings on the tricky 19th century keyed instruments which can have up to 10 different fingerings for one note (with their attendant breath requirements…)
Switching instruments quickly can be risky because, apart from changing fingerings, they all require rather different use of the breath. To put it more clearly: when going from modern flute to traverso the player must be careful not to overblow because this will distort the tone and have a disastrous effect on intonation. The converse can occur when switching from traverso back to Boehm; so one needs to be careful to support and blow properly otherwise the tone and intonation will suffer. And then there are all those other flutes in the middle where nothing is standard, so each flute requires a slightly different approach.
As I’ve implied above I think that there are musical ideas and techniques which are eminently transferable from one flute to another, to the benefit of both.
Which chamber groups and orchestras have you played in?
Throughout my career I have been extremely fortunate to belong to ensembles which promote both chamber and orchestral music and have also given me opportunities to play solo. In these capacities I have played in The English Concert, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Avison Ensemble, Academy of Ancient Music, English Baroque Soloists, London Classical Players. Nowadays I mainly play Principal Flute in OAE and EC.
In addition to chamber music with these groups I am fortunate to have excellent musicians in my immediate family and thus have performed and recorded chamber music by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven with my husband, cellist and gambist Richard Tunnicliffe and my brother, violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk.