Did you miss me?

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So I have neglected this blog for a full year. It’s not like I haven’t been writing elsewhere, but I certainly haven’t been spending the time properly documenting my progress and my struggles in a forum with public access… And you know what? I’ve learnt a few things, so maybe it’s time I get back into it.

I have got a more eclectic tumblr blog going on over at hanneflute.tumblr.com, which has given me a bit of access to younger flute players from around the world (but particularly America), and has made me think about sharing some of the tools I use to cope with my musical and psychological struggles. So I’ve started a series of posts on what I’m calling “practice anxiety”, which I’ll start sharing here as well.

Over the next little while I’ll clean up this blog a bit, maybe get a new theme happening, and then I’ll start to write some more about where I’m at in my life right now, some of my experiences studying in Europe this past year and my hopes for the future (near and distant). I hope there’ll be something for my readers in all of that!

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Resolution time

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8-Tott-Hotel-Visby

This year, as per Dr Noa Kageyama’s (the Bulletproof Musician) suggestions, I wrote down some 83 possible New Year’s resolutions then whittled it down to just three:

  1. Read a novel per month
  2. Record myself every week and have a ‘lesson’ with myself
  3. Go swimming in the Nordic sea

Yes. That last one is completely ridiculous. But I’m determined to make it happen.

So next I must determine the smallest possible step I can take towards achieving these three goals, things I can do today/tomorrow (tomorrow is a little difficult as Liam and I will be spending the day at Woodford Folk Festival).

1. Brainstorm novel possibilities for the year
2. Buy a Zoom H4N recording device (this is cheating: I have already done this yesterday courtesy of ArtStart grant money)
3. Look up the Nordic sea and any swimming possibilities

Here’s to 2014!

Asia (an upcoming concert!)

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I might have mentioned once or twice that I play with this awesome ensemble, Kupka’s Piano!

Asia concert front

Anyhow, we have a really interesting concert coming up this Friday (8 March) at the Judith Wright Centre, and we’re really excited about it. We’ll be playing a variety of modern works by Asian and Australian composers, focussing especially on the work of composers of our own generation. More information on the concert as a whole is available here.

Personally, I am performing in three works on the program: Towards the Distant Plains II by young Chinese composer Wang Lu, Andante for bass flute by Isang Yun (from his flute etudes), and a new song-cycle by Liam Flenady called Stars, Not Far Off. You can listen to the Wang here and the Yun here (more on that one in a moment), and Liam has written his thoughts about his to-be-premiered setting of Wallace Stevens’ poetry on the Kupka’s blog – well worth a read. Better again, of course, will be to come along Friday and hear them “in the flesh”!

As I wrote in my previous post, I’ll be travelling to Japan later this month for an academy with Ensemble Modern, so it’s a very Asian-themed time for me! In the back of my mind is some ideas of repertoire I’d like to have prepared for when I go, however this is ruled mostly by what I think I can refresh in time from what I have already played – I also have a quite few pieces to get up for the YPA round 1 just before I leave! Probably some Saariaho, some Takemitsu, maybe Murail, the Yun if I can take my bass flute… I’d love to play all of Yun’s etudes sometime, the fifth especially:


Especially powerful memorised!

Practise in February

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Over the next two months I have a lot of repertoire to get to performance standard (I’ll list it in a second), which means I have to be super focussed in my practise regime, targeting my specific weaknesses of the moment. As we prepared for Kupka’s series launch (we’ve got a four-concert series at the Judith Wright Centre that we’re really excited about!), there were a few gaps in my technique that I feel need attention:

Isolated finger technique: my fingers have been a constant source of stress, and lately I’ve slacked off finger exercises a bit too much. When I was down in Melbourne I had a great lesson with Margaret Crawford, and she suggested spending a few minutes each day on silent finger exercises, getting absolute control of each finger on its own and in every possible combination. This and then some third register exercises will form the basis of my finger work for the next couple of weeks. For evenness, I’ll pull out every trick in the book for my repertoire – including new ones from Andrew Macleod: selecting points through a semiquaver passage to pause, making sure the notes continue with absolute rhythmic accuracy.

Clarity and reliability of attack: articulation is another area that needs consistent maintenance, and I’ve been neglecting it far too much. Speed is less an issue than clarity, so single tonguing and hard attacks – especially on repeated notes – are the focus. I want to improve my Rampal-style detachĂŠ (tadpole-shaped notes), my Bennett-style ‘rolled R’ repeated articulations, and my accents in the low register especially. Exercises to be selected from Wye’s articulation book, Reichert’s 7 daily ex, Bach & Telemann, and on scales.

Legato line: this one I have been working on and making progress, thanks to the book of exercises Latham put me onto by Philippe Bernold: La Technique d’Embouchure. I’m up to the second chapter (on intervals), but will continue to work through the first. To this I’ll once again add Werner Richter’s Konditionstraining to make sure I can properly control movement between registers, and don’t revert to stretching the corners of my mouth and jamming my jaw forward. This will all accompany jaw/lip position and colour work within my repertoire, and the slow movement project.

I’ve just drawn up my basic weekly schedule for the next few months, working out exactly how much practise I can fit in. By my reckoning, I’ll get between 19 and 23 hours of practise in per week. But I’ll have to be pretty disciplined to fit this in around a pretty busy schedule (and a puppy!).

I’m preparing (for and what):

QSO casual audition: date yet to be specified, sometime in February? Mozart D Maj 1st mvt + orchestral excerpts.
Kupka’s concert #1 – Asia: 8th & 14th March. Wang Lu From the Distant Plains II, Isang Yun’s bass flute etude (IV) & Liam’s new song cycle.
YPA round 1: 21st March. Telemann Fantasie no. 8, Haydn sonata in G, Bozza Agrestide, Saariaho Laconimse de L’aile & Liam’s flute & piano pieces (all 3).
Hopefully … Tokyo Wonder Site – Ensemble Modern academy: 24-30th March. Not sure what repertoire yet.
Study with Camilla Hoitenga in Cologne: April on I’m hoping. Saariaho’s entire flute ouvre (I kid … kinda). Plus plenty of other stuff!
Australian Flute Festival competition tape round: due 28 June (this will depend on YPA results…). Carl Vine sonata 2nd & 3rd mvts, Telemann Fantasie (8 again?) & own choice w/ piano … Bozza? Messiaen? Furrer?

The Slow Movement Project

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So. One of my new year’s resolutions that’s kicking along nicely is what I’ve dubbed the “Slow Movement Project” – that is, I’ll learn a slow movement (or solo, or section of a work) per week, listening to 2-3 or more recordings and mimicking inflection, articulation, colour, vibrato, etc. and then letting my own interpretation develop out of that.

Last week I did the stunning second movement from Haydn’s flute sonata in G (actually his string quartet op.77 no.1):


That recording (Juliette Hurel and HĂŠlène Couvert) is definitely my favourite, although having listened to the bold, brilliant – and by today’s standards, a little messy, and perhaps overly emotive (read: vibrating) – recording by Jean-Pierre Rampal, I believe Hurel was very much influenced by it. It’s always good to listen to Rampal’s playing to appreciate how much the style of playing has changed in the last two generations (NOT a dead tradition!), a change regularly attributed to a perfectionism ‘necessary’ for recording, although changes like this occurred regularly throughout the history of western art music (Moyse’ discussion in his book How I stayed in shape on vibrato coming into fashion in the late 19th/early 20th century is a case in point).

And Rampal has such character and pizazz! A friend recently asked me if I thought it was possible to properly communicate form and content of music if technical perfection is not achieved – I think Rampal is an example that in fact pushing to and occasionally past your limit points can produce results that are not only true to the music, but communicates something extra-instrumental to the audience. (Whether this is the same for contemporary art music, in particular in a modernist style, is something to be experimented with – I don’t just mean playing in a romantic fashion, but rather exploring the limit points of your technical ability.) The flipside is that technically ‘perfect’ performances often, in my experience, fall short on both counts.

Juliette Hurel’s playing, however, manages to check all the boxes. She never overshoots, but manages to find an extraordinary palette of expression within a contained classical style. Her phrase-shaping is phenomenal and she sends chills down your spine with the climax (around 4’35” to 5′) without it being huge. Such clarity of tone and restraint seems so perfect for Classical era music – she manages to maintain this without sacrificing a creative and beautiful interpretation (of course it helps that the pianist is simply incredible). I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to match her straight tone and colour, and her perfectly clear articulation.

This week, in the interest of learning some of the orchestral excerpts I’m guessing will appear in the QSO casual audition list (doing that in February), I’m doing the flute solo from Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice – “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”:


I’ve mostly chosen this video as it’s played quite nicely on period instruments and because the dance adds a nice visual interest (interesting that they’ve chosen a period instrument performance to match more contemporary choreography!), but there’s also another Rampal, which in this case is probably my favourite YouTube recording at least.

This has to be one of the most beautiful flute solos in the orchestral literature, lilting and melancholy, with some gentle ascending lines that warm the heart. Conveying all that is has to offer is challenging, as it’s necessary to maintain colour across the range of the instrument and have excellent breath control. A generic problem for me is avoiding a kind of ‘fixed’ embouchure – I get a bit stuck in one that seems to work, but I lose all flexibility and true control of dynamic variation, and end up sounding a bit samey, or even straining in order to come back to softs in particular. This has a been a good exercise in constantly reminding myself to relax and change, find a good sound with a flexible embouchure.

Next week I plan to work on another orchestral classic: the flute solo from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe. I will be doing up a list to just work my way through in the coming weeks in consultation with Patrick and other teachers I work with.

Resolutions: One Three

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  1. Finish reading The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir, new translation);
  2. Learn a slow movement a week, listening to at least 2-3 recordings and imitating nuance;
  3. Study all of Saariaho’s flute ouvre, learn the vast majority of these works (at the very least, the concerto, Terrestre, Cendres, NoaNoa, and review Laconisme and Oi Kuu) – I’ll be studying these works with Camilla Hoitenga when I visit her in Cologne later this year as part of my Art Start project;
  4. Learn and perform Cassandra’s Dream Song by Ferneyhough;
  5. Practise yoga 6 days per week, including 2-3 classes and 3-4 home practise sessions (active or restorative), also do a yoga retreat;
  6. Be better at keeping a diary and prioritising (a) practise, and (b) most important tasks!

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.