Preparation – again

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For me there are still three levels to gain once you have practiced a piece.

First, you can read it through
Second, you can actually play it
Third, you can start to make music with it

Next week I will play the premiere of Rebecca Saunder’s Bite which is a 15+ minute piece for bass flute solo. If I am lucky, I will reach the third level. Watch this space, I would really like to write about it. I just hope I find time before the year is over.


Seasons, and a Practice Idea

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Great for practice breaks

Great for practice breaks

I have been thinking about practicing freely and vacation time from the flute. In the past, I have put the flute down for long periods of time (8 weeks was my longest break, when I was juggling a big decision of where to settle down). However, despite my long vacation time this year I realized how much I enjoy vacation practice when the sun is warm and everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves. I play a bit, go pick some raspberries, play some more, sit in the sun and read. It is a healthy rhythm that is denied to me under normal circumstances.

When the weather is cold or rainy (like most of the time where I live), I just want to be under a blanket curled up with a cup of tea. When temperatures climb over 20 Celsius (ca. 69 Fahrenheit), most of the people around me start complaining how warm it is, but that is when I come alive and want to actually accomplish something (maybe because I am a snake, according to the Chinese horoscope).

So I took breaks from the flute this summer, but only a few days at a time. Now I face the challenge of a new season with a dizzying amount of pieces to prepare. How can I stay free and relaxed? I took a very simple idea from traveling. When on the road, the simple thing to do is count your bags so you don’t leave them behind. Don’t worry about how big or what color, just count them. In flute practice, I will try to do this with my stress points, just count them. At the moment I have 3, so when I re-take the flute after a break or a breath, or when I stop a passage, I do a count. It is so much simpler than thinking: right shoulder-blade out, left shoulder down, lower back open. Just 1-2-3 and I am aligned again. So stress gets left behind, not good practice habits 🙂

Just for the my records and for those who give a rat’s, here are the pieces I will be performing between the 22nd of August and the 18th of November. (Not including December because I am not sure yet, but there will be concerts!)

Rebecca Saunders – Bite for bass flute (premiere)
Farzia Fallah – Poshte Hichestan (premiere for C flute)

Gordon Kampe – Arien/Zitronen
Tom Johnson – Self Portrait
G. Ligeti – Aventures/Nouvelles Aventures
Frank Zappa – Black Page and other works
Edgar Varese – Ionisation (Castanets and Guiro)
Luciano Berio – Points on a Curve to Find
Steve Reich – Radio Rewrite
Harry Partch – Delusion of the Fury
Hanspeter Kyburz – Danse Aveugle
Toshio Hosokawa – Slow Dance
Michael Finnessy – MuFa
John Cage – 16 Dances
Liza Lim – Tree of Codes (opera)
Claudia Molitor – Walking with Partch
Harry Partch – Li Po “Intruder’ (maybe!)
Michael Wertmüller – antagonisme controle
G. Kurtag – Bagatellen
Enno Poppe – Stoff


Berio Sequenza, some musings and links

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Several days until I record the Berio Sequenza no. 1. This winter break has been very stressful. I was with my family in St. Petersburg. Family can be stressful, my son is at a difficult age, I myself am at a difficult age. Russia is stressful. It was so cold that it has taken my skin and lips days to recover. But now back in the saddle of my bicycle in the temperate zone of Northwestern Europe, I have hit my stride.

I am allowing myself a luxury. Next week there are plenty of pieces to prepare, old and new, but I decided to forget about them and devote my practice time to concentrate on Berio.

The main reason is that my body feels soooo much better when I keep my practice time to only a few hours a day. This is how I want to feel during the recording. So I warm up, play Bach for sound, articulation, style and focus. (Watch Pahud’s video: where he gives his ideas on playing with focus. I practice like this with either one or two movements of Bach. I don’t recommend learning new pieces like this, but with pieces you know well, it is a great lesson.) Then Berio. Then for the rest of the day I do my Helen stuff, read, hang out with family, watch dumb and smart stuff on Youtube, study Jazz. This is luxury, as I have said. No rehearsals or teaching this early in the year.

This time around I thought I would re-visit Gazzeloni’s recording. Just because. (

It reminds me of a conversation I had with Camilla Hoitenga about new scores and recordings. You receive a new score along with a recording by the person for whom the piece was written. So you dutifully sit with the score and listen, but so much doesn’t correspond. So how do you prepare, follow the score or the recorded performance? You assume the player worked closely with the composer, and the composer is happy with the recording otherwise s/he wouldn’t have sent it to you. Even though I am sure I have been that player/dedicatee, I still don’t have an algorithm to navigate this situation.

Since Gazzeloni’s recording is very much of its own time, I doesn’t spin me into a crisis. I find it very revealing though. I won’t end up following his tempi, but there are quite a few turns of phrasing that inspire me to think differently.

About the tempo. I was talking to another local flutist who had worked with Berio on the Sequenza. He told me Berio complained that most players “play it too f(*&^ing fast!”. Well, I have news for you, Sr. Berio. You wrote it too f(*&^ing fast. Funny that the new edition doesn’t even adjust the metronome marking.

I have also enjoyed watching Paula Robison speak on the subject. ( In the last section, she points out possibilities that Berio allows (one namely being a slower tempo). I was also interested to hear about how she connects the Sequenza to the works of Samuel Beckett. Through Berio’s electronic piece, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), I was aware of the James Joyce connection, and Beckett does make sense. Through playing Rebecca Saunders music, I am quite familiar with some of Becketts’ texts. So another inspiration has surfaced 🙂

One big influence on Berio that I think really should be mentioned is that of the musicians around him, namely, his wife at the time, Cathy Berberian, for whom he wrote the third Sequenza.  Her theatricality, her agility, never cease to inspire me. Only recently did I come to know she composed herself. Here is an example of her graphic score, Stripsody (

I love her recording of the vocal Sequenza too, but I just came across a recent recording of the Sequenza no. 3 for voice by a young singer, Laura Catrani that fascinates me. ( I can’t aspire to this type of recording, but it does give me food for thought.

imagesI am unashamedly playing from the old edition. Being a creature born myself in mid-20th century, I am hoping the good people of Universal Edition will forgive me. The old version has been in my memory for about 20 years now. But I do own the new addition, and am finding it more useful than ever this time around to answer questions about timing. For an interesting discussion of the two versions you can read Berio’s Sequenzas: Essays on Performance, Composition and Analysis, Chapter one by Cynthia Folio and Alexander Brinkman.


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