Which are your three favourite symphonies?
It is incredibly hard to choose because I would choose all of the Bruckner symphonies, and all of Brahms’, a lot of Mozart and quite a lot of Mahler. You are asking me to select just three and I will not. I will choose five and mention a couple more.
So the slightly random ones will be:
J.C Bach Symphony for double orchestra in G major: I think the slow movement is just incredibly sublime.
Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms and Symphony in 3 movements: I just absolutely love those pieces because they are so colourful and the few chords in the end of the Psalms just move me to tears and I don’t know why.
Mozart’s 40th Symphony
The top 5 will be:
And a slightly unusual one is a piece which I think is just one of the most extraordinary pieces in the whole world, Vaughan-Williams 5th Symphony. None of his other symphonies remotely come close to this one. To my mind it conjures up the English countryside beautifully.
If you didn’t play the flute which instrument would you play?
The three main things I would have liked to have done other than the flute, and for a while I was passionately keen on NOT to have played the flute, are to play the piano (I practiced very hard to get good on the piano with not much success) and I would have loved to be a singer. Then the cello has appealed enormously, but my wife is a cellist and it freaked her out a bit that I was learning it, so I stopped that. But really I would love to be an oboist, because as a flute player we get to tweet around as a bird while the oboe gets the really deep and meaningful stuff!
Who is your flute hero?
From the old school of flute players I would say that my heroes are Rampal, primarily because he was the first flute player I ever heard of and he was mega famous back then. He was even mentioned in a Woody Allen film (people were excited, in the film, to have got a ticket to Rampal’s concert). I lived in Zimbabwe in Africa and he actually came there! He was the first professional flute player to ever go there. I just remember him having such incredible charm, elegance and everything was so beautifully phrased and eloquent. I just loved his sense of style.
Then of course I became really influenced by Wibb and James Galway but in recent times my new flute hero is Mathieu Dufour.
How do you create the vast amount of colours in your sound?
I have attached myself to a small electric current and then I get someone to turn it up really really high so it’s so painful……….
That’s not really the answer.
The real answer is:
My interest in colours when playing, and I am flattered to hear this question, came from the period when I had a deep impatience with the flute as an instrument. I found the way forwards by thinking about the flute creatively. I found that the flute is limited so that I wanted to get out as much out of the music that I have chosen as possible, and I am now deeply happy that I did. I always just tried to maximize the possibilities as much as I could to create effects which I thought were musically exciting and appropriate at the same time.
Technically I would think about being a musician and about being an actor and using emotions from real life. If you feel fear or anger or if the music speaks of full-heartedness or a beautiful sunset or of being decollate and being snubbed, or just being jolly in a pub, you have to use how you feel in those situations when playing music which reflects it, because, basically I think, that is how you communicate through sound. If you put your body in the place “this is how I feel when….., and this reminds me of that” therefore it will create those colours the whole body will create that colour for you, and things like the vocal chords change and the upper face changes too. For example when you are depressed you tend to frown so the face will be very downwards and if you are happy it’ll be upwards. All these things, I think, affect colour hugely. So be an actor, put yourself in those moods and work out what your body does and needs to do and then line it up with the music and that can be very powerful.
How do you maintain your practice while busy in the profession?
The busy working profession keeps you in practice, but only to an extent. I often get teased for the fact that I practice a lot more than my colleagues and I’m afraid that it means I have to practice whilst other people are around, so I’m always trying to find dressing rooms, stairwells, odd bits of spacing. I am always practicing ahead, so I always know what I am about to deal with. It is more about having it locked in mentally rather than just the technical aspect of it, so I have time to really think about it and know what I really want to say in the music and have an intimate knowledge of what I am dealing with at any given time. It is very challenging to find practice time. Linked in with that is learning to practice very quickly and efficiently. The whole business of it is that you practice nuts and bolts very dispassionately and cold headedly, and sometime this speeds up the whole process and you can learn things much quicker because you are not complicating it with emotion, which brings in a lot of variables and you’re one step removed from it. Then, once you’ve gained knowledge of it you can add the “flesh”.
What exercises do you do?
I do many exercises, but, perhaps, not as consistently as I should. I try to keep the fingers going and I tend to develop my own exercises around what interests me at the time and coming up from material that I am dealing with. For instance, at the moment I am interested in learning how to play top D pianissimo, and I can’t yet! But sometimes if you nail stuff, which is beyond what you need, then what you need is a lot easier and more secure. I am always experimenting with new ideas and I think it is most important that the intellect is engaged to develop exercises, which are appropriate at the moment and they belong to you. Even if you are using written out exercises you somehow need to make them your own, and think what you are getting out of them and what you want to achieve from them. If there is any interest whilst you’re playing them, like if an interval interests you or the colour of sound, be perfectly prepared to go off on a tangent and start creating other exercises around interesting to you.
How do you warm-up for orchestral rehearsals and how much time do you spend warming-up?
This has changed over the span of my career and just generally with the times. People are now much more prepared and I am sometimes insanely prepared in that I really like to be ahead of the game. Sometimes, you only get one opportunity to play that one solo, for instance tomorrow I start a piece by Arnold Bax called Tintageland I’ve heard about it but never played it. It will be my one and only time I will play this piece so it becomes very important that I am prepared and do the most with the opportunity that is given to me. It works on both levels from the professional point of view that I would like to further my career but my personal reason is that I want to do the best I can for the music. So yes preparation is key to me, and sometimes you find that some things I have done a lot need not much preparation, and other things are easy, such as if you are playing an accompaniment in a horn concerto or, for instance, the Mascagni Intermezzo from Cavalira Rusticana where you only play in the very last bar. But, on the other hand, I play a lot of contemporary music and you just have to play shed loads of notes and so preparation is huge.
In terms of warm-up, I would get there really quite early before the rehearsal and more than warming-up I would just practice the part. I think at the stage I’ve got to personally, I don’t need warm-ups and I like to just dive in, because that is what you have to do in an orchestral situation. You do not get a warm-up before you play Brahms 4; of course you are warmed up because you have been playing, but often you have to sit there for long periods of time and then suddenly have to dispatch something. So I like the idea that you have to be good at just diving in, and in a way it is a form of practice. I think it’s a flexibility thing and that it really depends on what stage of your career and development you’re at and warm-ups are more important for people younger in their careers, just to make sure they are in the place they need to be.
How much time do I spend? It really varies, but basically I just work all the time so, most of my life is the easiest answer!
Do I use specific exercises? I have specific exercises if I’m feeling that there are specific things about my playing that I want to unlock. If you work a lot you can get into lots of tension so I am using exercises to relax myself to get back to a place of greater naturalness.
How do you keep the preparation fresh and keep motivated during audition preparation time? How do you deal with the music stress and then bring the best version to the stage?
The device I’ve used during my lifetime is using the viewpoint that we are vessels through which music travels, because music is the overall and extraordinary gift for humanity, and it is beyond us and our comprehension. It has a huge effect on our bodies, it has huge power and we mostly don’t know what it is or what magnitude it has. So I find it helpful that one takes a view point that one cannot own it and cannot control it. That helps to keep things very fresh if one needs to step out of it and just say “I can do my best for music at this given moment” but that you’re not wanting to own it, and that your role is to deliver it as best as you can at that given moment and to be free to change and respond to what the music is dictating at any given time.
The waiting stress is a huge thing and I have been through the audition process myself and one of the worst things is hearing all the others play! They all sound louder and better! It is very distracting, so what really endures is the absolute basic love of music, which will shine through, but it’s hard to block things out sometimes so it becomes very important to have your own sense of love of it and your own sense that you are a qualified voice though which music can travel.
Before your job what did you practice?
When I was young, I was fuelled by the influential people in my life with the idea that I should not at all consider an orchestral career and that I should only think about being a soloist, as that was the only worthwhile thing to do.I really was not preparing myself for this career; I’d never applied for any of the youth orchestras etc. I was trotting around doing recitals and the odd concerto and I did that for a long period of time before realizing how boring it was to repeat over and over the flute repertoire. I got really interested (and I always had a deep love for music) in wanting to play Brahms, many pieces of Mozart and Mahler, which you would never access as a solo flute player. It was at that point when I turned to the orchestra, so I had to practice an awful lot very quickly so it wasn’t a methodical progress. But I would say that generally knowing your excerpts is really the name of the game and that you have to be able to audition well and have to trial well and I am so pleased that Principal Chairs offers this information to everyone who needs it. So, it is the thing of absolutely being able to hone your expertise to a finestandard that whatever is set on the audition list you can just trot out. How long you practice per day really depends on you.
I was talking just today about the importance of breaks in practice. This is something I feel very strongly about that the brain needs time to digest things. So I would always suggest shorter period of times with good breaks. You need to learn how your own brain works and work with it, so I can’t say to you how long, but there are scientifically proven facts that 1.5 hours is the maximum span. Please do work it out for yourself so you’ll find out how beneficial your practice is. It has to be acknowledged that sometimes to just “plough on” is detrimental.
What or how do you practice when you have reached your physical limits for the day?
The easy answer is to listen around the subject. If it is repertoire based and you’re doing the Schubert’s Variations for example, I would start listening to recordings not of the piece but affiliated repertoire by Schubert of that period. Just immerse yourself in the whole style. So, in this case, listen to Die Shöne Müllerin, listen to the Fantasie in F for four hands and just immerse yourself in everything like that. I think it can really be fascinating; it’s a bit of an osmosis thing. You’ll not only be learning the style but you’ll be learning about how other musicians deal with the same issues that are raised. It’s an osmosis thing and doesn’t need to be too analytical, just enjoy it!
Then, if there are technical demands that you need to meet, in terms of the flute, you can just listen to recordings of people who are technically excellent. Often, I advise people to look at art books so that you are immersing yourself in the architecture and painting of the same period and similarly the literature. If you are playing the Undine Sonata by Reineke which is based around a text for example. If you are looking at Schubert, Göethe was a huge thing around that time, and then if it’s Mahler then Rilke is your man. Then all of this takes you out of this feeling of being stuck in a box of just being an instrumentalist and introduces the wider scheme of existence and to the human need to express and the whole business of art enrichment. Then you come back refreshed and the technical aspects fall into their rightful dimension.
Where do you move your tongue during the performance?
By “move the tongue during the performance” I would imagine you mean move it to a position in the mouth rather than “do you move it at all”, otherwise we would not be able to articulate if we didn’t move it!
I try to adapt my articulation as precisely as I can, which is difficult, to what the music demands. The majority of other players stick by one way of tonguing but I am a bit of a magpie so I like to experiment with different things and would use forward tonguing and backward tonguing, below the teeth, above the teeth and all other sorts of things to achieve the result that I am looking for.
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