Real-Life Professional

It’s the first day of a project and you have that tell-tale itchyness in you chest: you know for sure that some damned flu bug has found a temporary home in your warm, moist bronchial passages, just the very ones you rely on to play the flute. My body temp. went down to below 35 C that night and I called in sick the next day with a fever of 38 C. But then the dilema: do you find a replacement for the gig NOW, or do you take the positive attitude “I’ll be better for a day of rest”. Stupid me, I’m always the optimist. After the free day, still ill , too late to find a replacement and a concert on the morrow, I just had to do it no matter what. And relatively drug free since I am still breast feeding.

So Saturday morning, still feverish, I boarded the train for Berlin. Just a dress rehearsal, concert, and night train home. Do-able. Even with a coughing fit that delayed the second half of the concert.

But my sorry story is not the highlight of this memorable evening of Berlin’s Ultraschall Festival. The night before the concert, our wonderful soloist of the evening, soprano R. Hardy stepped out of the airport in Berlin and broke her leg in two places below the knee. She came to dress rehearsal, casted up and sitting in a wheelchair, ready to throw in the towel. Or not quite just yet…. it actually went well! There aren’t many singers who could manage K. Ospald’s “und es regnet” even with their legs in one piece! But she is amazing. So we decided to go ahead with the piece – we even discussed and arranged that our conductor would wheel her out on stage and how we would all “bow”.

After much ado – we are more than a little nervous and tossing around the phrase “Break a leg” – the big moment arrives. The lights dim, the festival director himself goes on stage to explain the accident, we enter and await the conductor and soloist. Thunderous applause as she is wheeled carefully in, right leg immobilized, sticking out straight in front. The conductor manages to park her, but while looking for the brake lever, accidently loosens the lever that held her right leg up. The leg takes a dive, we all let out a gasp***. But it seems no harm done – Ms. Hardy even made the joke “I wanted to write on the bottom of my foot (which the audience could see, as her right leg was extended pointing at them) “YES WE CAN” ” The audience loved it.

Afterwards, we asked if it had hurt, when the lever was released and her leg fell down. She just replied “Oh never mind”.

I could only gape in wonder.

basics practice

The Value of Time

I’d like to keep a running blog, something I can keep coming back to, on just how long it takes to do stuff. Especially practice things. We are all told – do your Moyse long tones! do your scales! etc. However, I notice that with my students and myself, under the gun and with a stack of notes to learn, basics fall way by the wayside. “I have so many notes to learn I just don’t have time for the basics!!”

Well, here is a starter:
breathing exercise = 2 min.
finger tai-chi exercise 2 min.
a movement from a Bach or Telemann Sonata (an everyday absolute for me!) = under 5 min.
Moyse “pour les tons graves” = 11 min.
my scale exercises = ca. 4 min.
my harmonic trill exercise = 3 min

I’ll get back to this as time goes on!

Prokofiev Flute Sonata

Thoughts on Prokofiev Flute Sonata

Several times I’ve been asked by students “so how do I play Russian music?”
This is always within the context of the Prokofiev Sonata. The history of this piece is quite well known now, especially since Patricia Harper’s article (DFG 4/2008) has been published in the US and Germany (and elsewhere, for all I know). I had learned this history while teaching a private masterclass to students from Moscow. However, Ms. Harper brought some interesting facts to light which I did not know, and which vindicate a suspicion I’ve always had about Prokofiev’s music, and particularly about the flute sonata.

I’ve always been suspicious about a heavy, brutal, rough, even crass interpretation of this piece. Some flutists, even famous ones perform it this way: overblowing the low register, ignoring the refinements of articulation, heavily accenting where no accents are written. Why? I guess they think it’s more authentic. After all – it is Russian Music – whatever that means. Gypsy influences? Peasants stomping heavily in their rough white shirts, kicking up their heels in a macho display? Stereotypical BS, if you ask me. The piece – the music – just doesn’t seem to warrant it. Think about the Russian players of the time, especially the ones Prokofiev admired, like David Oistrakh (yes, I know the Flute Sonata was not written for him!). Oistrakh played with passion and verve, but I suspect the guy did not have a crass bone in his body. Full blooded and full bodied, but never out of control. Why should we not play the Flute Sonata with the finesse of the great players of Prokofiev’s day?

Today we seek “authenticity”; we ask ourselves what was the flute sound he had in mind? Who were the flutists of his day? It turns out, as I learned from Ms. Harper’s article, that the flutist that most impressed him was Georges Barrere! The Oistrakh of flutists! And not a Russian, but a Frenchman exported to America.

I don’t have a clear point in this post, I realize. Maybe only this: we can go overboard with interpretation. Prokofiev was a cosmopolitan figure, and a lover of the Classics. He carefully notated exactly what he wanted and all we have to do is go for it with our minds and hearts open to the music.