What would you say the advantages and disadvantages of the audition system and system of appointing jobs in Europe as opposed to UK? Screened auditions VS unscreened, trials etc?
I think it demands a lot of flexibility from the audition participants to stay focused in a jungle of totally different audition systems. I always recommend my students spend a lot of energy researching the orchestras they are going to audition for. Not only do they need to know more about the tradition, sound and musical style of the orchestras, they also have to know about the way auditions are organized. In our orchestra, first and second round of the audition are screened. My experience with auditions is that often in these rounds the people with more projective sound have an advantage; but when the screen is removed, those people are often judged as not having enough refinement in their sound. I heard from many students that they prefer to perform at screened auditions because it feels less intimidating. On the other hand, I believe being able to perform in front of a specialist audience without being intimidated is a skill that should be part of the audition evaluation process. Also I believe orchestral musicians should behave in a way that makes the fear of subjective judgments about candidates they know disappear.
The UK trial system certainly has the advantage that it gives the possibility of observing the candidates in real orchestra life situations. However, sometimes so many candidates are given trials that it gives the impression of having found a cheap way to work with free-lance musicians for some time. I think specific coaching sessions are very important in the audition preparation process. At the Antwerp conservatory, we often organize mock auditions with and without screen.
Apart from your orchestral work, what else do you do? Do you have any solo projects or recordings you’d like to tell us about?
When I entered the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Aldo Baerten, our principal flutist, suggested I could start a piccolo master program at the Antwerp Conservatory. Alumni of this program now have piccolo jobs in several orchestras. I was very proud when my student Anke Lauwers became a laureate of the NFA Piccolo Artist Competition in Anaheim, 2011.
Three piccolo recital CDs with pianist Stefan De Schepper were very important in developing my piccolo skills. For the last one ‘Piccolo Polkas’ I combined some of the better salon music polkas with newly written compositions for piccolo and piano with addition of tuba, bassoon, clarinet and English horn. I invited my colleagues to join me for this. I hope to produce a 4th recital CD this season. With my chamber music ensemble Arco Baleno I will make a recording of the Vivaldi concerti this fall.
Giving workshops and master classes helping young talents develop their piccolo skills is my passion. Our first International Flute Seminar (with my orchestra colleague Aldo Baerten and Dutch flautist Robert Pot) proved to be a great success. We had 40 participants from 9 different countries – the course will run again next summer.
Orchestral work, auditions in europe, solo piccolo recordings
What is your job title? Can you tell us a bit about the orchestra?
I’m the principal piccolo player with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Our orchestra is based in Antwerp and is one of the two major symphony orchestras in the country. Our chief conductor is Edo de Waart and our principal conductor is Philippe Herreweghe.
Who were your teachers and influences as a flautist?
After finishing my studies at the Brussels Conservatory I went to Paris to study with Ida Ribera. I also learned a lot by attending master classes with Geoffrey Gilbert, Trevor Wye and William Bennett.
Have you always particularly enjoyed and excelled playing piccolo?
I never had a piccolo teacher! My first piccolo was a plastic model I used for playing in a wind band. My early orchestral audition experiences proved to be more successful when piccolo playing was involved and so piccolo playing gave me the opportunity to do a lot of freelance playing. I always enjoyed playing piccolo – I think that has to do with my personality. I like the innocent joyfulness and exuberance that can be found in a lot of the piccolo orchestral excerpts and I try to prove that the piccolo can be a fragile and cantabile instrument, too. When I started learning the flute at the age of 9, I had to work very hard to learn to form my embouchure. It was a frustrating process, but I think it has given me the advantage of being able to switch to other flutes easily. I wouldn’t call this excellence, but I discovered that I could play passages on piccolo with the same ease as I could do it on flute.
What is your favourite repertoire to perform?
As an orchestral piccolo player, my top 4 composers are Shostakovich, Mahler, Ravel and Stravinsky. I always enjoy performing the Shostakovich symphonies the most. I used to think the piccolo repertoire was limited to the polka’s from the ‘Golden Age’. Thanks to the American piccolo players like Jan Gippo, Zart Dombourian-Eby, Sarah Jackson, Cynthia Ellis, Lois Herbine and Christie Beard I have found a lot of interesting works. I have also started a project with Flemish composers in which I’ve premiered and recorded some really fine new works for piccolo and piano. As a result of this combined work by some very courageous piccolo enthusiasts like the Italian Nicola Mazzanti, Matjaz Debeljak from Slovenia, Lior Eitan from Israël and of course Jean-Louis Beaumadier, I think there is now much more interesting piccolo repertoire than some people expect. I regret that there are only a few really good piccolo concerti and hope to help change that in the future too. In fact – just last season I commissioned a concerto for piccolo and wind band by Robert Groslot and recorded it with the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides.
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Q&A with Amy Yule
Amy Yule is the principal flute of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. She joins us in a discussion on general flute playing, tips and tricks and orchestral life. This is part of our weekly interviews with professional flute players hosted on our Facebook page. Like and subscribe for more.