Michel Bellavance (Switzerland/UK)
Internationally celebrated Swiss-Canadian flutist, Michel Bellavance, is in high demand around the globe and is the Professor of Flute for the advanced classes at the renowned Geneva Conservatoire, (HEM Switzerland). With engagements on nearly every continent, Bellavance enjoys a very full travel schedule with invitations to headline as guest artist at festivals, perform with orchestras, as well as hold workshops, master classes and recitals at conservatories and universities.
Michel has appeared in Europe with the Lisbon Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra, the Geneva Chamber Orchestra, the Paris Camerata Academica Orchestra, and in Latin America with the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru, the State Orchestra of Bahía Blanca, the State Orchestra of San Juan, Orchestra Philharmonic of Mendoza, the State Symphony Orchestra of Bahia, the Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Ad Hoc, in concertos by Nielsen, Ibert, Reinecke, Bernstein, Kabalevski, Liebermann, Mozart, Bach, Hue and Vivaldi.
He has given recitals in Prague, Barcelona, Geneva, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Basel, London, Zürich, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Lima, Quito, São Paulo, Salvadore de Bahia, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Córdoba, San Juan, San Jose, Bogotá, Manizales, Medellin, Montréal, Ottawa, Omaha, Washington DC, New York Carnegie Hall, Sydney, Auckland, Hamilton, Beijing, and Shanghai. He has performed at major festivals in Switzerland, the United States (NFA 2010 in Anaheim), Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Santiago de Chile, Colombia, Ecuador as well as on several radio broadcasts for the CBC, the Radio Suisse Romande, and National Public Radio (USA).
An active teacher, Bellavance has taught workshops and master classes in England (Guildhall School, Royal College of Music London, and the Benslow International Flute Summer School), France (Conservatoires Nationaux Régionaux of Lyon and Nancy), Switzerland (Blonay International Music Course), Italy (Scuola Civica di Cagliari), Spain (Centro Cultural Kraus, Madrid), Romania (Bu?teni International Flute School), Canada (Montréal Conservatoire), USA (University of Northern Iowa, University of Western lllinois), Brazil (University Federal of São Paulo, State University of Rio de Janeiro, University Federal of Minas Gerais Encontro Internacional de Flautista Tatui, Curso de verao Brasilia 2006-2007 and 2008, ABRAF Salvador de Bahia, Uberlandia and Sao Joan del Rey), Argentina (Conservatorio Manuel de Falla in Buenos Aires, Conservatorio Beethoven, Conservatorio Provincial in Córdoba, State University of San Juan and National University of Cuyo in Mendoza), Peru (Lima International Flute Festival), Venezuela (Maracaibo Festival y Academia del Nuevo Mundo, Curso Festival Union de las Artes Guama, Universidad Simón Bolivar in Caracas), Costa Rica (San Jose International Flute Festival), Chile (University of Chile and Escuela de Moderna de Musica), Ecuaduor (Conservatorio Nacional in Quito). Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Bogotá, Universidad Nacional de Manizales, Universidad Antioquia de Medellin), China (Beijing Central Conservatory, Shanghai Conservatory, Guangzhou Conservatory and Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts), Australia (Sydney Conservatorum) and New Zealand (Auckland University and Hamilton University).
Michel embraces a full range of repertoire, and his discography attests to his keen interest for both new and less familiar pieces. His two discs for Brioso Recordings (USA) have received worldwide critical praise. His CD entitled Sergei, Béla & Bohuslav features works by composers of Central & Eastern Europe, whilst Joueurs de Flûte contains works by French and Canadian composers, including the Rachel Laurin Flute Sonata opus 29, which he commissioned and premièred. Michel made the world-première recording of Salomon Jadassohn’s Nocturne opus 133, which is one of the works featured on his Romantic Flute disc for the SNE label (Canada). His fourth recording, published by Meridian Records (UK), contains French works of the first part of the 20th century, including the flute version of the violin Sonata opus 13 by Gabriel Fauré.
A grant recipient of the Canada Arts Council, Bellavance studied in Paris, Geneva, Zürich and San Francisco, honing his performing skills with artists such as Aurèle Nicolet, Patrick Gallois, Maxence Larrieu, András Adorján and Paul Renzi.
Michel Bellavance (Switzerland/UK)
We had the opportunity to ask Michel a few questions. Take a look at his thoughts on playing styles in different parts of the world, his teaching philosophy as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. How do you balance your teaching career in Geneva when you currently have so much international travel & performances?
Being a professor at the Haute Ecole de Musique de Geneve, I enjoy a certain degree of flexibility in organizing my teaching. This is quite different from playing in an orchestra - which I used to do - where you must attend rehearsals and concerts at specific times. As you know, the academic year includes a number of months with no classes, which is ideal for organizing tours and masterclasses abroad. And during the teaching months, I can arrange my weekly classes so that I have some time to travel. I love this balance between teaching and playing around the world. I need it to continue to develop my artistic career.
2. With this in mind, how do playing styles compare and contrast from different areas around the world?
Without being stereotypical, I note some trends in the various parts of the world where I teach. For example, I observe a more technical focus in Asian countries, whereas South Americans tend to be more intuitive in their playing. Even within Europe, there are lots of different approaches, with the southern countries being different form the northern and eastern ones. The latter have a more intellectual approach to music. But there are many exceptions of course. As far as I am concerned, I try to combine the various trends. I am perhaps more on the intuitive side, meaning that I will always first play a piece instinctively, and thereafter analyse it to confirm my first intuition.
3. What is your teaching philosophy?
I would say my teaching is based on three main principles: honesty, independence, and versatility. First, honesty means that as interpreters we must remain faithful to what composers have produced. In other words, the students must learn how to translate the music as it is written. This includes articulation, dynamics, tempi. As Aurele Nicolet says, 'before interpreting the piece, play what is written.' Second, I want the students to be independent and able to progress further without tuition. I use question-asking as a tool, ,rather than telling them to do things. This greatly enhances the teaching efficiency, as the students remember better what they have discovered themselves. Thirdly, I insist on the students being fully versatile, like today's actors in the theatre. They must be able to be authentic in music going from baroque to classical or contemporary, to give just a few examples. And finally I insist a lot on sound quality, including having a full range of colours.
4. What is your typical practice routine like?
I don't have one (LOL). However I start every day's practice with a rough sight-reading to warm up. Only after that do I do some sound exercises or scales or repertoire (not necessarily in that order). I find this works better for me, as I need to be warm to be able to work.
5. What musician has had the largest influence on your playing?
As far as flutists go, I think I have been influenced the most by Aurele Nicolet and Patrick Gallois. Of course, there have been many others, but I cannot name them all here. I am more attentive to what singers do in their technical and musical work. I also learn a lot during my travels around the world, including classical and other music types.
6. What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?
Flute playing has been a wonderful way to share my feelings with others. In other words, I am not trying to promote my own person through music, but I rather use the flute to communicate with others and try to inspire them.
7. What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of music?
As you know, I am a passionate traveller. I would jump on a plane any time to go to the other side of the world and discover new places. I am also a bit of an epicurian: I love good food, fine wines and nice company. In French we say I am a 'bon vivant'. I try to keep fit by swimming competitively with a team in London (as much as my travel schedule allows me to).
8. If you could identify the moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to be a professional musician, what would that moment be?
As a teenager, I was practicing both the flute and the classical ballet. I was truly passionate for both arts. However at age 17 I realized that flute was more important. I also figured out that my career (if any) as flute player would last longer.
9. What do you think is the most important thing for you to emphasize in your teaching and in your own playing?
In my teaching I try to emphasize the physical aspects of flute playing. To be a flautist, we need to understand exactly how the human body works in relation to the playing. There is nothing philosophical about it. This is purely physical. I want the students to know exactly the name of muscles involved, how does the support work, the difference between quantity vs. pressure in the air stream, and all these things that you need, among others, to be a good flautist. Often I can see that when I ask questions, the new students don’t know these things and tend to think about pure artistic concepts. Of course, interpretation is all about expressing yourself, but it is so important to master the physical part too.
10. What upcoming performances do you have that you are currently looking forward to?
Among other things, I am looking forward to participating for the first time in the Canadian Flute Festival in Toronto in June 2015. As a Canadian, I find it very important to connect with fellow citizens and to find out about the latest trends in Canadian flute music. Hopefully I can also take some of my international experience to Canada. Of course, I left Canada thirty years ago, but I am still very attached to my country of origin.
After that, in July, I will be teaching at the Shengqi He 2015 International Flute Summer Festival in Shanghai. I have several opportunities to give master classes in China before, but this is the first time I can spend two solid weeks with the same group, which should allow us to go deeper into flute practice and interpretation.
11. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Since I have become a Myazawa Artist in 2011, I have enjoyed playing in many prestigious music festivals around the world. Among them, I really appreciated the opportunity to be part of the Chilean. And of course, when it comes to career highlights, I must mention my appointment to the Geneva HEM (Haute Ecole de Musique) as professor a few years ago. I was so thrilled!
12. How would you advise flutists to begin practicing for an orchestral audition and/or competition? What advice can you give to those preparing as far as nerves/performance anxiety are concerned?
The main issue when it comes to participating in an orchestral audition or a competition is about self-confidence. Some fear they will lose their sound over their technique. You can never know how things will go. However, I find that by having full control of the technical side of flute playing, and of the piece you are playing, you minimize the tension greatly before the audition. Young musicians will find out that the more experienced they become the less nervous they will be. Do as many events as you can, even small concerts in private, with friends or family. Take any opportunity to play in public. Of course, if you only have one concert per year you will have more pressure. And once you are in front of the audience, forget about practicing, just think of playing and doing music.
13. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
I met the Miyazawa team during the 2010 NFA convention in California. I was not particularly looking for a new instrument, as I was happy with my own. However, I noticed a special flute on the Miyazawa stand and then found out this was a platinum flute. Having tried it, I decided that this was exactly what I needed. It combined the qualities of my previous gold flute with a bigger range of dynamics and a superb mechanical system. We then agreed that I would have a platinum flute made for me and this is how I became a Miyazawa artist. I have just been to Tokyo to pick up my new flute and am totally delighted with my new instrument.
14. If you had one piece of advice for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
Get a Miyazawa flute (LOL)! More seriously, I would tell them that on top of practicing a lot, they will need to open up to the word. So many students are trapped in their little flute world. There is so much more out there and we must be part of it. Listen to all styles of music, do other activities, broaden your horizons!