Paul’s Video Materclasses
You are having a very varied career. Which aspects of it do you enjoy the most?
So many! Whilst being a musician has many drawbacks, I would not have changed anything in my life so far and the future looks equally captivating.
You use the word ‘varied’ and this for me is a key word. We are all different and what might suit myself, won’t necessarily be what others are looking for. Being a musician in this country is very special. There is a ‘hand to mouth’ feeling about this profession (not many orchestras provide a salary or a pension for a start) and there is a wide range of activities taking place from concerts to recitals and on to film soundtracks. Being a classical musician in the UK can be and should be part of a vibrant existence.
I have always loved ‘civilised’ touring. Not the one offs in Athens I mentioned earlier, but the ones where you really can soak up the atmosphere, traditions and food of another nation. I was recently working in the USA. I had two weeks with quite a lot of time off in a snowbound New York and then a few days in the Hudson Valley before going on to Boston. And someone was paying me to be there!
My first time in NY was with the ECO in 1984. The orchestra was booked to play a New Year’s Eve concert at Carnegie Hall with Isaac Stern conducting and then on January 2nd we flew down to Fort Lauderdale to pick up a music cruise around the Caribbean for two weeks. Again, Isaac Stern was there, but so were Ashkenazy, Kathleen Battle, Salvatore Accardo, Keith Jarrett (performing Mozart piano concerti!), Maurice André and James Galway. You don’t forget trips like this in a hurry and some great stories spring to mind now that I am remembering it all!
Of course, being asked to join some of these great orchestras was nothing short of wonderful. In my youth I could never have imagined that I would one day be principal flute of the LSO.
I loved my time in the ECO. It was a terrific combination of great characters, a relatively easy schedule, with some inspirational soloists/directors and plenty of time to learn repertoire. But I also knew that there was a bigger world of repertoire for an orchestral flute player that a chamber orchestra was never going to be able to satisfy. I tried to run the two jobs for awhile, but nobody was happy, especially myself.
When I landed the job in the LSO, there had also been another, older flute player under consideration. When he heard that I had been offered the job he was extremely put out and the next time he saw the Chairman of the orchestra, who happened also to be the principal oboe, he said with a degree of anger: “I don’t know why you have given Paul the job. He is one of the biggest bullsh***ers in the business!” The Chairman swiftly replied:
“Well then, he is going to fit in perfectly here!”
I loved working with Abbado and in particular with Leonard Bernstein. He is one of the few people I have encountered where the word ‘genius’ comes to mind. Apart from myself being the soloist in Halil with Bernstein conducting (not many flute players can say that!), I will always treasure the performance of Beethoven 9, from what had been East Berlin, on Christmas Day, 1989.
Performing and recording Shostakovich symphonies with Rostropovich was also deeply moving. After all, he knew both Shostakovich and Prokofiev personally and commissioned works from them. Whilst his conducting technique was not always the most clear, there was no doubting his understanding of the music and its place in history. I have more recently suffered young Russian conductors attempting to provide an interpretation of great symphonies from their homeland and it is very apparent that they have little idea as to the circumstances surrounding their composition. Rostropovich was also an incredible cellist and had a wicked sense of humour, which kept us all suitably amused in rehearsals. On one occasion he arrived at the Barbican Hall for an afternoon rehearsal. He had a white bandage around his left hand. The leader asked him what had happened. Rostropovich replied:
“Friends. This morning I was conducting the students of the symphony orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama next door. They were very bad and I became very frustrated. In my anger I made a very big movement with my right arm and accidentally skewered my baton through the fleshy part of my left hand between my thumb and forefinger. The baton went right the way through my left hand and came out the other side. I was in immense pain. But you know, when I came back from getting medical help and had this bandage on my hand, they played much better!”
I have seen numerous places in the world, many more than once. There are quite a few cities that I have little desire to re-visit, but I am still thankful to have had the opportunity of at least seeing them. Large parts of the globe have so far escaped me and I have yet to visit: South America, India, South Africa. Ideally I will finally get to some of these continents in the first three months of the year, when they are in the warmth and colour of summer. I will then miss the gloom, grey and air of depression that hangs over the UK!
Probably most of all I have enjoyed the friendships that are an inevitable part of being in an orchestra. A symphony orchestra, certainly in the UK, becomes a second family. You spend so much time with colleagues and as such being a full time member of an orchestra is very similar to being in a long term relationship or marriage. There are moments of great happiness and also the lows of disagreements, but everyone is united in the commitment of playing a concert to the absolute best of their abilities. When it really works, it is enthralling beyond words. You could light up a small city with the energy being generated by the orchestra and when it doesn’t work, everyone shares the disappointment.
Of course, it is also important to unwind after a concert. There can be huge stresses involved in a performance and these can turn into a battlefield of nerves, tension and adrenalin. As Napoleon Bonaparte reputedly commented: I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.
So often this is the case after a concert, but being musicians, we usually drink beer or wine, as we can rarely afford the financial leap to champagne.
There were many, many memorable evenings that took place after the evening show. On one tour to Germany we were staying slightly out of the centre of Cologne. The hotel was fine, but there was little in the way of restaurants and bars around it. However, there was one Mexican restaurant close by and after the concert, virtually the entire orchestra homed in on the place. It was the middle of winter, they were not at all busy and to this day I would argue that this evening was their busiest ever, either before or since! The manager was beside himself with joy. We all ordered huge amounts of food, wine and beer and in the end, he had taken so much money, most of our after dinner drinks were completely free. There was such a wonderful atmosphere (normally the case on spontaneous occasions) and nobody made any effort to even try to leave. I remember finally making my exit at about 4.30 in the morning.
On another occasion in Santander, this time in the middle of summer, we all fell into a tapas bar just down the road from the hotel. Again, it was a hugely convivial gathering, the only problem being that according to (the then) Spanish laws, all bars had to close at some point and then re-open. At around 6.00 in the morning we were all asked to go outside into the beautifully warm morning sun (with our drinks), so that they could shut the bar and at 6.30, once the new shift had arrived, we were all allowed back in again! I hasten to add that we didn’t have a concert that day!
What would be your advice to young flute players in music colleges around the world, concerning their career?
Firstly, the world is such a changed place now to when I left music college and as a result, unless you are either lucky or have a long term plan, getting into the work environment requires a different approach.
Certainly in the UK in the late 70’s and 80’s, there was a lot more going on in the regions beyond London. Apart from numerous vibrant music clubs, nearly every town had choral societies and these required orchestras for their grander occasions. Then, once out of music college, it was relatively easy to find work. The recording industry was also in full swing. If you weren’t touring around the country playing in music clubs, or churches and cathedrals, there was a good chance that you would be in a recording studio. This was particularly relevant in the 1980’s with the arrival of digital recording and the CD. Instantly, orchestras were engaged to record as much repertoire as possible. The pot of money for such projects seemed to be bottomless!
Everything is different these days and apart from some film soundtrack recordings, there is comparatively little in the way of orchestral recording taking place (and even then, much of it is of a very low standard, with wannabe soloists paying for what amounts to a vanity project). Some of the orchestras have created their own labels and record concerts. There is no payment up front, but if the product sells well, then eventually the membership of the orchestra does see a modest return. However, there is a price to pay for this. Not all musicians are comfortable sharing the concert platform with microphones.
We all now find ourselves in a shrinking business which and in all likelihood, isn’t going to revert to ‘the good old days’. However, I firmly believe that this is a truly stimulating time to be a musician and with the comparative ease of travel these days and the wonders of the internet, we should in theory be able to create and enjoy satisfying and possibly lucrative careers. We have to learn to be curious of what is around us, to see whether or not any of what we see and experience could be helpful towards our own promotion.
Someone fresh out of college could still simply wait for auditions to come along. The problem these days, is that whilst there still is movement in the job market, it has slowed down dramatically. People are hanging on to their livelihoods and with the recent global recession, are reluctant to make changes that could potentially impact on their standards of living. A valid argument, especially if hefty mortgages and children are also involved.
I know of students who have left college with the sole aim of succeeding at orchestral auditions. They have all been good players, but for some it has taken more than ten years to finally land the job. Potentially, that is ten years of self-doubt and a constant struggle to make ends meet. A decade is a large chunk of life in which to be insecure or unhappy, or both!
More than at any other period in my lifetime, it is important for musicians to challenge the climate we now find ourselves in. To this extent, to have a successful and fulfilling career we all need to develop our more entrepreneurial skills. This doesn’t always come naturally to a musician, who by definition of the task in hand has spent many long hours in solitary confinement, whilst his or hers peers have been out enjoying the art of communication with fellow human beings!
The people who appear to be successful in the classical music industry these days are those who can ‘add’ something more than just the ability to play their instruments. In the flute world Greg Patillo springs to mind. Classically trained, he went for numerous orchestral auditions and got nowhere. He then developed his beat-boxing skills and posted videos on Youtube that went viral. When several million people are looking at what you are doing, a lot of doors start to open! Equally, Greg would be the first to admit to the limitations of beat-boxing on the flute, but it has given him a career where he is largely in control and now has a huge following.
Beat-boxing won’t be for everyone, and in many ways has now come and gone, but all students need to think beyond simply landing a job in an orchestra.
So my advice to students leaving music college would be more a series of questions:
“What are your interests other than playing the flute?”
“Can you think of any way in which you could combine this interest with flute playing or music in general?”
“Do you have friends or colleagues with whom you could create projects?”
“Would you consider looking beyond the borders of your own country for work?”
If you can answer “yes” to any of the above, you are already on the way to approaching your future in a more ‘creative’ manner.
And my final piece of advice:
Don’t stay at home waiting for the phone to ring. Get out and about and make sure people are aware of your skills and most importantly, your existence!
When you are on audition panels, what do you look for the most in the player?
This cannot be narrowed down to one area in particular. There are many aspects of a player that come under scrutiny in an audition and all of them have more or less equal importance. However, it needs to be noted that on most occasions, a panel will have a very good idea as to how the audition will un-fold, from the way the applicant walks through the door and to how they tune up with the piano. To show confidence, without arrogance joining in, is a good way to enter the audition room.
An audition is such a peculiar moment in your life. You have spent weeks or even months preparing and suddenly you find yourself in a room with a group of strangers and maybe fifteen minutes to prove to them that you are the person they should give a job to, possibly for life!
So, here is the list of ingredients an audition panel might be looking for:
Personality, character, intelligence, confidence and communication; a good sound; a secure technique; a good range of dynamics; accuracy in all excerpts; a good understanding of the scores; a good sense of rhythm; an awareness of musical style; rock solid intonation.
You have published many books aimed at developing technique for students. Could you tell us a bit about them?
There are a few strands to my publishing life!
When I was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1970s, everyone who studied the flute played most, if not all of the J. S. Bach Sonatas, both in classes and recitals. There was no ‘stigma’ attached to these works and bearing in mind the limitations of the overall repertoire for the instrument, we were delighted to have so many works by such a distinguished composer. Indeed, it was a pleasure to boast to clarinet players about our numerous sonatas by J. S. Bach!
Then, the early music movement began. Initially, apart from a few exceptions, it really wasn’t particularly convincing! Those who played on 17th/18th Century traverso flutes tended to be those who were unlikely to succeed on the more modern flutes. Intonation was always an issue and most of the performances came across as amateur.
However, by the mid 1980s baroque players were all sounding rather good. They had vastly improved instruments and the days of playing out of tune were mainly gone. They were now as good and often better players than their more modern flute-playing colleagues. As such, their performances were captivating to listen to and they had justifiably established their style along with a strong and loyal following.
But where did this leave Boehm System flute players? Increasingly, teaching both at the GSMD and then the RCM, I found that students were intimidated by the Baroque movement and often were terrified of approaching music by Bach or Telemann, for fear of “getting it wrong”.
This of course, was absurd, but it made me realise that something had to be done to encourage my students to review these feelings.
My editions of Bach, Handel and Telemann, with dynamics and slurs, came about simply to encourage modern flute players to investigate further and to appreciate that it was possible to perform these great works on modern, metal flutes, if a degree of sympathy and understanding of the style of the period in question, was adopted.
These editions are published by Kevin Mayhew Publishers Limited.
My Rabboni editions (24 Studies and 24 Sonatas, in two volumes of 12) are something of a curiosity. Many years ago I went for Sunday Lunch with my parents, in the Market Town of Hungerford. A pretty Market Town, with many interesting small shops, it was worth a stroll through, particularly after large quantities of perfectly cooked roast beef, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding had been consumed!
In a second hand store I found an old book with the collected works of Giuseppe Rabboni, flute virtuoso and principal flute of La Scala, Milan from 1826 to 1856. I paid £3.00 for this treasure trove! The 19th century was a fascinating time in Italy, with much taking place in the world of opera. Key composers were Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and later on, Verdi. The 24 Studies by Rabboni are technically demanding and also musically stimulating. I find so many of the more conventional flute studies musically lacking. These become a chore to learn and play, whereas the Rabboni studies leave you wanting more!
In a similar way, the Rabboni Sonatas (with piano parts composed by John Alley, one of the most gifted musicians I have worked with) are Italian ‘postcards’ from the 19th century. Many of them, the slower ones, are a perfect form of Italian Flute School sonority exercise. The others, encourage the performer to work on technical issues in a more musical way. In short, they are all a pleasure to play.
I have to add that Rabboni was also a poacher! Not all of the pieces in the Sonatas are his own work. Number 13 for example is the sketch of the slow movement of a Donizetti Oboe Sonata, transposed up by a fourth.
The Rabboni Sonatas, volume two, are available through my website (www.pauledmund-davies.com) and the 1st book of Sonatas and the 24 Studies are available through Kevin Mayhew Limited.
As far as my technique book “The 28 Day Warm up Book” is concerned, to understand the thinking behind it, the best answer is to copy the Foreword:
“This book came about as a result of a limited conviction of, and at certain times despair in, my own technique ‘system’. Having been impressed on numerous occasions with the seemingly flawless and almost irritatingly fluent control of others, I had over a long period of time wondered why I appeared to struggle with what ultimately were some very basic issues (yes, being a musician is fuelled by a sinister cocktail of paranoia and self doubt!). Of course there are numerous books available covering all aspects of playing, but there appear to be few available that highlight key elements in a compact, logical, compelling and musically stimulating way. When I was studying, it seemed to be that one week I was concentrating on articulation, the next week scales, the following week something else and so on, which in many ways is what it should be like, in order to embrace all of the complexities of learning an instrument.
However, just as I was getting to grips with one technical aspect, it was on to the next, so any form of consolidation went out of the window. There is no one to blame for this as ‘cramming’ is very much a part of the learning process, but it does follow on that if you are just getting to grips with something, moving away from it too soon reduces and dilutes its impact.
It was necessary for me to be bluntly self critical about the weak areas of my playing and then to create some exercises that could help reduce the effects of these demons. The result is this book. All I can say is that it has worked well for me and I hope that whatever your ‘gremlins’ might be, there will be some useful material for you hidden within the following pages.”
The book is now printed in the USA as well as the UK and has reached many corners of the World. In the UK it is available through my website (www.pauledmund-davies.com) or from Just Flutes, All Flutes Plus or Top Wind. I am delighted with the response, as apparently my flute problems seem to be remarkably similar to those of other flute players!
Needless to say, now I have more time to think and focus on all matters flute related, there will be further technique books (with even more attention to detail), on the way soon!
And finally, some food for thought. When Leonardo di Lorenzo was asked if he thought the flute was an easy instrument to play, his answer was as follows:
“The flute is the easiest instrument to play badly”.
And within that simple, yet telling answer, there are several more volumes of analysis and discussion to be enjoyed!
© Paul Edmund-Davies 2014. ® Paul Edmund-Davies 2014.