Principal Flute of the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra
Who were your teachers, and who influenced you whilst you were studying?
My first teacher was Thomas Georgiou and then Michael Cox, Kate Hill and Patricia Morris. I think I was lucky because my teachers fell in a natural, developmental row for me. I would say that each one of my teachers has influenced me in their own way. I cannot separate them out and say that one person was more influential than the others were because it did not work like that for me. When I was studying at the Royal Academy of Music, I was very fortunate to be there at the same time as Denis Bouriakov and, later, Adam Walker. They were influential musically for me.
I remember one particular lesson with Kate Hill. She said that playing is like cooking – we need to put salt and pepper and then all the herbs and spices but only the correct ones. It is important to know that you have a large arsenal of different spices, which you may not choose to use, but still have in case you need to use them.
Who do you think helped you to prepare the most for orchestral playing?
All of my teachers. I remember lessons with Patricia Morris, when she would really make me play exactly what is in the music. It seems like such a silly thing to point out or tell anyone, but it is surprising how unfaithful we are to the text. I remember her saying once in a lesson: “Othonas, what you play sounds very good, but none of that is actually written in!”.
How did you get your first orchestral job?
So, I finished the Royal Academy of Music in June 2008. The following September I enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to the orchestral training course and the principal flute job for Thessaloniki State Orchestra came up. I went for it and I got it, so I never finished GSMD. The preparation for the audition is something that the readers might be interested in. Apart from the normal Mozart Concerto, we also had to play the Ibert Concerto in its entirety. I practiced it as slowly as I could possibly play it to make sure that everything was exactly as it should be i.e. all of the notes, articulation, dynamic markings and expression markings. Also, I had to make sure that all the technical passages happened 100% perfectly each time I played them, so I devised different ways of practicing them to get to this level. I remember also using the tuning machine a lot. I even use it a lot now, and please do not get me wrong, it is not for tuning myself against the orchestra, but it is good to know where you are likely to be when you hit any note so that you have more information to help you make the decision which way to adjust. Of course, we have to listen all the time too, but knowledge of your particular notes on your flute helps.
What do you think is key to a successful orchestral audition?
Preparation and planning is key! For example, let’s take Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3. It is the one of the uncomfortable excerpts to play in the audition because of the long breath in the first scale. Of course there is also the Debussy’s L’Apres Midi, but that is difficult in a different way. In order to do Leonore in one breath you really have to plan everything. When you are in an audition situation, you are more stressed and the heart is pumping blood and oxygen around your body faster, one might start to think that there is not enough air to play the whole phrase (this also happens in Debussy). This is what you have to practice for before the audition. You have to get yourself prepared by doing mock auditions and anything you can do to recreate the audition process. I am sure many of us can play the opening phrase of Leonore in one breath when we are alone, but can we in a filled concert hall?
So to get an orchestral job, I think, one needs a bit of luck and a lot of mental preparation for the audition. We need to make sure that everything, every little aspect of the performance in the audition room is going to go well. Of course you cannot prepare to be lucky, but for me a well-prepared audition is one where I can play the all the excerpts beautifully and musically with the correct notes every time. The reason for this type of preparation is that you will know that your worst playing is still a good level of playing, even if you do not get the job.
How do you think your playing has changed since you started the job?
Yes, my playing has changed a lot. I am more flexible with tuning and blending. I listen much more to what is going on in the orchestra when I play, and not only my team (the woodwinds), but everyone. I remember when I first started working in the orchestra I listened carefully to the winds but I never really listened to what the strings were doing. So now, a few years down the line, I am trying to listen to everything from percussion players to first violins and the double basses. It is like a big team and you have to know what is going on under you when you do your stuff, and vice versa. For example, when there is a flute solo, there are other parts happening which are also as important as the solo and you have to fit in.
So, I would say it is not my playing that has changed, but my awareness. This is not something that one can train for easily. I was very lucky as I am part of the Ventus Ensemble and we have been together for ten years now. In this ensemble we have all learned how to play chamber music and how to be beneficial to your colleagues. I am not entirely sure what it is like for people going from university or music college straight to an orchestra if they haven’t played much chamber music before. I think this is a very big step, and ideally one should have a bit of experience of chamber music before going into an orchestra.
We know you’ve just come back from the ARD competition in Germany where you reached the semi-finals and awarded with the Bärenreiter Urtext Prize. What have you learned from this experience?
So first of all, what I want to say is that competitions are not my cup of tea! The most important aspect of the competitions is practice and preparation for them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get through the next round, however it is also nice to win a prize because then you really feel like all the hard work has paid off. For example, I practiced many hours per day during the preparation for the ARD competition, for about one and a half months before. I didn’t have the luxury of time as I have been busy, but I tried my best to prepare well. At the end of the day what matters is that we did the best we possibly could at that particular moment. If you can go and practice for 30 mins more, go and practice. Push yourself, and when you go on stage you will know that you did everything you could to prepare. I would say that this kind of preparation is also good for an orchestral audition.
I was very happy with how I played throughout all of the rounds and I realised that after a certain point, the decision is not in our hands. We all know that the jury like different things and if one was in front of a different jury, maybe one would have stopped in the first round or maybe one would have gone to the final. We choose to go to competitions and play to the jury, therefore we have to respect the result.
What do you look for in an auditionee, as a panel member?
I have been a panel member for my orchestra a few times in the last few years. When I sit on the panel I know how the audition process feels, I know how uncomfortable it is. The best that someone can do is to come and start with a very nice performance of the Mozart concerto with good classical phrasing, good intonation, nice articulation and a good sense of rhythm. Then the orchestral excerpts have to be played with good knowledge of each piece and good sense of style. I would recommend listening to a lot of recordings from different orchestras. If the player can excite the whole panel musically, then it is a big plus, because not only flute players are on the panel.
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