reflections through the curtain of haze; England emerges into salience

The first leg of my journey is done. This morning I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport looking quite large with clothing– not ideal for this 26 degree, 6 am weather. Of course, I am preparing myself for a chilly London evening (always in relativity to Brisbane weather). As I was sitting here writing this, waiting for my gate to open, I cast my gaze outside to watch the sun rise through the haze of pollution which I know all too well from visiting Chinese cities. I believe my last post was written post-Nief-Norf, when I was in Knoxville Tennessee which was only around four months ago. It’s not that the time between then an now was too mundane to write about, I was just incredibly inundated with preparing for my final recital and addressing my other university and musical commitments. This post will be a series of reflections on my last few months in Brisbane and the wonderful opportunities and people who made my time there so unforgettable.

gallerie: a graduating recital

 

 

Behold! My ultimate concentration face. Well, for a recital requiring 40 minutes of playing it was a festival of concentration of all mental, spiritual and physical energies–but a feeling of triumphant cathartic release. It was my most honest performance to myself and my audience that I had played in my three years of my degree. In front of an audience of friends, family, teachers and colleagues what more could one ask for?

a little bit of context for those who could not be there and those wishing to know more…

I had my final recital on the 26th of September. This was my last recital in the Bachelor of Music course at Queensland Conservatorium and I was ready to make it more than just an examination. With the guidance of my teacher, Virginia Taylor, I put together my dream program of pieces that complemented each other and created a ‘gallerie’ of colours and narratives when programmed together. I began first with Female Nude (1993) by English-born Australian composer, broadcaster and writer. Apart from the fascinating and quite sensual title I was intrigued to discover the sound world Ford was exploring in this piece. Female Nude is written for solo alto flute (also for alto flute and wooden percussion) and is the third movement from his work Mondrian for flute/s and percussion. The work draws its inspiration from the the Dutch painter Piet Mondrain and his prolific work. Female Nude spells out the word Mondrian (whilst omitting the d) in fragmented utterances from the performer. These syllabic gasps are interjected between quartertonal pitch variants of A (E concert)– A quarter flat, A natural, A quarter sharp. For those who are not musicians, wind players or flute players this technique is achieved through particular fingerings, or/and a physical action such as ‘bending’ the pitch through the mouth. This piece is ornate with nuanced techniques that intrigue not only the player but the audience also. From flutter tonguing, tongue rams, simultaneous singing and playing, each technique adds to the macro-image and idea of the work rather than what can sometimes be a case ambitious overwriting of “extended techniques.” I had the pleasure of playing this again the day after in Gatton at the ‘New Music at the Old Butter Factory’ concert.

The next piece in the program was Michel Blavet’s Sonata No. 4 ‘La Lumagne’. This piece, commonly misspelt as ‘La Lumague’ became a favourite of mine as I gradually realised just how much could be continuously invented when presented with Blavet’s ideas. Blavet himself was a flute virtuoso alongside his career as a composer and I think this shows in the fundamentally simple beauty of his writing. I think that what Blavet offers is a set of collaborations in his sonatas, between what is written and what the performer can further contribute. Of course, this is a evident feature of Baroque ornamentation which was often improvised by performers to portray a heightened sense of virtuosity. These something special about the written characters that Blavet presents. The most particular example that comes to mind is his final movement in the fourth sonata titled ‘Le Lutin’, the hobgoblin. Blavet’s muscial depiction of the hobgoblin is one of mischief and buoyancy. Two light accented crotchets accentuate the opening, a motif that embellishes the whole work and brings to mind the how a Hobgoblin might walk. Whilst I did not do all the written repeats in my recital (due to time constraints), however I am sure that I will be revisiting this work in the future.

Twentieth century French art is so very colourful and is particularly evident in the music of composers and performers during that time. During the 20th century much Flute repertory flourished and we were gifted numerous works which contained then progressive approaches to pitch, rhythm, extended techniques, instrumentation and structures. Whilst the Sonatine for flute and piano by Pierre Sancan is not a ‘radical’ work it is one that has been embraced by many flute players as a popular staple since its publication in 1946, and is his most widely-known work. French music of this period has particular difficulties. Like many French flute pieces the Sancan requires the lyricism of liquid phrases despite widely written intervals punctuated with more rapid statements. There is evident duality in the music, between the cantabile lines and the rapid punctuations that give it a sense of constant movement and colour changes. One particular section, the Andante expressivo, of which I termed the ‘heart throb’ section became a musical outlet for my deeper emotions. There is a very small list of works from the distant past that I have felt a genuine connection to, however I felt that I was able to emotionally synthesise with the Sancan in a way that I could express my underlying emotions. The andante expressivo occurs after a short piano cadenza which paves the way for this more reflective and still movement with leading to a more tumultuous current of release. I found myself on the edge of tears on the day of my recital as I dug into the emotions I had been feeling about leaving Brisbane, a place that had been such a incredible home with genuine people. Of course whilst I knew I would only be away for around six months, I felt that I was leaving somewhere that had become a bit of a haven and a most definite home. I felt like this section of Sancan gave me the means to express this.

My last piece is a piece most dear to me, and an Australian premiere– Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre (2002) which is a reworking of the second movement of her flute concerto Aile du songe dedicated to flutist Camilla Hoitenga.  WIf you’ve been an avid reader of my posts then you may be familiar with the name of this piece as I played in during the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival. This was the first time I had performed any of Saariaho’s music and I was so stoked that Terrestre was my introduction into her musical language. Upon coming back to Australia, I began putting together my recital program and was determined that this would be my closing piece. All I had to do was put together an ensemble, and I think I found a dream team. I felt so incredibly privileged to have an ensemble of talented members on board, with the multi-talented flutist and composer Hannah Reardon-Smith conducting the work, Flora Wong conjuring sonic sensations from her violin, Oliver Scott with the meditative sounds of his violoncello, Loni Fitzpatrick spiralling through each movement in circular motion and Joyce To leaping from percussion instrument to instrument. Whilst I love this piece it was also the hardest piece to put together as an ensemble. It demands high concentration throughout frequent metre changes, technique changes and rapid gestures. The flute part in itself contains a feast of gestures, tone colours and most notably combines characterised spoken interjections from Oiseaux, a collection of poems by Saint-John Perse. The first movement, Oiseau dansant refers to an aboriginal tale in which a virtuosic dancing bird teaches the whole village how to dance. The second and closing section, L’oiseau, un satellite infime, is a synthesis of the previous parts of the concerto and floats away like the bird, a small satellite in a universal orbit. Who would’ve known that contemporary music would be at the book ends of my recital? Well, I suspect most people! 😉

I will be uploading a video of my recital unto my Youtube in the next week, so click here to subscribe and be notified first!

Again, thank you to my wonderful family and friends who made the room overflow with love and support. You are the dream audience and I’m so grateful that you all came to hear my last recital at the con for a while!

flooding the old butter factory with new sounds

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I had been invited to perform in a very special event the very next day after my recital. Two of my dear friends and colleagues– composer, performer, improviser Jasmin Leung and percussionist and improviser Tim Green had put together a very rare opportunity in the food bowl of Queensland, the beautiful Lockyer Valley. Michael Louttit, Elizabeth Jigalin and myself were invited as guest performers to showcase some of our own work. Over the past week they had been working with children on their holidays to construct a concert of wonderful sounds. I thought to myself that never before had I seen children engaging with experimental sounds and ideas, but this thought was quickly negated as in youth experimentation is what helps us learn. Some absolutely incredible pieces were written by the children, including a piece titled unique rhythms, crazy sounds which was essentially a groovy drum circle and a duo who called themselves the Alfoil Girls who stunned the audience with dozens of ways to make sounds with alfoil in their piece Shimmer. The most astounding idea was wrapping alfoil on a small microphone and running it against the wall. Another piece, Twenty Two Screaming Bowls, written by four of the children involved singing bowls, bows and small objects. I was amazed at how these boys who I had seen running around with uncontrollable energy earlier could create something so utterly meditative. I felt quite inadequate with the sounds I was presenting, especially since I was playing the oldest piece, Female Nude written in 1993! Usually this is still called new music, but an ongoing question I have is when does new music stop being termed “new.” The works composed for the concert were so new, written within the week and some were even improvisations. Jasmin had written a structured improvisation As Close as Lips and Teeth for the whirly tubes swung by the children, vocalisations and me on flute. Jasmin was so eager to have this event the rural town of Grantham as many of the residents had never before heard experimental music let alone a live concert. It was a truly special event and I could see how it touched the lives of the children, their families and the community. It is so wonderful to see experimental music being introduced to children. I believe I wrote about this in one of my other posts regarding Norf-Speak. But this event was different because the children were given the opportunity to make experimental sounds and consequently they composed some of the greatest works I have ever heard. Children have a unique musical perspective and I think much more of this should be heard in ways such Jasmin and Tim’s program.

climbing the stairs to Treehouses

I find myself often working without music. My whole day is spent focusing on intentions of sound that sometimes it can be fatiguing to listen to music for pleasure. Other than instrumental music and concerts I have rarely found myself at ‘band’ shows. This was a bit different. My friend Tim Mead is a vocalist in Treehousesa Perth-based group drawing on folk and spoken ideas. Currently the band are supporting listener, a US based spoken word rock band on their Australian tour. I’m vibing pretty hard to their music currently, especially after hearing them at Blackbear Lodge. Their new track Old Friends is seriously infectious with an absolutely scintillating synth line and fresh vocals and spoken/screamed lines. Non-instrumental music is not my usual subject to write about but I’m liking what I hear and feel that I should do an investigation into more local Aussie bands, especially during my time away. So please comment some suggestions of bands/songs that I should have a listen to. Meanwhile you should all go and give Treehouses some loving on Spotify!

Elim Chan and the New World

This title is pretty multi-faceted. Firstly, it most obviously refers to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor “For the New World” Op. 95 which was performed by the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hong-Kong born conductor Elim Chan last Friday night. Secondly, it eludes to this new world we are entering i music regarding representation of gender, musical ideas, culture and politics. Lastly and on a more personal level, it relates to the new world I am travelling to.

This concert was so incredibly special for a number of reasons. The program was absolutely blockbuster, consisting of Strauss’ Till Eulenspeigel’s Merry Pranks, to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations played by the incomparable Meta Weiss to the momentous New World Symphony. Elim Chan mounted her podium with presence, intent, her arms outstretched and coursing energy into the veins of the orchestra. I have never before witnessed a conductor with such deliberate intentions, ideas and the technique to coax out world-class playing. The Strauss was taken at a bright tempo, light and drenched in character. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, however I was frequently aware of the rich curtain of sound produced by the strings, often more present that the winds. Motif were dextrously passed around sections of the orchestra with solos sounding incredibly polished. The Rococo Variations seemed a lot more textually balanced. With her cello, Meta Weiss made her first statement of the theme with poise and buoyancy. In my proximity to the stage I was able to witness the detail in her fingering and bowing that conjured incredibly moving phrases. As a flute player I may be biased, but there are a few particular sections in this work that I adore. Without a doubt the dialogue between the flute (principal played by Kyla-Rae Ashworth) with the theme and the cello is a personal favourite. Then of course the theme in the relative minor and the final variation. The incredible thing is that Tchaikovsky plays by some of the most standard ways of musical variation, but the work itself never fails to get audiences excited. The final work in the program was the New World Symphony a work that always is an audience favourite. I like to endearingly call this symphony the symphony of seconds as Dvořák introduces and passes his themes and motifs around second positions of the orchestra (ie. second flute, second violins). The work itself is a narrative of triumph, nostalgia an energy and I can confirm Elim brought out all these qualities. It would have been incredible to have the opportunity to work with her for this project but unfortunately I was engaged with preparations with my departure. Instead I had the opportunity to listen and be an audience, a position that is important to the learning and growing mind of a musician.

London landing

Well, I’m finishing the last few lines of my blog on a lounge in London. I arrived at Heathrow around 16:00 this afternoon after over 22 hours of combined flying. At the airport I met fellow flutist Lindsay Bryden who has been living in London and is also doing the Trevor Wye Flute Studio for six months. For those who don’t know why I’m now in England, I’ll do some explaining! Earlier in the year I applied and auditioned for The Flute Studio under the tutelage of Trevor Wye, a renowned flutist, pedagogue and author of several best-selling books. I found out a few months ago that I had been accepted into the course which has recently received confirmed support by the Australian Council for the Arts and The David Cubbin Memorial Fund. The studio has been operating for over 27 years and has welcomed students from over 19 countries. The primary focus of The Flute Studio is to achieve flute performance to a very high level through a meticulous focus on flute technique, method, tone, repertoire, history and performance. The course prepares individuals for the rigorous and highly competitive nature of a professional career as a musician. Whilst I delve through various ‘corridors’ of repertoire, genres, expressions and settings, having technical autonomy is imperative to greater nuances in expression and communication. I am confident that The Flute Studio is an important next step in my professional and musical development.

Tomorrow, Lindsay and I will be travelling to the Elmstead Court Farm where we will live for the next six months whilst perfecting flute technique with four other wonderful flutists from Lithuania, Korea, the U.S. and another from Australia. I’ll be sure to keep this blog healthy and regularly fed with fresh content so be sure to subscribe to be notified of new posts and activities.

If you are interested in financially supporting my on-going project and production costs (such as food and public transport to and from concerts and masterclasses) then you can do so via my Australian Cultural Fund project page here. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and are meaningful no matter the amount! Thank you for your ongoing support!

To all my family and friends~ I already miss you and Brisbane town and I’ll see you next year!!! 👋🏼 I can’t wait to share all my adventure with you!

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