Here you will find articles or interviews on the flute and music. In the interviews I am either the interviewee or the interviewer. The interviews I have done are with other flutists or with composers. Some of them have been published, and others no. However, the published interviews are generally edited according to the necessities of the publications. Here you can read the complete transcript of the interviews.
- Here are some interviews that have been done with me. The first one is from the night-life magazine in English, Metropolit, and the other one is from Musicos magazine, in Spanish, and a number of years ago!
- A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Keith Underwood. In this extensive conversation Keith talks about his 1st teacher, Sal Amato, and about Thomas Nyfenger, and of his views at the time about the Arnold Jacobs teaching: Keith Underwood interview.
Go to the menu bar on the left for the other interviews and scroll down for them.
- In the following section I post some contributions of mine to the very animated flute forums on the web:
ON THE COMPOSER'S INTENTIONS (April '09):
As a flutist and composer, as well as director of a new music ensemble, I would like to offer my way of thinking about this important subject.
I prefer to go directly into the score to answer any questions that come up. The answers are generally there if one "lives" the score enough times. That way I'll know that I am coinciding with what might be the composer's intentions. I believe it is the inner life of the piece that we strive to bring forward to our ears, in the same way as an actor does with a role. If I can speak to the composer, great, but I have also found that composers sometimes forget or don't have present in their minds what they wrote a number of years back. I have at times had the impression that I am a bit more up on and into a piece than the composer is. It can happen, that is a fact.
Also, a composer can sometimes be a bit laissez-faire about a piece where I find that if I have the responsability of performing or conducting the piece, I don't always have the option of being laissaz-faire about it.
This process of getting into the inner life of a piece happens in many, many different ways and personally I find that the more one enters into that inner life of a piece, the more one is able to intuit what we might call the composer's "intentions". After all, the score is really a reflection of the composer's thought process. This holds true for any score of Mozart as it does for a contemporary composer. The score becomes independent in a way.
I find sometimes that giving too much importance to the composer's intentions, keeps us from going into the piece and making it our own.
But I certainly do agree that it is always a good idea to be able to know more about the composer's intentions and ideas if one can, either in 1st hand or through others.
Here are some more in depth comments on the process of how to go into the score. To quote that timeless phrase of Malcolm X which has always struck me: "By any means necessary", and by that we mean:
- Live the piece right before and after rehearsals by going through the score, trying to hear, remember and feel the things that you are in the process of preparing. Go through the piece and notice more and more details. Right before and especially right after (or the same day) are important because you still literally have the piece in your ears and you still have it's glow in you. Looking at the score helps reinforce your instinctive feel for the piece itself and it helps you recall the harmonies and textures, independent of what you play but also with the part you play in mind.
- Listening to a recording of the piece helps and is a good step and it helps to listen to it in between rehearsals (especially orchestral music). However I am never completely satisfied with that and I almost always purchase the full score of just about everything I play. That may be a little extreme and it gets to be expensive, but buying a full score is like buying a good book: you will always have it to come back to.
- If you are a pianist than you can play the piece in some way in the piano. You may need to get better at reading clefs if you are looking at a wind quintet, chamber music score or orchestral. Just do it to the best of your ability, and that will be slowly at first for most. It's still worth it.
- If there is libretto or text, become familiar as you can with it, because that is what the composer had in mind when writing the music to it.
Making any or all of these steps will get us closer to the original energy or essence of a piece, which is what we all really strive to achieve with all our efforts. It all helps us bring our music making to a higher level, and, very importantly, to be better understood by the listener. I think we need to do everything we can do to bring more listeners to our music, whether it is a Handel Sonata, the Dutilleux Sonatine or a brand new piece. If we are playing the Prokofiev Sonata, for example, we should know literally what the piano is playing and have "lived" it many many times, more times than we usually have with rehearsals and concerts.
We are trying to put ourselves inside the composer as the piece is being written, to experience it as something fresh and spontaneous as it is discovered and worked upon in the process of composition. This process might be compared to that of a good detective who literally puts himself in the shoes of the criminal. As a result of this process the question of the "composer's intentions" becomes, in a way, the question of our own intentions. Then, the questions that we might have for the composer generally become more about certain details, or clarifications over momentary doubts.
Again, this is just a general view on things, and I am happy to share it with you.
So let's obviously keep perfecting and becoming the best flutists we can become, but I think this also behooves us to grow into greater musicians in all the ways way we can throughout our lives.
ON PRACTICING (March '08):
This discussion of practice time is a vital one, how we spend a usually limited time learning and advancing in music. It is a tremendous undertaking and one who undertakes it would be best to follow the indications of such knowledgeable persons as Trevor Wye and Robert Dick, two first class figures in our flute-music world today.
For most of us, our point of entry into music is the flute. If we are serious about it as a profession, then the mark we must set for ourselves is an extremely high and ambitious one.
In my view, what is important is the music that we play. The flute is merely a medium, but a most formidable one, to be sure.
I find Trevor Wye's comments of great interest, he is certainly a person of impeccable knowledge of the flute and how it is learned. Were I a young player, I would seek to heed his words and advice to the letter as I make my way towards mastery of the flute. Robert Dick reminds us just as compellingly that we must become part of the creative process of music, each and every one of us. In a way, it is our birth-right in the same manner as finding the means to mastery of the flute is.
But because there are so many things to learn, to hear and understand, to create in music, and our time is limited, we sometimes need to limit our task at certain moments. It can appear that just learning the instrument and it's repertory is a daunting enough task, and that "optional" tasks such as learning to improvise and getting directly involved in other styles of music can tend to fall by the wayside.
However, what is important in music, or any discipline is to continue to grow and form new horizons for ourselves.
Picking up on Robert's comments about improvising, as well as those of others on what to practice, I will offer my observations on the matter.
Although I am basically a "classical" flutist (and a composer), jazz has always been an important part of my development as a musician. Good jazz musicians always play with such authority, and it is not anyone else's authority, it is theirs. By definition, they are completely in the chord changes and harmonies and form of the piece.
We classical musicians are seemingly saddled with "interpreting" a piece of music to the highest level of technical perfection we can muster. I put it that way to make a rhetorical point, as we all know that just this task is a wonderful one to aspire to.
Personally, I have problems with the word "interpret". It seems too arbitrary and removed to me, when what we really strive to do is live the music, to be completely in the music. However, the idea behind the word has it's usefulness and interpretation is indeed an important step on the way to living or being the music that we play.
I would suggest the following for our favorite repertory pieces and studies: that we start taking them apart and transposing them just as a jazz musician does. Why can't we learn to improvise convincingly on Syrinx or the Bach Partita, or the cadenza of the Dutilleux Sonatine? Many of us can take "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and create a variation on it on the spur of the moment, even if it's not that good. Why, therefore, can we not do that with other pieces in other styles? I feel it should an essential component of our musicianship.
We should be able to hear the intervals, harmonies and sequences inherent in any piece of music. All those elements there, even though we only play a melodic instrument, in the same fashion as the chord changes are inherent in a jazz standard while the jazzer improvises.
I suggest try playing Syrinx a half-step higher and a half-step lower, try isolating some of the motives and sequences and transposing them. Do the same with the Partita. Take them through all the keys. Treat the piece not as a perfected gem, but as a point of departure for what becomes your own thoughts and ideas on it. What is important is to start to do this. It's not going to sound great right away. If you want it to sound great, keep working on it alot. But if not, go back to Syrinx or the Bach Partita, as written, with a renewed and deeper understanding that what we have been playing for generations now is not written in stone, it was written on paper a long time ago, and it could have gone another way too if Bach or Debussy hadn't been in a rush to get to the post office before it closed.
More often than not, a written piece of music represents just what a composer decided to write in a given moment. The piece might have gone in another direction but it didn't. It was the best bet at that moment, presumably. Of course, when we are talking about Bach and Debussy, we are talking about musicians who might be galaxies away from us, but perhaps not quite as far as we might tend to think.
The closer we can get to that spontaneous moment of creation, the greater chance we have of living the music and conveying it more effectively to others. There are many ways of doing it.
ON FLUTE TEACHER KEITH UNDERWOOD (March '08):
It is gratifying for many of Keith Underwood's present and ex-students to see his work being discussed so much recently on the list, and in such detail.
Those who have known him for many, many years, all the way to those who are just having their first contact with him recognize that his teaching and the ideas and concepts he imparts are exceptional. Many, including myself, give him great credit for the capacity to continue playing the flute at a very high level as we move on into our 30's, 40's and 50's.
When I started working with him in NY in the 80's, it was like resetting the foundations of my flute playing and my musicianship. I worked on and off with him for almost 8 years, calling him when I had an audition or important concert (this is what many people do with Keith, especially active pros. But there are obviously week after week students of his at the schools he teaches at). The videos (VHS!, when it was really new) he used of Baker, Rampal and Galway, in addition to slowed down recordings, along with the breath builder, the breath bag and the finger breath, etc., etc., etc., all of this accompanied by his continually stimulating and inspired discussion of everything related with instrumental technique, the body and music, became a beacon for me (and for others who were following the same path), as I struggled towards knowing how to play the flute MY way.
That MY is perhaps one of his great gifts: he helps each person come to terms with their optimal way of playing the instrument that we all play. You don't learn to play like him, or like anybody else necessarily, but you become inspired to find your own way accompanied and guided by a profound understanding of how some of the great players have done it. You start to OWN the way you play your instrument.
His use of Arnold Jacobs ideas about breathing, elaborated by his own work and research is a pilar of his teaching. I often ask myself why Arnold Jacobs techniques are not taught to all wind players in music schools and conservatories all around the US. It would make US trained players even more competitive in the world market than they already are. To me, it appears that the "traditional" way of talking about the diaphragm and the column of air is more and more shown to be too old-fashioned and inaccurate, especially when put beside the breathing ideas of Jacobs and Underwood (and others, obviously).
I look forward seeing more discussion like this on the flute list , and I thank those of you who go through the effort of sharing your notes on master classes, in this case on Keith Underwood, a subject that resonates with me.
With my colleague Sharon Levin (and fellow Underwood student), NFA 2007.
Representing the Barcelona Publishers Guild in the Falls House Press booth, NFA 2009.