I’m back with a new interview on the blog. Today to Peter Verhoyen, piccolist of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and piccolo teacher of the Antwerp Royal Conservatory in Belgium

A great opportunity to meet an exceptional piccolist who is reaching that more and more people are addicted to this marvelous instrument.

I remind you that you can find some interviews to piccolists, as I made to Gudrun Hinze (Gewandhausorchester) or Jürgen Franz (NDR Elbphilharmonie).

I hope you like it! 😊

  • How did you begin in music?

My interest in music started when I visited a concert with our local wind band. I was very impressed with the warm sound coming out of a group of more than 50 amateur players. My father suggested I should start with clarinet lessons but I definitely chose the flute! At first, I didn’t seem to have much talent for the flute. It took me months practicing on the flute headjoint before I could bring out a beautiful sound. But once this step was taken, I very much enjoyed practicing the etudes, scales and new pieces I could discover thanks to my teacher. I think it’s a vital aspect of music to be able to play together in ensembles or orchestra from young age. It’s fun to play music at home, but it makes so much more sense if you can perform for an audience, and doing this in good company is one of the best possible experiences in life. Only a couple of years ago, I recorded a cd with the wind band of my village, playing the Chaminade and some virtuose piccolo pieces. It felt so good going back to where it all started!

  • Why did you decide to specialize in piccolo?

As it is the case with many piccolo players, I was one of the few players in the band ready to take the risk playing this very audible, and at start agressive, sounding little bird. 

I soon found out that I really enjoyed it, and that I could help many orchestras out playing little piccolo solo’s as a freelance musician. After my audition for the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, I decided to start a project recording recital pieces with an excellent pianist, Stefan De Schepper, who played a very important role in the development of my piccolo carreer. 

  • Do you think that piccolo should be studied from the first years of the flute studies? Why?

There are some very succesful stories with musicians starting with the piccolo right away. I’m not convinced this is the best way to go because every piccolo player will have to play the flute from time to time. On the other hand, I think it would be nice if talented flute players start learning the piccolo after a couple of  years of intensive flute study. The problem is that many student´s piccolos are of very low quality. Also, if your teacher is not a piccolo player, he might not be the best person to help you finding a good instrument and giving useful instructions. 

  • What’s the most curious thing that has happened to you in your career as a musician?  

The life of a professional musician is full of adventures and surprises, so I would not know where to start. I think my addiction to recording cd’s is quite curious. I believe making recordings is a very constructive process where you can boost your level as an instrumental musician enormously. I spent so many hours in a recording studio and listening to the result of the sessions I almost got crazy. But after all I’m very happy I could present so many piccolo recordings to all those looking for being inspired by new repertoire. Also, I could help some composers finding their way to a broader audience. Furthermore, I was very lucky to meet inspiring artists that helped me to develop my career. I learned so much from Antwerp Symphony Orchestra conductors: Philippe Herreweghe, Jaap Van Zweden and Edo de Waart. I’m very excited about our new chief conductor, Elim Chan, who is bringing such a fantastic positive vibe to the orchestra. Working together with the brilliant colleagues of my flute section (Aldo Baerten, Edith Van Dyck and Charlène Deschamps) is very inspiring, too!

  • What can you recommend to the professional flutists/piccolists who want to win an audition?

There are different aspects. First you have to work hard and make sure you are brilliant in all aspects of both the flute and piccolo technique. Second, you should know what job you are applying for, so listen to the orchestras that are organizing the audition, and focus on their specific traditions on colour and style. Work in detail, but don’t forget that, on the day of the audition, the positive energy you are showing might be more convincing than a spotless performance. On the other hand, you have to realize that without perfect control of tempo, rythm, intonation and projection of the sound, it’s going to be difficult to survive the first rounds of an orchestral audition. 

  • Do you think that the orchestra or teaching are the only career opportunities for flutists?

I spend a great part of my career performing chamber music in different combinations: flute and string trio. I think it’s very good to have a personal project you can go back to if working for the big institutions (schools, orchestras) that engaged you is not as fulfilling as you might wish. Some of my students had wonderful orchestra and teaching projects but chose for other jobs in the cultural sector, or started working on other pedagogy projects (editing methods, online projects). I think it’s very important to keep an open window to a society that is quickly changing. 

  • How do you see the current musical outlook?

Of course the corona crisis is a challenging time for the professional music scene. More than ever it’s very important for classical musicians to rethink their professional choices. But this challenge could have also a positive effect. I really feel our audiences have missed our live performances enormously. We spent a lot of energy bringing livestream concerts and recordings to the quarantined people and we did get a lot of sympathy and appreciation in return. I regret to see that last years too much attention is going to perfection in technique, and perhaps not enough to inspiration, colour and emotion when it comes to music making. When I listen to flute competition finals, I’m often very impressed with the level of playing but somehow dissapointed to notice that all those brilliant young fluteplayers start sounding the same. I hope that we can preserver some traditions from the national flute schools on the one hand, and find new ways to move our audiences on the other hand. 

  • And now some questions from our readers. Maite Broch asks: Which methods for piccolo would you recommend to improve?

It depends on your level. For advanced students, the ‘Mazzanti Method’ is somehow the bible. I also found the publication by Jean-Louis Beaumadier ‘Exercices pour la flûte piccolo’ interesting. I also think it is a good concept to adapt your flute practice routines to your piccolo practice. A lot of scales, sound exercises (especially vocalises and transposed melodies) can be very beneficial for your flute level!  I hope to publish a practice book for piccolo players at the end of this year!

  • Emilio Oltra asks: Which piccolo do you use and why?

I think the quality of piccolos has improved a lot last years, even more than the quality of the flutes. My first piccolo is a Braun piccolo, which I bought more than 15 years ago. I also bought a model which can play low c, which I use for the recording of arrangements of flute, violin or oboe pieces. I also try other instruments which bring new colours to my piccolo playing, but for the more difficult orchestra parts, I feel more comfortable returning to my first choice. I very often play a Seaman Storm piccolo, which is perfect for open air concerts. 

  • @evaquilis_04 asks: Why the piccolo?

I think the first question should be: ‘why not the piccolo’? First, you have to go against the negative reputation of the instrument: being loud, shrill, out of tune and nasty. I enjoy playing the piccolo so much because I believe it has way more to offer, and there are plenty of unexplored paths. I have been working very hard to develop a more singing sound on the instrument and now we can see if the piccolo also can convince an audience bringing musically challenging repertoire. Unfortunately the repertoire is very limited, but making transcriptions and encouraging composers to write for the instrument is a fun and rewarding process. 

I think that as a musician you have to choose for an instrument that matches your character. I’m by nature a quite nervous person, and that helps me enjoy playing the sometimes very tricky, quick and open piccolo solos in the orchestral repertoire. 

  • @patri_music asks: Which piccolo do you recommend to buy? A quality piccolo for all my life.

As I already mentioned, I believe the quality of the piccolos that are being made today has improved drastically. The scale is much better, and piccolo builders found very good solutions for the headjoints. I would recommend you to visit a flute shop that has a wide choice of instrument.  My strongest recommendation is to ask a professional piccolo player to help you choose an instrument that suits you well. Without naming the exact makers, there are some brilliant piccolo builders in Germany, France, the United States and Italy. Consider the differences between piccolos with a wave style headjoint and the traditional style. Both have their positive aspects and difficulties.  Pay attention to the ability to bring out the top notes. Some piccolos have a wonderful middle register, but if you can’t play high b and c, you certainly do have a problem. The quality of the wood plays a very important role in the sound of the piccolo. 

  • And finally, some advice for our readers.

I hope you all can enjoy the wonderful world that is developing for lovers of the piccolo lately. There’s some fun projects going around that are easy to follow on the internet. I think we all should support the young talented piccolo players expanding the repertoire and playing it at the highest possible level! 

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