We had the opportunity to ask Claudia a few questions. Take a look at her thoughts on studying with Severino Gazzelloni, differences in performing with chamber groups vs orchestral settings, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. Berio Sequenza is a monumental piece, but can be very intimidating as well. As a recognized expert, do you have any suggestions on approaching this piece? Also – You had the experience of studying and performing in Italy for a few years. During this time, how did Severino Gazzelloni influence the way you approach music and playing?
When I first studied with Severino Gazzelloni in Rome as a Fulbright scholar, fresh out of college, my goals were strongly linked to the training I had just received in America. Performing a lot of contemporary music at the University of Michigan had helped me secure the Fulbright (Gazzelloni was the most important performer of new flute music during the 1950s through ’70s), but what I really wanted was to study more traditional repertoire and prepare for orchestral auditions. Ironically, my first lesson with Gazzelloni was on Berio’s Sequenza, which had been written for Gazzelloni in 1958 – ironic because at the time I was impatient to do standard solo repertoire and did not appreciate the incredible opportunity before me.
As it turned out, Gazzelloni also taught the traditional rep., and my wish was granted to study Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi, Prokofieff, to name a few of the “old” composers. As I worked through these pieces, I began to understand the reason for Gazzelloni’s fame as an interpreter of new music – He used many colors, a wide range of dynamics, and “neon-highlighted” expression in interpretation of the standards that I had never heard before; technical and expressive extensions that he carried over from the contemporary music world. This was the turning point for me in how I regarded both new and old music on the flute, as it dawned on me that we did not have to make a huge demarcation between the two. Gazzelloni had opened my ears to a vivid palate of expressive tools which he used for everything; his teaching was exciting and invigorating, and if I didn’t always agree with him, I always felt challenged and encouraged towards the piece I was studying to come up with my own interpretive variation.
Gazzelloni’s view of performance was very democratic, both in terms of the music and the audience. He felt you could play anything for anybody if you were honest in communicating the essence of the music and did not play “down” to a public that might be uneducated. I witnessed his concerts outdoors in tiny towns in the Italian countryside, performing for nobility and farmers alike – he could win them all over on a piece written the week before just as much as with a Vivaldi concerto. An article I wrote a few years ago for Flute Talk on approaching Sequenza as opera came from this experience of Gazzelloni as a consummate entertainer. The atonal language of Sequenza is initially difficult to access, but once you can hear the gestures and larger shape of the work as highly animated, theatrical discourse, it becomes much easier to approach. It’s best to separate the piece into its major sections and tackle each separately at first. As for the extreme dynamics, articulations, interval leaps, I use traditional exercises and repertoire (Moyse 24 Melodic Studies, Telemann Fantasies, Taffanel & Gaubert) with my own additions – when needed – of extended techniques; this reinforces the notion that our contempoary technques come from principles grounded in our traditional approach to fine flute playing.
2. Chamber music can be a completely different experience than orchestral playing. How do you separate the two and what changes do you need to make in your playing to adjust?
To me, the difference between playing chamber music and playing in an orchestra comes down to two factors: a conductor (or not) and the differences in sound production. In the orchestra, you are subject to another person’s interpretive decisions and you must adapt your sound to project over a large group. You are also working equally with your colleagues within the orchestra, making decisions about technical and musical points when necessary; in this way, it is similar to chamber music, though the ultimate decisions in all these matters rest with conductor. With chamber music, you are all truly equal members of a kind of musical cooperative, contributing ideas and working out musical and technical issues together. Learning both diplomacy and firmness in expressing your ideas, as well as flexibility and openness to others’ ideas, results in musical growth that doesn’t occur as readily in orchestral playing. I love both performance modes and have learned an incredible amount over the years about balancing ego with giving up control in order to learn and be part of a marvelous product.
3. Recently, we saw the release of your newest album, In This World, with pianist SoYoung Lee. What was this process like, both in the preparation and the actual recording session(s)? What might we find on the CD and where will it be available?
SoYoung and I had talked about making a CD together for a couple of years. We were not set on any particular repertoire initially but agreed that it should be music that extended the traditional boundaries of flute and piano chamber music. Gradually we came up with a combination of works that may not seem connected at first but that all speak to our interest in exploring unexpected tone colors between the instruments and stretching the technique and sound palate of each instrument. What resulted was a kind of sound journey through time, musical cultures (both Classical and ethnic), and original composition and/or our own treatment (arranging, re-orchestrating) of existing works – it is ideal to listen to the album from beginning to end if you can. I’ve included the liner notes on the music, listed below; you can find the CD on CD Baby or by writing to me directly for a hard-copy CD (npcanderson @gmail.com):
In This World presents the real and tangible in our natural world – giant snails (Ian Clarke’s Spiral Lament), harshly beautiful Southwest mesa landscape (John Drumheller’s View from Dead Horse Point), fleeting suggestions of wind, water, storm and gathering catastrophe (my own Weather Conversations). It offers universally human emotions of hope and longing (Reynaldo Hahn’s A Chloris), the ineffable sadness of an entire race reaching back over four centuries (Eve Beglarian’s I Will Not Be Sad in This World), the dichotomy of bitter pain and sweet salvation in love (David Ludwig’s Canzoniere). It submits readings from our own world, of works born in past worlds (Bach, Shostakovich, Debussy), that aim to provoke and delight the listener with new perspectives on the original. In This World is of this world in its musical language while it seeks to transcend it with multi-faceted expressions of the human condition.
4. As you mentioned above with the recent CD release, you dove into composing your own works. Can you tell us about this process and how this came about?
I have been performing works with electronic background recently, and of quite varied styles. Realizing how you can create almost literally any soundscape you wish and still be your own generator of those sounds, I began to hear certain rhythms and melodies in my head that were orchestrated with many sounds other than flute. I went to a colleague at Grinnell College who was working with a really sophisticated software program, Max MSP, and we collaborated with me inputting a few sounds – both normal and extended techniques – and he manipulating them through Max. The unexpected part of this was that we created a musical backdrop first, and then I wrote the live flute part around it. That was not my initial intention, but it turned out to be a very good way to work with a soundtrack that became a structure as I listened and found connections between its own parts and then with my own writing. It’s exciting to hear the result, to observe the piece take on a life of its own. I look forward to the next one!
5. What qualities do you think are most essential to musical excellence?
The ability to truly listen, to yourself and to others; to be honest with yourself at all levels of your playing; to become your own teacher by taking the initiative from teachers and performers you admire and applying their inspiration to your current stage of development; not to wait to be told what to do, but to do it yourself! And to try all avenues of performing, teaching, composing available to you on your own: you will discover a lot about yourself very quickly.
6. Do you have any current projects we can look forward to hearing about in the future?
Jill Felber and I as ZAWA! are about to premiere a double concerto by Cynthia Folio, at Grinnell College: Winds for Change is a concerto for two flutes (using both C and altos), string orchestra, percussion, video, and sound manipulation. It is a musical meditation on the effects of global warming and climate change. We think this is unique in the flute concerto repertoire and are quite excited about the premiere, which happens on Nov 15. We will have a chamber version for string quartet and percussion, which will make it easier to take on the road. There is a consortium of flutists who will have performance rights during the next year; they include Leone Buyse, Carol Wincenc, Sherry Kujala, Julie Hobbs, Christina Jennings, Jennifer Keeney, and Marianne Gedigian.
7. What’s the most important thing to teach an upcoming flutist/student?
Responsibility for your own development (see #3) and a fierce love for playing the flute! Become your own agent for creating a path of your own. Listen to and study with the people who have done this themselves.
8. What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?
That the flute was the “glue” holding together my life through good and bad times, the thing that gave me an identity even when being a flutist was the last thing I wanted. The rare attempts to leave music and the flute showed me how futile this was, because it became clear that this was the best thing I had to offer the world. The flute has been a constant thread in almost all aspects of my life – you might say it has been my best friend.
9. 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?
I was a sophomore at the U of Michigan and played in several top ensembles there. It wasn’t one single moment, but the demands made of me as a solo performer that year showed a world out there with seemingly limitless possibilities, and I loved the sensation of immersing myself in all of it. I was resident flutist of the Contemporary Directions Ensemble, soloed every night for two weeks with the famous Michigan Symphony Band on tour with a Vivaldi piccolo concerto, and played principal in an elite chamber orchestra comprised of faculty and top students. By the end of that school year, I switched my major over to performance and didn’t look back. I could not imagine doing anything else at that point!
10. Who are your favorite composers?
Favorite composers, currently, would probably be Jennifer Higdon, Cynthia Folio, Greg Patillo, Robert Dick, and Ian Clarke in the flutist/composer world; Jacob ter Veldhuis, Erwin Schulhoff, Debussy, Lowell Liebermann as 20th-21st-century composers who have either expanded concepts of our instrument or presented it in a uniquely personal way; Berlioz and Stravinsky as superb orchestrators with such rewarding flute parts; and New Age composers Brian Eno, Deuter, flutist Paul Horn, and Liquid Mind (Chuck Wild).
11. What are your other interests outside of music?
Riding motorcycles with my husband (mine is a Triumph Bonneville), writing (am working on an interview project about artistry and writing the book this fall), discovering the delights and enormous health benefits from juicing!
12. What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day has me spending more hours than I would like in the morning at the computer. Since one of my roles is program administration at Rocky Ridge Music Center during the summer, during the other months I am working on program content, faculty hiring, and student recruitment. I try to spend at least an hour on my writing project, an hour on arranging travel for tours and guest visits, and two hours for practice. The rest of the day will get eaten up with students, most likely, and evenings are spent with orchestra rehearsals a week to ten days in a month.
13.How has your approach to playing changed over time, whether it be performing or practicing?
Over time my approach to life in general has changed, to include what I hope is a more balanced and less frenetic emphasis on playing. As it becomes clearer what it important to me as a performer, which includes finding and commissioning great new works as well as locating chamber music that is wonderful but less well known, I spend fewer but more directed hours practicing. With performing, I go out of my way to find repertoire that will create a unique and compelling program. This often puts a standard piece together with something unknown or “out there” but that shows off each work to better effect by having it next to the other. I feel more and more that the art of great programming is essential to successful communication with my audience.
14. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
I was not happy with my flute back in graduate school at the University of Iowa. I began hearing about the Miyazawa flute at that time (late 1980s) and tried some Miyazawas. I was impressed with the fine workmanship and aspects of tone color I had been unable to achieve with my old flute. Over the next decade and more, Miyazawa experimented with many changes in their flute design and headjoint production. I witnessed all these changes and became more convinced wtih each one that Miyazawa was becoming one of the finest flutes on the market for a wide range of players. I have played several combinations and currently perform on a 14k Brögger system with an MZ-8 headjoint with platinum riser; it is a superb flute that gives me power as well as subtlety of tone color, with a luminous warm quality that I love for all modes of performing – solo, chamber and orchestral.
15. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
Be true to yourself. For an emerging flutist today, this means knowing your own personality traits, sounds and styles of playing you are drawn to, honesty regarding your strengths and weaknesses, and the commitment to discovering what your original contributions will be to the flute community. This is often not easy when you are just coming from strong influences of teachers and players you admire; they are necessary in forming your musical and flutistic self, but you may not be ready to see that self for what it is yet. Pay attention to signs that point to something different and unique about your playing or choice of repertoire or performance venues, etc. We all must find our path to fulfillment in a very competitive environment. When you realize that the competition drops off dramatically once you find your niche, you’re on your way to health and happiness as a flutist in the 21st century!