My teacher is awesome

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Today after my lesson Helen gave me a bowl of blueberries and told me to practice.

Also, here she is improvising in St Petersburg last winter. She said it was so cold she had to wear five layers. Evidently her ears and fingers were still working!

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Cassandra with Jane

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This morning I had a skype chat with American flautist (flutist!) Jane Rigler about learning Cassandra’s Dream Song by Brian Ferneyhough. The score is a little intimidating: two pages of tiny black notes, fingerings, rhythms (nested tuplets, argh!), techniques, articulations, and directions. There is an element of performer choice incorporated into the work, in terms of ordering the material on the 2nd page, which alternates with the pre-ordered lines on the 1st. Because of this, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done prior to picking up the flute and starting to learn to play the piece.

I had a number of specific queries for Jane (who so generously offered her time to discuss this with me! New music flute-players are so lovely!), to do with the decisions she made prior to learning the work and how she went about ingraining it. She was learning it at the same time as Ellen Waterman, who wrote an article that I found really inspiring and exciting, weaving a feminist literary reading of the Cassandra myth into her interpretation of Ferneyhough’s piece. While they came to their orderings separately, they influenced and inspired one another, and ended up making similar choices. Both of them came to an ordering drastically different to the majority of other recordings I’ve listened to (virtually all of which have been made by male flautists), perhaps due to a different understanding of what the piece can convey. Jane’s order was E A C B D, Ellen’s was A E C B D. (I might also say that Ellen’s article is strongly recommended reading for all performers interested in delving as far as possible into their own personal interpretation of a piece. There isn’t enough of this kind of performer-based interpretation being written.)

In terms of starting the learning process, Jane recommended finding those lines that are most ‘flutey’ – for which the practise procedure is most clear – for example line 5 (1st page). Some other lines also jump out as being more initially accessible, mostly on the 2nd page – A, B, and C in particular. The ones to avoid at first are those with a lot of unusual fingerings marked in and with severe rhythmic difficulty.

Line C (2nd page) itself includes an ordering choice, which both Jane and Ellen have suggested experimenting with leaving the exact decision to the moment in performance, although Jane cautioned that you need to feel super comfortable with the material to do that. In fact, she said that while she never played the work from memory, it did need to be virtually entirely memorised for a fully engaged performance. Her choice to play from the score was partly choreographical – it’s exciting to see the flautist sweep from one stand to another to change between lines, and it also indicates the change of character (a bit of a split personality!) – and partly to avoid this intensely complex and difficult music being dismissed by “she’s just making that up”.

Once I make it to the more difficult lines (4 and 1, 1st page, for example), she suggests learning the finger patterns first, and then learning the rhythmic patterns relative to one another, and just in small phrase sections that then fit into the bigger line.

All this gives me a really good toe into this piece. While continuing listening and interpretative mapping, I’ll start learning some note patterns in line 5. At the same time, I’ll step up practise of articulation (there’s a fair bit of getting-as-fast-as-possible-then-breaking-into-flutter stuff), throat flutter … and circular breathing! It will take me a bit of time to decide on my own ordering, but I will continue to listen to every recording I can get my hands on (there’s quite a few actually) and to read Christa Wolf’s novel Cassandra for inspiration.

Support Underscored!

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My wonderful friend Janet McKay of random overtones is running a really exciting looking micro festival in Brisbane coming up on September 14-16: UNDERSCORED. Unfortunately state funding didn’t come through, so she’s trying to raise money using Pozible – a crowd funding website. The way it works is you have to make the amount you’re aiming for or you get nothing (Pozible doesn’t charge anyone’s credit card until the time is up)! So please, if you can, lend a bit of support. The program is really super awesome, including Anne La Berge – contemporary flautist extraordinaire – from the Netherlands.

You can pre-order your tickets or get lots of other goodies by supporting the project, just choose the $15 (one event), $35 (three events) or $70 (festival pass) options for tickets. The full program:

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 14
6.00-6.30pm: Artist Talk – SHACKLE (featuring Anne La Berge)
7.00-8.00pm: Showcase Performance 1 – SHACKLE

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 15
10.00-1.00pm: Workshop – ‘Converging Objects’ – SHACKLE
2.00-3.00pm: Matinee Performance 1 – Lawrence English, Janet McKay, Kathleen Gallagher
3.30-5.00pm: Workshop – Composer/Performer Speed Dating
6.00-6.30pm: Artist Talk – Anna McMichael
7.00-8.00pm: Showcase Performance 2 – Anna McMichael

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 16
2.00-3.00pm: Matinee Performance 2 – Rob Davidson, Ben Marks
3.30-5.00pm: Workshop – Fill This Page With Sound – Rob Davidson, Lawrence English
6.00-6.30pm: Artist Talk – Super Critical Mass
7.00-8.00pm: Showcase Performance 3 – Super Critical Mass

Les Folies d’Espagne

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Further to my last post I wanted to share the incredible Mario Caroli‘s performance of the beautiful Marais work (which I saw Sophie Cherrier teach at the Paris Conservatoire) – complete with his own additional variations!


Fastest articulation I’ve ever heard!

Kathleen Gallagher

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At lunchtime in the Ian Hanger was a concert that I could only have dreamed of seeing in Brisbane during my undergraduate.

It was organised by the rather extraordinary Kathleen Gallagher – flautist, singer, and soon to be my regular teacher (I have only been having the occasional lesson with her, but discussed with Patrick the possibility of taking fortnightly lessons with her in addition to my weekly lessons with him – he very much encouraged the idea and she has just agreed)! She, along with Graeme Jennings, John Addison, Vanessa Tomlinson, Andrew Brown, and everyone’s favourite prodigy Alex Raineri performed a selection of works by Kaija Saariaho.

By far the best work on the program was Cendres for alto flute, cello and piano (although I also have a very soft spot for the exotic Noa Noa for solo flute). Kathleen’s playing was completely amazing.

This isn’t her I’m afraid, but it’s such a good piece and this recording isn’t half bad:


Also, in the interest of knowing something of what I am getting myself into, I googled Kathleen. Her repertoire list is terrifying!!

Notes from a Masterclass

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I just snuck into a masterclass at Melbourne Uni’s tiny conservatorium (where on earth do these people practise?) given by the Vienna Phil flautist (and now general manager) Dieter Flury. He was quite an observant, clear and expressive teacher, with some interesting suggestions to do mostly with sound production and melodic detail. But, as is the case with these things, what was most interesting was seeing the students from Melbourne play – I assume the performers were all undergrads from Melbourne Uni – and the characteristics that appear in each of them.

The first two to play where by far the most interesting, and I’d like to relay a few observations. Girl 1 (I didn’t catch any of their names) appeared a very high-level student, with a bright and colourful tone and advanced technique. She chose the first movement of the Prokofiev sonata. Girl 2, by contrast, played a little under pitch, with a thinner, more edgy tone – she chose the first movement of Reinecke’s Undine and my initial judgement placed her well below G1 until she hit the fluid runs and notey passages, which she executed with absolute control.

What really separated these two players was nothing to do with their performance, it was totally in their attitude and approach. When Dieter suggested something to G1 she jumped in with a neurotic agreement before he’d even fully explained what he meant. When Dieter suggested something to G2 she listened with care and speedy comprehension – so much so that she could ensure her understanding through a returned extension or example. Consequently, Dieter was able to go into much greater depth and detail with the second student, moving from enabling her to create an absolutely liquid feel in the opening passage (by avoiding any accents over the leaping 4ths and 5ths) through to identifying and best realising the subtle melodic content in later material. With G1 he spent some time focussing on vibrato and relaxing into low notes, and had to constantly remind her of these points as she moved through the work. With G2 he could give a suggestion, and if at a later point she forgot to execute it, she immediately identified that herself, meaning they could move forwards.

Eighth Blackbird

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Tonight I saw ‘Grammy award winning’ Chicago ensemble eighth blackbird play for the first time – the name is a reference to the eighth stanza of Wallace Steven’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, and is one of the better ensemble names ever. I’ve been having lessons with Tim Munro, their flautist, who’s originally from Brisbane. Anyway, the standard of performance was incredibly high, but the music was …. well, let’s just say I wish they’d played this instead:


They’re touring this production of Pierrot in 2012, but not to Australia of course.

(Liam’s listening to Brahms now.)