“To be a successful flute player and to be famous are two very different things. And I’m very happy to be the first one.”
The interview I present is, without any doubt, very very special for me. Since I began with the flute and to be conscious that I would be a professional flutist, I have had some flutists that have been examples for me.
From my studies in the music school, where all of us have as a reference our teacher; in my case Simón Fernández. Also later in the bachelor or postgraduate, as happened with teachers as Júlia Gállego, Fernando Gómez or Antonio Nuez. Or nowadays in my master studies with my teachers Irmela Boßler or Christian Sprenger. Even with great classmates and friends as Francisco López, Diego Aceña or Ana Naranjo.
Apart from these mates and musical friends, closer but equally admirable, there are always some “unattainable” stars with whom you always dream to listen in a concert or to know.
Right, as I announced in the 7 concerts you shouldn’t lose if you are flutist, the coming 16th, 17th and 18th December 2016, Emmanuel Pahud, international soloist and principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, will play the C. Reinecke’s flute concerto with the Spanish National Orchestra in the “Auditorio Nacional de Música” in Madrid.
I have had the great pleasure to share with him a rehearsal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and afterwards to chat with him in order to share it with you. I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed preparing this interview. 🙂
Special thanks to Elsa for all the help. 😉
- How did you begin in music?
Basically, when I was 5 years old we moved with my family to Rome (Italy), and the neighbours upstairs were a musical family. They had children who were playing the violin, the flute, the cello and the piano. And for some reason I started whistling and singing what the flute player was playing. I said: “What is this?” My parents asked upstairs and we were told it was Mozart Flute Concerto no.1, so I said : “I wanna play Mozart Flute Concerto no.1”. And this is how I started. My younger brother picked the violin.
- In which way did you studied when you were a child in order to be solo flute of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and international soloist?
Never, never. Only when I got my first job and was 19-20, I started winning competitions and becoming one of the better ones in my generation internationally. So at that moment, when the job in Berlin opened, of course I prepared intensively for this job. But I never thought before about becoming a flute player, becoming principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic, about becoming a soloist or making recordings. It was never an ambition, it just happened.
- We know that you have a huge professional activity. What do you tend to do when you study? How do you prepare your concerts?
It depends, some things are in my repertoire. The things I learned before I was 22-23, they are there for my life. The things that you learn later, you have to work on them every time again to reacquire everything. This is something which depends really on which piece or project you have to do currently and which one is the next one. Basically, I always see each project where there is solo, orchestra or chamber music as an open window to the next project all the time. So for me is like oxygen, but with the age now I need a little more time; half a day, one day maybe, to turn around and think about what’s going to be next.
- With which flute do you play? Is it made exclusively for you?
No, I have two flutes I play. One, since 1989, is Brannen Cooper with a Sheridan headjoint, all gold 14 kt. This is the one I had when I was 19. I bought it with my first competitions prices. And recently, I thought Haynes did a wonderful development on the instruments and a wonderful research, and make very funny instruments. So I’m also currently using a Haynes flute. It depends on which project. I would say in the orchestra is more the Brannen, and for recitals and chamber music is maybe more the Haynes.
- What are the most curious things that have happened to you in your musical career?
The fact that how I came to music or music came to me is the most curious thing that probably happened, because there was absolutely no reason for me to encounter this thing. It changed my life basically, what happened to me when I was 4-5 years old. It really changed my life. Apart from this, there are many funny things or incidents that happen regularly, but this not the worth talking about it.
- At least in Spain, a lot of flutists are worried, when they finish their studies, about finding a job. And I think that is not easy. What do you recommend to all the flutists that have finished the studies and who have not found a job with the flute?
You know, I don’t think is a flutists problem. It´s a society problem. It is true that more than the 40% of the young Spanish students after the diploma, so qualified young women and men in the age 25-27, don’t have a job. They are jobless for the first years after the study. It’s a question about the society. Why do we want people to study for what jobs? But it’s not only in the music. It’s in particular true also for sciences, for research, for mathematics, economics, statistics, etc… I think there are maybe solutions at a political level to change how the society is working. But unfortunately they are not necessarily popular. We’ve seen many countries try different models. That’s the case in Spain, the case in France or in Germany for example, to take three big countries. Or also Great Britain, or Italy. Three big countries inside Europe. But there are very different social and economic models. Certainly if the money is well invested and better redistributed, probably we can save more jobs.
The advice of course is that if you go international, you widen your horizon. It doesn’t mean that you will have a job next to home, but at least you can have a job (probably within the other end of the planet). Even if you have to go to South America, or Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia… there’s a lot of humanitarian things also that can be done in many different ways and many different things. These are jobs also. And they might be better connected to what you studied than you think actually, because people even when there is a tsunami somewhere, they also still need music.
- And getting closer into the orchestral world… What do you expect to listen from a flutist in an orchestral audition?
You know, first of all when you are playing an audition, don’t try to impress anybody; try to please them. Because what you need is the vote from the jury if you want to get the job. It´s not to get satisfaction, this is not at all important. First of all, study the orchestra you are applying for: check on the internet, on YouTube, on which other documents are available; how do they play, what do they like, how can I play something in a way that is gonna please them, than is gonna make them feel: “Ah yes, this is our style, this is our guy, this is our person, this is what we are looking for”. Because this is what we need to do. That’s the first priority, to think properly about what is an audition. It´s not about showing off, is not a competition like who is gonna go first from the traffic lights. No. Who is going to arrive first, in the end, is who has shown through the program that they understand how this orchestra is working.
- Do you think that we are a lot of flutists?
It depends. I mean, when we were looking for a principal piccolo, we looked for 10 years. We hired two persons, but the second time was the right choice. We did many auditions, nearly every year. A lot of people auditioned, but there are generations where is not the right moment or time, or you need to train some people. This is what we try to do, because we have the academy programme. And in one of the auditions we asked the two finalists (since they were relatively young) if they would be interested to come in the academy and study our style of performance and get some knowledge and preparation for a next audition. And this is how it ended up. I think is better since we have this academy model, just like every great football club have their own training centre. To pick the young talents quite young, and to raise them ourselves into our style of playing. In this way we can guarantee the incorporation of new generations and people from wide arrays. It is not necessary to have German people. There are a majority of foreign musicians in BPO now. But this is the case of BPO. If you talk about another orchestras, can be different situation, because they have a different position. They are in a different town, they have a different mission, there’ve a different position on the market. We are relatively global players, actually quite kind of “ambassadors of music” if you want. Also for the city of Berlin or for life in Germany. We carry certain values, but we should take other German orchestras like Leipzig, or Dresden, or Bayerischer Rundfunk. There will be some radio orchestras in Germany which will have a very different mission or a different position also.
- What do you think about the current musical outlook?
I think it is much more colourful than a lot of people will imagine. Because yes, culturally our society is recessing in the western world, in a lot of a white people countries, I will say. It is a wave that is going down but it will go up again, I’m sure. Doesn’t matter generations. But in some of the countries, some of the territories are going up like crazy. I’m talking about Latin America, China, Korea… You see it of course in the competitions, in the classes, in the students… but also in the concert activity over there; I can tell you there is really a lot in building new concert halls. Not the countries like Japan; it has been slowly going down over the last decade, because it has been going through so much since World War II also. Every country has a different history, and despite these places where is going down, I can see through my travels as a soloist, that there are many other places where is also going up in the same time. It’s a mixed outlook, and depending on where you come from and where you gonna be, and if you’re ready for the world, there are many possibilities.
- Do you think that musicians should innovate in order to bring classical music closer to people? What do you do in that way?
Yes and no. I mean, the form of the concert as we know it, or the performance for the public, is relatively new. It is something that was structured around the French Revolution. It was the first time that music was not religious or for the court. It was open to the public, with people who were interested in the music; and not just because it was paid by the king, or the prince, or by the duque, etc… or for the religious purpose. So it didn’t have this meaning of the power anymore, but it was more the power of the “bourgeois” generations. This basically coincided with the end of the classical period and the beginning of the romantic period. It was also the time where the musicians were employed first, and then started to be commissioned. The composers made a different purpose. They started the log writing music about themselves, about the expression, with a lot of crescendo, diminuendo, dynamics, articulation… much more than before. All this changed basically in that time.
But the concept as we know it, is quite a recent thing. And we play in our concerts a lot of music that doesn’t fit in these concerts. That comes from previous times where music had another function in the society, or was music from other cultures like we play here. Music from Hungary, from Russia, from America, from Australia, from Northern Germany and Southern Germany, from very different periods within one week in the Berlin Philharmonie. But we all play in the same space, and alone, this is a paradox. And is putting everything a little bit in a format. So the format of the concert is existing, is part of our society. I think we are certainly, as Berlin Philharmonic, quite aware of this through the education programmes that Simon Rattle has introduced. They didn’t exist before. Something that is very important for the anglo-saxon world, because it existed in England, or also in America, for much longer time. It reaches and bring music to people, playing in their spaces. It can be hospitals, schools, prisons,…It can also be in the office, why not? With the flashmobs and this kind of things, being in public places. I think is a very interesting thing to make people aware that this exists. Otherwise they don’t necessarily come to the concert halls.
But there are still a lot of people (not in Germany, not in Scandinavia, not in Northern Europe, but in Southern Europe, or in England or in America…) who think that people who play music is just because they have this hobby, that they are talented. They don’t think that it is a profession. That you are employed to do a job, and that each ticket to go to the concerts serves to pay the musicians. They don’t really realize this thing, which is surprising. Because when they build a house, they understand that they have to pay for each person putting the stones together, for the plumber, etc… And we are kind of the same people. You need an architect (that’s the conductor in an orchestra), you need different handcrafts from every group. As a soloist it is a different thing. They come to see a performance, like acrobatics, like gymnastics, and people in general understand this better. So flashmobs are a good way of making things happen now, making people aware. You can also organize moving flashmobs that go into the concert hall. That’s a relatively new concept. There are many other things to do. I think putting music in a space that is not for it can also be dangerous, because it can sound really bad. And then is not attractive, and is not good for the music in the end.
- You have been a lot of times in Spain playing in Valencia, Valladolid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid… and also in the Flute Convention. You will be very soon in Spain to play with the Spanish National Orchestra: Is your first time playing with the Spanish National Orchestra?
Yes, I think so. I played many times in Madrid, in various concert series, recital concertos and chamber music…. But I think is my first time playing with “la Nacional”.
- Do you like to go to Spain? What’s the thing that you like more from there?
Sure. What I like particularly in the spanish culture is that there are a lot of generations of flute players. They have the parents, and the children, and also the generation of the grandparents, and their friends…. Many things in Spain are a family thing. Also going to the concerts, I feel. And they are also meeting this people from several generations. Also these flute classes together. It really feels like this family thing. It gives the strong feeling of the power it can give being together and believing about something together. Maybe, in this case,the power of the flute. It is the power of the music, and is great to see the kids very motivated also coming, being eager to be there to listen and to get a picture, a souvenir, an autograph or something to take back home and just to remember that they have been there. And give them just a few words of advice to practise, to motivate them. Because you can be talented, but you still need a lot of training. It’s like athletes: not because they are running well as a kid, they can become olympic champion. It needs a lot of practise, of training, the right diet, the right preparation, a lot of team around, and support from the family, from the state maybe, or from the sponsors… and this kind of things. It is the same for music, to that extent. Reaching the top level is very similar in sports and in music, except we have a little bit longer career…and a little less audience also!
- Lots of flutists want to be like you, do you think that you have created a tendency in the way of playing in nowadays flutists?
I’m certainly not in the right position to answer this question, because if somebody can be observed, it is more the flute teachers, the people who are in the jury of competitions… I’m so busy playing myself…. I don’t teach so much, so I’m not in a position to say this. Now, what I think is interesting is when you say a lot of flutists want to be like me. Of course when I was a kid I was admiring Rampal, Galway and Nicolet, who were the three top players. But of course many others who had to be my teachers also. But I never wanted to be like them. I always used the flute to express my own feelings, my own thing. I borrowed some things that they could do really well, I tried to imitate those number of things. So maybe this is more what you mean, like they would like to be in the same position, to have one of the top jobs and be recording, and be one of the very few players who are playing all around the world on this instrument. First of all is exceptional, is not the rule. And there’s no recipe to get there. If you have something to say, and you’re talented, and you practise, and you work a lot, and you find the right people to guide you, and you have the right contacts, and take the chances in the right time, like certain positions that open etc… everything might just develop into this.
Nowadays you have many ways to become famous: with Facebook, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media… I don’t use any of this because I’m from a previous generation. But I understand there are many ways of getting famous there. But if you play classical music to become famous, maybe you should do something else. Because all audience is only 2-3%, 5% in the best case, in the market of music. If you wanna be famous in the show business is better to act, dance, sing, make TV, telenovelas, films… something less cultural. Because what we do… we talk about Stravinsky, Bartok, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms… it’s a cultural heritage. I think is a shame to use them for your own fame. It will be abusing and misusing that. I’m very glad that a lot of young kids are seated in my concerts. They are full and there are lot of young generations coming to my concerts. But they should be aware, what it is. To be a successful flute player and to be famous are two very different things. And I’m very happy to be the first one.
- As you know, there are some flutists that are now conducting, like Jaime Martín, etc… Have you ever considered to conduct or to teach?
Never, never. I was offered to conduct by my managers, that also have many famous conductors on the list, when I was 25, 26, 27……. Not offered, but set out as perspective of development of my career. But I have too much pleasure making music myself. I play 150 concerts every year; half of these in the Berlin Philharmonic, half of these as a soloist. I’m really busy every second of the day. And the other days I’m rehearsing and travelling. It’s filling my life. I don’t have time to teach, except one student in the academy of the Berlin Philharmonic. And conducting would mean that if I do a week conducting in orchestra, then I will not be able to play the flute that week. Or I will have to do it on top of that. It is too much. Is too many things at the same time.
I’ll be happy to do some more pedagogical work, with youth orchestras, classes… later maybe, when I should stop being on stage or when I feel that I want to do something else. It could be another point for me to decide, as a proactive decision. That´s how I see it. I think Jaime Martín or one of his predecessor in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Thierry Fischer, or Philippe Bernold also, are people who, in their career, had less development towards his soloist activity after ten years, and therefore reoriented their views, still enjoying the same great music. I’m enjoying when I’m playing here inside the Berlin Philharmonic from Brahms to Mahler and Stravinsky. But also conductors, therefore they are playing less. You have to make a choice. Because if you don’t practise two days everybody will hear it. If you don’t practise one day, you can fake it for one day to other musicians around. But if you leave the flute like for one week, you need two weeks to come back again.
- And to finish, some advise for our readers.
Well… first thing: breath if you wanna be successful playing the flute. Because we are the instrument using the most air. In all the other instruments you play inside the instrument. You’re saving air compared to us, that are wasting,spilling the air. Therefore we need to breath better. And I try to feel in the air that I am sending it down to my legs first, sometimes breathing for four seconds before I start to play. I think really one bar. And taking the time, thinking with the tempo while you’re already breathing. So you put things together in your mind and you know exactly what are you going to do.
And a second thing: don’t use too much the lips. When you play the flute, it is not a lip instrument, is a wind instrument. Therefore the lips have to let the air come through. If we push too hard, the lips squeeze then too hard. This pressure of the air is changing and moving to the next octave or to the next note; this is how we play wrong notes. And this is why is very important to keep the lips relaxed if we want to have a lot of air coming through in order to play louder (also in order to control dynamics). These are technical advice. And then of course a lot of things I’ve learned through the french flute school. A lot of things that James Galway has learned, were through the french flute school, through his teachers, such a Geoffrey Gilbert, who was also the teacher of William Bennett and Trevor Wye, who basically put the whole Moyse books in english. So it has become completely international now, but this technical standard of playing with scales and arpeggios you can find it in every piece from Telemann, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven symphonies, Schubert symphonies and variations… It’s all made of scales and arpeggios. If you practise them, then you’re ready for the orchestra and for sight-reading any kind of music. Of course when you play Jolivet, is becomes different harmonies, but very often you’ll find patterns that you’ll have been studying before and you’ll avoid a lot of surprises.
And again, if you learn this things when you are a teenager, then you have them for your life. If you have to learn this things specifically for every piece when you are 25 or more, then is, I’m sorry to say, too late. They are the kind of things that have to be learned in a tender age, when you integrate this knowledge, certainly before the age 22. And then what you learn after is how to use it, when to use it. But technically you have to have this skills before in order to be able to use them as a structured feature in your playing.
- Ok! That’s all. Thank you so much for your time and thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you! And I wish a lot of fun and musical expression also while playing the flute Express yourself.