International Touring Flautist
You studied all around Europe and had lessons with really great teachers, did you find the style of their playing and teaching is different?
I think every teacher has his own idea about playing, although generally their technical way of doing it is similar. What makes a teacher interesting is the message he gives, basically, how technique can be at the service of music and not the other way around. I can say, from my personal experience, that it is not easy to find a good balance between the technicaland the musical.
You asked me if the style of playing and teaching is different; of course it is, since we are all different. Some of my teachers centered their pedagogic approach on technique while others were more interested in the musical discourse. However, all of them were searching for touching and personal performances.
Did you find that the actual styles of playing were different?
Very good question! It is not easy to answer, since we are all different. There are different ways of conceiving life and consequently different ways of playing. We play what we are, our tradition, our experience, so, whether we are interested in the musical message, or in the sound, or if we just want to surprise others, the tone production and the mechanical movements follow our thinking.
The way in which every teacher I met in my student years conceived sound and its technical production was dramatically different (even if they all belonged to the same school). This taught me that we need more than just one technique, more than just one school. Then, of course, we adapt our skills to serve the musical ideas, the message we want to express.
You have quite a few competitions to your name. How important do you think they are to the career of a young professional flautist?
Well, competitions are important but for other reasons than just trying to win them and boost your pride. I always used competitions as an occasion to prepare and create new repertoires. I think I have always had a point of view influenced by de Coubertin: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not the winning but the taking part.” In general, today’s musicians start from the idea that if you win a competition you are better than somebody else, an attitude that makes what we do a very poor enterprise and supports those who say that competitions are for horses and not for artists. I think we should be more interested in the message of the music and make it clear rather than in trying to overwhelm others.
You play in many chamber groups. What repertoire do you most enjoy playing? How did you come to the idea of playing and recording the lesser-known pieces by great composers? Do you also play more modern compositions or commission pieces?
I play plenty of chamber music, especially with my trio (the Albatros Ensemble, flute, violin and piano.
www.albatrosensemble.com). We play mostly 20th-century and contemporary repertoire. I find playing chamber music the most fulfilling experience in music, because you are a soloist inside a group, and you can really decide which musical idea to give to the composition, sharing it with the ensemble without the help of a conductor. You can really be yourself!
My trio started giving concerts in 1990 and the repertoire we found at that time was limited to a few
composers: Cui, Martinů, Rota, etc. We immediately began to ask for new pieces from contemporary composers, so within a few years the repertoire for this ensemble expanded and became much more interesting. New pieces came to us from many Italian and international composers. Our first cd (Il triangolo) consists of contemporary compositions by Bettinelli, Donatoni, Chailly etc. Then we re-discovered Nino Rota, a composer who became famous for his soundtracks (for instance, La dolce vita, The godfather, Amarcord) but who was also a great composer of concert music. The trio decided to record his chamber music and we performed his compositions for trio, violin and piano, flute as well as his music for two flutes, flute and harp, flute and piano. We also discovered a short piece for flute and piano (allegro veloce) which had never previously been recorded. This cd has had great success and was republished three times within the first month of its release. The last cd we recorded with the trio is devoted to Bohuslav Martinů. It contains the trios for flute, violin and piano (Madrigal sonata, Promenades and Sonata), the first violin sonata and the flute sonata. As a trio we keep on asking composers to write for us. In the Chinese tour we have just had, (December 2013) we asked two young composers to write a couple of works which we performed with incredible success.
You have written a few articles and given many masterclasses on circular breathing. How important do you think it is for a modern flautist Would you advocate using it all the time or only when the music requires it? For example would you play L’apres midi with circular breathing?
Circular breathing is a technique that has been criticised for many years, especially from people unable to use it! Now things are changing a lot. There are two main techniques: the first uses the cheeks to
push the air out of the mouth; the second, which is the one I teach, is based on the use of the tongue.
Is it important for a modern flutist to know how to use it? I want to answer with what one of my teachers
used to say: “If you don’t learn something new everyday (not only in music) that is a sad day”. Personally I do not use circular breathing anywhere and always; I think that it is a matter of musical sensitivity and attitude. Using it in L’apres midi, why not? If done well it sounds great. It is sad to hear students saying about somebody “Wow, have you heard it? He uses circular breathing, you can hear it.” That is really weird: if you do it well, it must not be audible.
So could you describe your method?
In brief, I can say that I use the tongue as a main engine to push the air and in this way continue the air stream. I do not use the cheeks at all. The idea is basically to use the tongue to obtain the effect of an air pump.
We are particularly fond of your latest cd Arie e Capricci. How did the idea of this CD come about?
As a young student, I was charmed by the E minor flute concerto of Mercadante. At that time I did not know he composed many concertos (six) and a lot of other flute repertoire. The idea of the ‘Arie variate’ came to me when I was asked to perform the E minor concerto in St.Petersburg with the St Petersburg Philharmonic. I had lost interest in Mercadante’s music, because I had been influenced by recordings I had heard and by the general idea about the composer, so I had the impression that it was a superficial piece. To put myself more in the spirit of Mercadante, I started looking for his flute music, searching for something interesting to say, getting inside his personal story and practicing his solo flute music. Then, after I’d got an idea, I returned to the concerto. After the performance I realised how much I liked Mercadante’s work, the classical style of the music, and its relationship with Mozart’s and Rossini’s style. I discovered the Capricci six months before going into the recording studio and I was so excited to see this music, which had never been recorded previously, that I decided I wanted to include them in the cd.
That is an impressive approach to performance! Would you advocate this type of background research for everyone to do?
Well, from a personal point of view, I would say yes. Of course, everyone is different and there are so many different approaches, who can say with certainty that his own way is the best? What I try to do with my students is to encourage them to look at all the aspects of the personality of the composer and the historical context in which the piece has been composed. This work needs more time but I think it is worth it.
You are a very proactive flautist. What kind of a flute career would you recommend a young flautist from a music college to pursue these days?
Nowadays, I hear a lot of musicians saying that there is a global musical crisis, that there are no jobs, at least not for everybody. However I think that passion in life is everything. If you really love what you do, keep doing it because in this world there are too many unhappy people. To the students I would like to say: “Be curious, ask a lot, learn a lot from any musician who can give you deep feelings. Go abroad, listen to as many ideas as possible and, of course, don’t make the mistake to follow the one that is not yours. Do not copy: there is no need to make yourself less than you are”. As a musician I am lucky because, many years ago, I decided to follow my dreams.
As a student I always searched for masterclasses and courses that could inspire me, both from a human and a musical point of view, and very rarely did I find them. Generally courses were taught for the personal glory of the teacher without a real interest in the student’s needs. For this reason I created, together with my brother, a festival-course (www.lealtrenote.org) that unites a great amount of chamber music, an international, inspiring and welcoming teaching staff, great chances to perform in public and, thanks to our sponsors and supporters, some of the lowest student fees!
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