Friday, January 30, 2015

Jane Rutter: New Recordings

We had the chance recently to speak with Powell player Jane Rutter and find out more about her recent recording projects. Read more below as she discusses her two newest releases.

Tell us about your recent recording releases. How did these projects get off the ground? From what ideas were they born? 

Last year I released two albums:

1. Flute Spirit: Dreams and Improvisations (July 2014)
I always want to create an album of improvised music that drew inspiration from the following:
·         There is an organic, intrinsic connection between mankind and the sound of the flute.
·         The flute is the oldest instrument known to man- in nearly every civilization on every continent there is to be a found a flute of some sort. Anthropologists believe early humans used the flute when language was inadequate.
·         In Ovid’s metamorphosis, the flute was magically created by the god, Pan. Fashioned from a water-nymph and turned into river-reed, Ovid implies the Sufi ideal that the flute is a metaphor for the human, resonating with the breath of the divine.
Flute Spirit is in part a tribute to jazz flutist Paul Horn, (whose album Inside inspired me as a child). It’s an album of entirely improvised dreamlike, mystical & meditative flute music, on which I play - as well as my Powell - many of the Western Classical flutes & ethnic flutes in my collection. Nominated for an Aria Award (Australian Grammy), it represents a freedom of expression that is different to expression in classical interpretation.

2. Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Released November 2014)
My record company had seen a concert I devised entitled ‘Four Seasons and a Goldfinch’ and (after the success of my albums & film, An Australian in Paris and French Kiss), wanted an ‘other than French’ album from me, but which nonetheless allowed me to pay tribute to my French flute-playing heritage. They knew that my mentor, the inspirational French flute virtuoso Jean-Pierre Rampal, had recorded The Four Seasons over 20 years ago, so they invited me to put my own imprimateur on the piece. Also featured on this album: two of Vivaldi’s best-loved flute concerti: the delightful Il Gardellino and the haunting La notte. Is a fresh new take on the world’s most popular classical piece. Originally written for solo violin, string orchestra and continuo, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons -a dynamic, vivid portrait of the moods and activities of the seasons- is entirely suited to virtuoso flute. The result is, I hope, an album that transports the listener to a world of imagination. I was to a degree influenced by my French string-playing colleagues, with whom I regularly perform in Paris, and who have a very brilliant, virtuosic yet tender take on the piece.

What did you enjoy most about recording this music?

For the Vivaldi I loved the challenge of making the piece my own- incorporating some of the special effects possible on flute (as opposed to violin.) It was important to me to put my own stamp on this compelling, best-loved piece of classical music. I greatly admired the recordings of Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway, but also felt strongly that I wanted to create my own interpretation.

Alain Marion used to say: ‘Artists hear with colour, musicians paint with sound.” I found The Four Seasons the perfect piece to convey that notion. It contains such potent imagery. True to the Rampal School, I always play with communicative intent, with a narrative in my head and in my heart. The Four Seasons was one of the most innovative works of its day, and has continued to thrill audiences ever since. I remain faithful to Vivaldi’s original, and introduce new sounds and textures, which just aren’t possible on the violin.

To imply the chill of winter, the ice, the summer storms and other weather images, images of the animals, and nature, I used jet-whistles, flutter tonguing, subtle multi-phonics, and some multi-tracking. Unusual yet obvious choices, which work very well musically. Raymond Guiot Ancien Professeur du Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris, (one of my Parisian flute teachers) gave me the following testimonial just last week:

Jane est une tres grande musicienne et grande flutiste. Ses quatre saisons révèlent une interprétation personnelle ce qui est difficile a réaliser quand on joue ce hit de Vivaldi merci et brava comme disent les italiens!’ Raymond Guiot

(Translation ‘Jane is a truly great musician and a great flutist. Her Four Seasons reveal a personal interpretation which is difficult to achieve when playing this 'huge hit' by Vivaldi… thank you and 'Brava!' -as the Italians say! Raymond Guiot

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Sinfonia Australis: an orchestra of some of Australia’s finest baroque musicians including brilliant rising star, director harpsichordist, Erin Helyard.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Studio Recording Session– Part 1

By Lois Herbine

When recording for commercial radio or television, a recording artist goes to the studio with no advanced preparation, other than being in top playing shape with sharpened reading skills.  That might sound surprising, but it is a high level of musicianship required to be hired for this type of work and often the professional studio musician can sight-read the first run through at performance level.

The artist is usually asked to play along with a click track, which is fed into one ear on a set of headphones. Sometimes pre-recorded music is piped into the one headphone alone or in combination with the click track. This is often done when laying tracks to be dubbed with voice, winds, brass or strings that are recorded during separate sessions when space is limited, as it is a rare recording studio that can accommodate an entire orchestra at one setting.

I personally love working in a studio-recording setting. It is often an intense performance workout without a typical audience or jury listening. The recording engineer acts like another set of ears and their feedback is often edifying, analyzing the studio musician’s performance and suggesting changes. Another pass at the music is a joint effort, combining concepts on how to improve the performance, and the result is captured on digital recording.

When I arrive, I look over my music and read it through while the recording levels are set and the mics are adjusted. When it comes time to record, a first pass is already then completed, which is followed by one or two more at the discretion of either the conductor or recording engineer. The best take or combination of takes is then selected (or “in the can,” as it is sometimes called). It is not unheard of to have a 10-minute recording session for a 30 second commercial spot. Then if you are lucky, you might stumble unto your recording while flipping stations on the radio or television.

Repertoire recording sessions are a very different experience. They might last anywhere from three to six hours and the music can be prepared well in advance of the session, pending on the difficulty-level of the music. I often call for that adrenaline rush to kick in and help sustain me through hours four through six, which tend to be the most strenuous.

I have recently been working with recording engineer Drew Taurisano in weekly recording sessions at his East Room Recording Studio in Philadelphia on a new work by composer Howard Hersh for 16-recorded piccolos accompanying a piccolo solo. Drew offers his views on the recording experience:
Maintaining a consistent quality of sound from phrase to phrase, instrument to instrument and section to section during sessions which span over multiple days is where most of an engineers’ attention is at the beginning of the recording day. Oftentimes the techniques for capturing great sound quality for a solo instrument are not the same when capturing individual instruments that are part of a section.
During the recording, the artist is, of course, primarily focused on their specific instrument and the line being performed. The role of the engineer is mostly in maintaining a macroscopic focus during the session. Especially when multi-tracking a performance one instrument at a time, the engineer has a dual role evaluating the line or phrase being performed and evaluating its efficacy in the piece as a whole." 
Our newest project is very different from anything either of us has done in the past and the largest single work that I have ever recorded. We will be writing about our experiences recording Howard Hersh’s I had to go down to the mines to climb up to the sky in part two of the “Studio Recording Session.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year’s Resolution: Focus on the Breath

By Dr. Naomi Seidman

Have you ever heard the expression “you are what you eat”?  I think a parallel phrase for flutists should read “your breath is your tone”, meaning the type of breath you take directly impacts your overall flute tone. As the New Year starts off I would like to propose a resolution to take some time to focus on one of the most important fundamentals of flute playing, the “breath.” This following paragraphs give a few easy ways that I have found to help me focus on my own breathing while practicing.

One simple way to incorporate breath awareness in your everyday practice is to write in all your breaths. This exercise may seem mundane but as long as you do not do not write in your breaths randomly or without much thought, this practice will bring attention to how frequently you are breathing and whether your breathing is working well with your phrasing. I find it is best to mark in breaths by singing through the phrases instead of playing them on the flute. Your natural phrasing instincts will take over as they are not hindered or influenced by how it feels to play them on the flute. When you sing the phrases make sure you are releasing the notes before the breath musically and not clipping the notes. Also pay attention to the dynamic you are singing right before the breath and right after the breath and be conscious about whether you are trying to retain the same dynamic or change it. Sometimes you will need to take many quick breaths (as in Baroque music) to make a passage playable. However, make sure that these breaths are done musically and do not take up time rhythmically. When you then play these phrases on the flute, you will have a fresh perspective on your repertoire! When you are focusing on your breathing it is important not only important to address where you are breathing in the music but also the quality of your breath. For example, is your breath giving you enough air to work with, are you free of tension when you breathe, and is your breath unobtrusive to the phrase you are creating?

I am often surprised to find how students make breathing while playing the flute complicated. When I teach, I do a lot of breathing exercises without the flute to remind the students that they already know how to breathe; when they put the flute to their mouths they are unaware how much they change their natural habits. One easy way to compare your natural breathing to your flute breathing is to inhale through your nose and then play off that air. As flutists we are trained to not breathe through our noses as it is counterintuitive to our sound production.  However, I believe we breathe more naturally through our noses. Ideally, we want to make our breath through our mouths feel the same as when we breathe with our nose. When you breathe through your nose, feel how easy it is to fill from the bottom of your lungs without getting tense in the shoulders and neck. Try and recreate that feeling when you breathe in through your mouth. Also compare your flute tone when you breathe through your nose compared to when you breathe through your mouth. If you notice that your nose breath tone is more open and full, keep working on your mouth breath until it feels and sounds the same.

One aspect of breathing that I recently began addressing in my own playing is tongue position. If you thought you only needed to think about your tongue when you are articulating I challenge you to think again. A tongue position that can cause issues in breathing is to push the tongue down too much in the back of the mouth causing the throat to open too wide when you breathe. This position results in a tone that sounds too far back in your mouth and that has difficulty projecting. Another way the tongue can interfere with a good breath is when it raises inside the mouth in the attempt to aid the flutist in getting more air in quickly. If you breathe in this way, you will notice that when your mouth opens to breathe, your tongue will rise to the middle of your mouth in the attempt to aid in getting more air in quickly. Breathing with this type of tongue position is often noisy and results in a slow response of the tone following the breath. Ideally your tongue should just stay in its relaxed and down position at the base of your mouth when you breathe; there should be no extra tension or motion associated with your tongue when you breathe. You will be amazed how much easier it is to breathe when you focus on your tongue and its position when you take your next breath.

As a flutist I find myself incredibly grateful that I have to breathe in order to play my instrument and I find that this makes playing our instrument more organic. I hope that the few tips I offered above help you to focus on your breath when you are playing. Also do not forget that focusing on your breathing in your every day life is also invaluable. As the New Year starts up again see if you are able to apply your breath awareness to when you are working, studying for exams, or on your daily commute.  Take one “quality” breath at a time!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Way to Share Classical Music - Sooyun Kim

Powell artist Sooyun Kim was recently interviewed for the January issue of the Korean magazine Lady Kyung Hyang, a popular magazine for women.  For those who would like to see the original interview (published in Korean), the online version may be viewed by following this link.  Luckily, Sooyun provided us with an English translation, which you will see below.  We were extremely grateful and quite inspired by her experiences with Groupmuse, a grassroots organization presenting chamber music in a whole new way...

New Way to Share Classical Music
By Bora Kang (for Lady Kyung Hyang Magazine)
English translation by Sooyun Kim, Flutist

From cars to houses, sharing is a new trend. Now there is a new way to share classical music – it starts with a host that provides the venue and musicians that are willing to play. In the center of this new sharing system, there is flutist, Sooyun Kim.

In the evening of November 29th, there was a Groupmuse scheduled at Caffe Molnari near Namsan Tower in Seoul. Groupmuse is an online community started by a group of young people in Boston. They created in hopes to bring classical music closer.

All Groupmuse events are scheduled, organized and promoted through the Groupmuse’s website ( Once the host requests to host an event, Groupmuse helps to pair available musicians in the area. It can be done in any city of the world for any group of people. This kind of spontaneity makes each Groupmuse event even more attractive. 

This evening’s party was organized by flutist Sooyun Kim, who introduced Groupmuse to Korea on her trip to Seoul. Upon invitation from Mr. Hyo Kang and International Sejong Soloists, Ms. Kim was on her first recital tour in Korea. Groupmuse started out of love and passion but its operating system is efficient and straightforward.  Hosts provide venues for free and collected donations from guests get evenly distributed amongst musicians. Still a slightly foreign concept in Korean culture, but it has spread widely across the United States with increasing popularity.
“When I first proposed the idea, many people were skeptical about it. They were mostly concerned that Korean culture that is more conservative and private might resent the idea of opening their houses to strangers. But at our very first Groupmuse in Korea, we all were connected in music and we all had great time. I became convinced that it could work anywhere in any culture!“
General vibe of the event was very relaxed. Guests were greeting each other and conversing over a glass of wine. Some people enjoyed listening to musicians warming up before the concert started. Here, there was no sense of strict formality expected in classical music concert. Perhaps, because this is a form of online social network, everybody seemed so friendly with each other. There were small children sitting on the floor and people were sitting shoulder to shoulder from each other experiencing the close reverberation of sound coming from musicians so close by. Kim, as Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 started, took a seat amongst the audience.

“Open- mindedness is the pre-requisition for all musers.”

Most concerts are done as means for marketing. However, musicians at Groupmuse created a sense of closeness with audiences by explaining the pieces being performed. Their added insights and thoughts enhanced the listening experiences to a much higher level.  The pianist talked about the love of Tristan and Isolde prior to his performance of Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.
“I realized that different spaces create different experiences for people. Every Groupmuse is a new experience in a sense that each space is different and unique. One can never have any expectation or prediction. Therefore Open-mindedness is a key to making every Groupmuse successful.” 

Sooyun Kim compares Groupmuse to a lunchbox. The idea is that even the same lunchbox, when it’s enjoyed outdoors in nature with a company of good friends, it gives a much more pleasant experience.  Only spaces, atmosphere, and circumstances are created differently, but Kim pursues only standard classical repertoire.  While experimenting innovative ways to create music, Kim once choreographed and danced to music of J.S. Bach while performing the piece on her flute. “I was sad that people stopped listening to music and they started watching me.”

Leading an interesting and diverse career as a solo flutists, Sooyun Kim made her prize-winning debut with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at age 10, and went on to receive Sir Georg Solti Foundation’s Career grant and became the first Korean ever to win a top prize at the Munich ARD International Flute Competition.  Many young flutists ask her for advice.
“I sing through my flute, which is my voice in music. I try to share my stories, ideas and dreams in my music. Musicians should never cease to grow and study. I encourage young musicians to continue to not only practice, but to experience the life and to dream.”
As much as the concept of experiencing music in someone’s living room seems appealing, it is still hard to imagine playing a concert in a small one bedroom apartment. “The smaller the spaces, the better it gets!” After the concert, audiences were thankful for the small size of the café which helped to create more cozy atmosphere.  The close physical distance closed in the gaps in the listening experience as well. There was no wall between the performers and the audience, listeners felt every breath and every bow stroke. Even the listeners felt that they were being active participants in the music making. At Groupmuse, listeners and performers were of equal importance.

After playing Edward Grieg’s Jeg Elsker Dig(I Love You), Kim talked to the audience, asking them to close their eyes and think about the words “ I Love You” and repeat them.  Kim explained  “There are people that have not yet been to Groupmuse, but there isn’t anyone who has only been to Groupmuse once.”