Archive for January, 2015


January ArtStart Reflection

I think it’s a good idea to write a short reflection each month on what I’ve achieved with my 2015 ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. While my main focus for the moment is the flute studio course, I’ve already started the ball rolling with a few other things as well:

– Most importantly, I submitted my application to the Bang on a Can Summer Festival on January 15th. A trip to the US in July/August to attend the festival, take some lessons and attend the National Flute Convention was a central element of my grant proposal. I was happy with the application, but can never know who else is applying. I find out whether I’m going in early March.

– I started work on my website, which is very exciting. So far, I’ve done most of the written content and had a bit of a play around with design. My lovely friend Matt has been doing some of the trickier bits. While we’ve managed to embed a twitter feed, we’re still working on getting this blog as part of the website, as well as sorting out bits and pieces of back end design. I also need to go back over my performance videos and recordings to decide which ones I really want to put up. Rather than just making the website about my flute playing, I’m keen for it to reflect the range of things I do in music, writing and radio.

– I joined ArtsHub for the year. I put this on my application both to look at the range of arts jobs available and to have access to various resources and articles on work in the arts industry. The jobs board hasn’t been amazing so far – more targeted towards arts admin jobs – but the articles have been interesting.

– I’ve downloaded Max 7, a program which allows me to generate electronics patches. Following the Blackbirdwhich was written for my final MMus recital by the lovely Andrew Aronowicz, used Max for the electronics component, and I’m keen to use it further in creative and collaborative projects. But firstly, I need to learn how to use it… cue tutorial videos!

– I’ve looked into the small business management course I want to do following my time here in Kent. Still need to book though.

– And finally, I’ve made trips up to London to attend masterclasses and concerts. Once my budget was all planned out, I had about $120 left over, and so decided that it could support travel up to London while I’m here. While my 16-25 railcard is a big help, trains in the UK are still expensive!

So far I feel like I’m on track to complete all my ArtStart grant activities, though there is a lot of work ahead. More importantly, though, there is a lot of artistic growth to look forward to.

The last day of January marks two thirds of the way through the flute studio course! A little more if we’re splitting hairs, since February is short. After a rather turbulent January with classes being shifted around, lots of trips up to London and then a particularly crazy last two weeks, today was a good moment to stop and collect myself a little in preparation for the remaining two months. In aid of that, I took myself off on a long and blustery walk across the Downs this afternoon. It was chilly, and the melted snow made for very soggy ground, but there is something wonderful about squelching through mud. I got back just as it began to snow again, and had a lovely practice session while watching the farm outside turn white!

After the last few days of particularly noticing nervousness and tension, my goal today was to practice well and without tension. I think that in my panic to get things prepared this last week, I’ve tended to note bash, learning in mistakes and then tension associated with them. Not good at all. Anyway, hopefully now that I’m a little more aware of what I’m doing, I can stop doing it an practice a little better.

I’m preparing Andersen No. 13 for Monday, which is a chromatic study with the odd whole tone put in for good measure (to trip us up!). After doing so much practice of patterns and scales, I am noticing that much more of these studies falls under the fingers easily. I suppose that’s why this one feels so devilish – I fall into the pattern and then it changes.

I’m supposed to be doing Altes No. 20 and 21 for Monday, but keep jumping ahead and practising no. 22 as well. It’s a duet arrangement of the Mendelssohn Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I really enjoy playing it. Getting through the whole thing is a tongue stamina challenge rather than (apart from one or two tricky passages) any problem of notes. The first flute part (which I play) doesn’t get the main solo until the very end, after seven pages of double tonguing, and the challenge is to make it still sound fresh, clear and bouncy. I’d like to think I can manage all three studies for class, but we’ll see how things go tomorrow.

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

This morning I woke to the first proper snowfall; white fields and hedgerows. Despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to class and could almost have passed Trevor’s house by and carried on!

I rather surprised myself in the warm-up by getting through almost all of the proposed exercises from memory without slips. Of particular note, I was asked to play ‘solo’ scales round the circle of fifths (C major, A melodic minor, F major etc.) with Trevor beating a rather brisk time all the way. Only two slips, and interestingly neither of them in tricky keys! I also managed the arpeggios on page 96 of Complete Daily Exercises all the way up to Ab without any significant slips, and it was playing them once through as well.

Snowy downs

Snowy downs

However, my performance in the masterclass proper didn’t go brilliantly. I started the Taffanel Andante Pastoral too slowly, and despite feeling like I’d put a lot of work into the character of the piece, was told that I was playing in quite an insular, nervous way. By the time we got to the Scherzettino, I just wanted to sit down, and dropped quite a lot of notes. Apparently that was better, though, because I was feeling the rhythm more! I recorded the class, and so need to sit down in a couple of days time and process all the information again.

There was a general sigh of relief this evening, as we’ve made it to the end of a very hectic two weeks. Though there are studies anew to prepare for Monday, we had a bit of a night off, watched some truly awful American TV and played the board game Frustration!

I didn’t have a great day today. Little by little, I feel like I’ve been becoming more nervous in classes, and this week it’s been particularly bad. It’s frustrating, because I know that I’m improving in the practice room and what I can do there, but can’t seem to reproduce that in front of the class.

Things started out quite well, and for the first time ever my starting tune was passed without criticism. But then Trevor went off on a tangent on intonation for a while, using me as the teaching demonstration. This unnerved me, and I ended up playing both my orchestral extract The Banks of the Green Willow and the Faure some way below par. In the Butterley, the nerves manifested themselves as shaky vibrato and wandering pitch, and in the Faure a lot of missed noted. I feel like I need to find some time to chat with Trevor about the nerves, because I don’t think they’re helping matters at all, and at the moment he’s making me feel like I can’t do anything right no matter how much I practice. However, he keeps cancelling our evening walks, and the opportune moment isn’t presenting itself.

Hopefully after tomorrow’s masterclass I can relax a bit more.

Not much to report today; I did a lot of practice for tomorrow and Friday, finished my Mozart cadenza and took myself off for a walk in the afternoon. Trevor still isn’t 100% over his cold, and so cancelled our walk this evening. I’m trying desperately to avoid unnecessary cabin fever, and so jumped when the rain cleared in the afternoon. I walked east, up and down the windy hills. It’s a walk I like – not many cars, and some lovely sweeping views over the fields. It was still blustery, and by the time I got back my face and hands were pink and chilled.

While the Faure Fantasie for tomorrow is sounding quite good, I still need to do a bit more work on the notes in the Taffanel Scherzettino for Friday. They’re almost there, and considering how little time I’ve had to learn the piece it’s coming along quite well. I just need to remember that it’s better to practice slowly and get the notes right rather than trying to play too fast!

After the work on my Mozart cadenza yesterday I wrote it up this afternoon. Trevor wants it written out with bars, and asked for ‘no less that eight’. I’ve ended up with thirteen (or sixteen if you count a starting section I’m not totally sure I like), and am hoping that it’s not going to be too long, or indeed too pretentious. At the moment I’m quite pleased with it, I think it’s a lot more mature than cadenzas I’ve written in the past, which have tended to err on the side of being rather safe. However, I’m very much prepared for it not being good enough for Trevor tomorrow. Hopefully my doubts are unfounded!

There’s a lot to prepare for class on Thursday and Friday. Our repertoire on Thursday is the Faure Fantasie, but Trevor has also requested a cadenza for the first movement of Mozart’s G major flute concerto. I haven’t written a cadenza in quite a while, and finally got round to it properly today. Trevor seemed quite open to different cadenza ideas, and said that we don’t ‘have to’ end with a trill or begin in a certain way. So, rather than trying to be academic and plan out a chord progression or anything, I decided it was better to just start improvising and see where I got to. After an hour of playing this and that, I have a new love for diminished chords, and what I think will be the middle and end of my cadenza for Thursday. I also have a lot of bits and pieces that could grow into other bits of other cadenzas further down the track.

One of the things the exercise has confirmed for me is the importance of having not just scales and arpeggios under my fingers but practising the sequences that link them. In my improvisation, I often just followed my fingers and the feel of which chord should come next, something that I certainly couldn’t have done four months ago. However, it also reminded me that the only way to really get better at writing cadenzas is to take the time to improvise more – one more thing to add to the daily practice list!

Sunday 25th January,
The Barbican Centre, London

A glittering program of virtuoso performances, the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Sunday was quite a treat. The program opened with Blossoming II by Toshio Hosokawa – a work of shimmering simplicity and beauty. Starting with a single, sustained note, the music grew in elegant ripples inspired by the way in which lotus blossoms come into flower. The orchestra played with sophistication and poise, drawing breath as one. Here, conductor Robin Ticciani was in his element, and this performance rather stole the show for its elegance, ensemble and artistic vision.

By contrast, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major sparkled with the virtuosity of individuals. Simon Trpceski is a deft performer whose deep understanding of the music gave rise to a dancing rendition that fulling embraced the composer’s jazzy inflections. The second movement was particularly memorable – with subtly rendered phrases passed elegantly between piano and wind soloists. Though Trpceski’s rousing duet with leader Roman Simovic was undoubtedly the audience’s favourite encore, mention must also be made of the beautifully lyrical, almost understated Poulenc.

Orchestra and conductor alike seemed to enjoy Malher’s Fourth Symphony immensely, performing with energy and vigour thoughout. Woodwinds and principal horn Timothy Jones played with striking colours and seamless cohesion. While it seemed that things came momentarily unstuck at the end of the third movement, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill’s agile voice brought a new layer to the finale portraying a child’s view of heaven. Sunlight and shadows, doubt and glorious affirmation, before the final note shimmered and faded into silence.

I meant to make a little more time to write this evening, as there is a lot to write about, but have been doing some other work and all of a sudden it’s quite late!

After class this afternoon, we went down the road to visit Michael Rust, a wood and stone-carver based in Hastingleigh, Kent. Michael showed us round his studio, talked about his rather winding career path and showed us examples of his work. His lettering and carving work is stunning – everything from commemorative plaques to large wooden sculptures. The woodwork was particularly beautiful, and clearly his passion. I was amazed by how delicately lines and forms could be cut with a hammer and chisel. There was even some mulled wine and afternoon tea to finish off.

The visit reminded me just how versatile we need to be to work on any artistic discipline. Michael will turn his hand and chisel to a huge variety of projects, and in each of them seeks to push his creative skills and make something really wonderful. While I’m here to improve my flute playing, I need to remember that my skills in writing, radio, French and even organisation should never fall by the wayside.

And with that thought in mind, I promise a review of last night’s LSO concert tomorrow!

Just got back from a London Symphony Orchestra concert. Super-tired, more tomorrow!

Today was piccolo masterclass with Patricia Morris, the retired Principal Piccolo of the BBC Radio Symphony Orchestra and author (with Trevor) of The Piccolo Study Book and Practice Book for the Piccolo. It was a great day, and I felt like I really learned a lot about the way to practice piccolo effectively and for life.

Patricia advocated practising piccolo every day, even if it’s only for ten or twenty minutes. Rather than note bashing, this should ideally be slow practice of tunes of segments of studies, as the most important thing on the piccolo is achieving a homogeneous tone across the whole range. This all needs to be in tune as well! We talked a lot about getting up to high notes quietly, and I need to remember not to push for them – much better to set up properly a few notes beforehand and then let it happen. That said, when Patricia asked me to play (sightread) the picc solo from the slow movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6, I didn’t do too bad a job of getting the high note out. The alternate fingering she showed me did help with this though!

I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago that I’d set myself the task of learning all the excerpts for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra piccolo audition in preparation for this class. I was feeling pretty prepared, with the only elephants still being Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 (eeek) and Verdi’s Othello (I’ve just never played it before). Needless to say, we didn’t actually get onto any of my excerpts at all, though I now think I’m better equipped to work on them myself.

Now I’m working myself up to some more practice, and there are another three classes next week. No rest for the wicked!