We had the opportunity to ask Noémi a few questions. Check out her thoughts on preparing for competitions, performing rarely played concerti as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. What does a typical practice session look like for you?
In the past years, especially since I have become a mother, I have been aiming to develop the most productive ways to practice. I spend the majority of my time focusing on basic technical matters such as tone production, vibrato and articulation, which I feel are key tools for expression. I also look at difficult passages from the repertoire I am about to perform and prepare for concerts by analyzing the score, planning out phrasings in detail. Through this process I have realized even more how unbelievably huge impact concentration and quality of practice makes on the performance in the end!
2. What is the most important thing to emphasize not only in your teaching but in your own playing?
For me the most essential thing is expressiveness and sensitivity in music making. It is an enigmatic journey to understand the intentions of the composer and find the most appropriate and natural ways to articulate them, while blending these with my own personality, bringing them alive, using the widest range of colours and emotions. I believe this is how we are able to create an individual and truly meaningful musical experience.
3. Tell us about your current projects, specifically your flute and guitar duo. How did this come about? What are your goals?
Over the past fifteen years I have been working very closely with Katalin Koltai, one of the foremost Hungarian guitarists. Through our collaboration, I have played a vast amount of original compositions and transcriptions for the formation and gained a thorough overview of the flute and guitar repertoire. Katalin and I always aim to create original projects, concert programmes and recordings which differ from the mainstream flute-guitar scenery.
For example, in 2011, we discovered, through our work with musicologist-guitarist Massimo Agostinelli, a large original oeuvre of Antonio Nava (1775-1826, Italian composer) which had not been published or recorded. The thorough research around this discovery enabled us to gain elaborate knowledge of the flute-guitar music of this particular era and inspired us to explore more possibilities of repertoire from the time. Therefore in the recent years we have turned our attention towards the Viennese classical keyboard works in particular, as an extensive and valuable resource of potential transcriptions for our duo.
The Classical Flute and Guitar Project which I am currently working on as part of my Doctorate in Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in London, was born from the desire to discover in depth the above described creative work and to embark on a journey that aims to redefine the whole context of evolution and ‘raison d’etre’ of the flute and guitar duo. I believe that through this artistic process, we will make steps towards reaching the deserved appreciation and place of flute guitar duos in the mainstream scenery for chamber music.
4. Your newest CD is scheduled to be released later this fall under the Hungaroton label. What can we expect to hear on this recording? (And how do you prepare for a recording session compared to a live performance?)
Glowing sonorities is a tribute to the soul of Romantic music, a journey of discovery through three Sonatas by Franz Schubert, Carl Reinecke and César Franck. The idea of recording these works have been with us for many years; while performing them in live concerts, we became deeply convinced that with their particular styles and distinctive voices, these compositions embrace an unusually wide range of sensitivity and passion, qualities that are so significant for this era. The days we have spent in the studios of the Hungarian Radio and Hungaroton Records have been unexpectedly moving for all of us involved; it was an incredible experience to be able to immerse ourselves in each of the pieces for hours without pausing for a moment. I am really excited and looking forward to the release and the launch concert on the 8th of November and hope that by listening to the CD, you will also feel part of this very special atmosphere!
5. What classes do you teach at the Royal Northern College of Music? How many students do you have?
In the Junior School I lead my flute studio and have a vibrant chamber music class as well, including wind quintets and a flute and guitar duo. The number of students in my class varies every year; I now have two flutists, two quintets and a flute-guitar duo. In the senior school I work with the students on a one to one basis, usually helping them with preparation before their final exams or for competitions and auditions. Teaching is a true passion of mine and I very much enjoy working with so many young talented musicians! I feel that I now have developed a great balance in dividing my time between performing, pursuing my Doctorate at the RAM and teaching at the RNCM.
6. Do you have any interests and/or hobbies outside of music?
I very much enjoy reading, like to cook and experiment with new dishes. I also genuinely craving for learning new things and hope to find time again to enroll in a dance class!
7. What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is completely different – there is no real daily routine in my life. I would say confidence and flexibility are the key words for living a happy and healthy life when travelling and playing so much.
On the other hand, there are strategies that I try to follow: I like to work very focused, spending more time at once on a particular task, so I tend to break up my time between different duties very clearly. There are always intense periods of practice when I am a few days or a week at home and prepare the repertoire for the next performances. On these days I like to only focus on the music and really have nothing else on my schedule, so I feel absolute no rush in my work. Then there are many of those days, when I am performing, or travelling – on these occasions I need to feel completely fit and relaxed, to be prepared for any sudden happenings (such as probably all other busy musicians, I have many absolutely non-realistic stories about unexpected obstacles and situations on my way to a performance or rehearsal). Even when I teach, I prefer to have 6-7 consequent lessons at a time, as it helps me to get in an even deeper flow of concentration on each personality.
This sort of time management and channeling of attention is also an important part in my private life – it is a must, living together with such a busy and outstanding conductor and flutist, as my husband, Gergely Madaras.
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?
I was around 8 years old, when I had my long awaited first flute lesson, after having played the recorder for three years. Although many things caught my attention as a child and there were (and still are) a number of non-musical sources that brought a huge amount of joy in my life, something struck me immediately when I started to play the flute. I instantly started dreaming about performances, big concert halls and audiences. In the same year I already handed in a paper at school, describing my future plan as being a professional flutist.
The act of playing the flute was unexpectedly intense, intimate, but at the same time strong and life-transforming for me from the very first moment. This keeps me enchanted until today; I still feel that playing the flute can allow me the purest and most human communication I ever experienced.
9. What is the most valuable lesson that the flute taught you?
Playing an instrument is in many ways like holding a mirror to yourself. Being a musician is a profession where you have to face and battle your limits every day and are forced to be honest to yourself about things that need correction. It is like a lifelong search for perfection, where you live for those rare, but magical moments when things truly come together. This kind of life requires endless persistence, bravery, spirit, optimism and charisma that make one very strong. This attitude and strength has helped me through every difficult moment and period in my life – let it be musical or non-musical.
10. Recently you have been performing rarely played concerti alongside the well known ones on your concert schedule, such as the Hungarian composer, Endre Szervanszky’s Concerto and the Czech Erwin Schulhoff’s Double Concerto. How do you seek out this repertoire and what has been the response to your programming?
I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to perform so many concerti. I am very excited about making my own list of the ones I have played with orchestras and there are only a few missing from the major repertoire pieces. But I also like to search for unique ideas and things that will be new and surprising both for the public and for fellow musicians in the orchestra. I find that both the audiences and the performers often underestimate new music or the pieces that are less known, so it is a big responsibility to pick something not really mainstream. On the other hand I love to spend time and look out for such pieces, it is a great process to get to know these composers and become part of their musical thinking and ways of expression. In the rehearsal process and concerts the performers always experience something new and exciting, which can result in a very intense and lively interpretation that usually surprises and really amazes the audiences. So the responses are usually even more positive than I expect – which also reconfirms my way on this path.
11. What has your experience been teaching flute as the new Associate Tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music?
I have been teaching at the RNCM since 2011, having had my own class of young talents in the Junior section of the college. I was also working regularly with the senior (undergraduate and postgraduate) students since the beginning of 2012 in masterclass situations, but this past year has been my first time to have one to one lessons with them as well. This experience was something absolutely elevating and motivating throughout the academic year: the Royal Northern College of Music is an institution that collects young professional flutists from all around the world and offers truly diverse and versatile opportunities for them. This means I have been working with students from very different cultural and stylistic backgrounds and was assisting them to prepare for the widest range of tasks – let it be contemporary solo music competition, orchestra audition, performing recital pieces or playing chamber music. But most importantly I had the chance to work on the fundamentals of flute paying: tone production, breath control, articulation, style and technique.
There is for sure something very special about two young professionals working together: each lesson has a bilateral dynamic to it. On one hand I felt like I was equally gaining knowledge from every student. On the other hand, somehow those very few years that I am older than them allow me to show many practical skills, ideas, strategies of practice, ways of preparation and musical approach that I have just recently discovered, so it is in a way extremely useful and relevant to them.
12. While you were living in the United States for a year, you studied with Frances Blaisdell. What are your most memorable moments and what led you up to that point?
I was still in middle school at the time, but after nearly ten years of musical training I was already very determined to become a professional flutist. I decided to continue my studies on our return to Hungary in the very best school for my age, the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest. However in order to fulfill this dream I had to pass an extremely competitive entrance exam, which needed very good preparation. Through many recommendations of musicians, one evening I suddenly found myself on the phone speaking with Frances Blaisdell. Soon I was attending her class every week, after she had listened to me and agreed upon our work. Although at the time I was very young, I consider Frances one of my most influential teachers: she took my work and all my dreams very seriously, has always encouraged me to go after fulfilling them but also showed me how reaching long term goals will always require a lot of imagination matched with very disciplined, hard work. Her whole career and life is a tribute to these values: she not only was a very successful musician, but achieved things which were impossible by all means; nobody ever expected a woman at Juilliard or among the musicians of the New York Philharmonic at the time. After returning to Hungary I kept a very lively correspondence with Frances. She continued to give me many important suggestions on my professional decisions and followed my path with continued support. I always dreamed about visiting and playing for her again, but there was unfortunately no chance for that before she had passed away.
13. Currently, you are a substitute flutist in the Vienna Staatsoper with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Up until the year 1997, the orchestra did not allow women to join. How has the orchestra changed since then and what kind of experience have you had playing with them?
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is clearly one of the world’s finest orchestras but in many ways it is also one of the most conservative. Although women were allowed as members in 1997, there are still fewer female players compared to other leading orchestras. For example, the official wind and brass section still consists of only men. However, hiring Ms. Albena Danailova in 2008 as one of the concert masters, shows that Vienna Philharmonic is becoming more opened to female players in leading positions. Besides taking part in the repertoire performances (such as Tosca, La Sonnambula, Romeo and Julia or Die Fledermaus) I also participated in the premiere of Aribert Reimann’s new opera, Medea. This was a very important event in the Austrian cultural scene as the last premiere of a contemporary opera in the Staatsoper before Medea was in 2002. The premiere and the following five performances were all a huge success: the house and the orchestra proved to perform this modern piece at the highest quality, although there are very few new works on its repertoire.
Playing in the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra is really a unique experience. The warm sound and extremely precise playing matched with such musicality is really rare. The orchestra doesn’t have its own conductor; they are used to playing with different conductors almost every evening, so I think all members have an even bigger responsibility for the high level of each performance. Before my first opera – as usual, without any rehearsals – although I was extremely well prepared, I still was a bit nervous whether I will be able to understand each tempo change or character immediately. After the first few bars I felt if I had played in Staatsoper already for years: everything was so clear, so natural musically that there was no question left but to make music together with these highly experienced outstanding musicians.
14. Recently, you have given master classes in Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland as well as Georgia. What topics do you address the most in your teaching?
As a young professional I still remember clearly the technical or musical problems we are facing in different phases of our development. This helps me to relate very quickly to the need of each student. Through my broad international studies I have gathered and also invented quite a few extremely effective exercises for tone development, vibrato, intonation and flexibility of the embouchure. Daily practice of these, according to our current level, is the most important basis for progress at all times. So besides the pieces brought by the students, I tend to work on these exercises.
15. As a winner in many competitions, how do you go about preparing for an important performance? How do you conquer nerves?
For really outstanding performances many times we need a bit of positive nervousness, which elevates the tension in our performance. For this reason my goal is not to lose being nervous, but to still remain in control while I am performing. This is something that can be trained through many ways, and should also be part of the preparation for an important event (let it be a competition, audition or concert). First of all we have to discover our weaknesses in stress situations, so we know what has to be worked on. Almost all of us have experienced shortness in breath, sweating or just making unexpected mistakes while performing from memory or even from notes. I believe that whatever we experience in our daily practice routine becomes familiar and controllable; it doesn’t seem unknown or unexpected anymore. I do 1-2 minutes of sport to increase the heartbeat and than play a slow and long phrase, still with beautiful sound and very well guarded airstream, practice a lot (even fingerings of runs, etc.) by heart without flute so I can consciously follow every tone, or I record a piece on DVD or Mini Disc to imitate a competition or concert situation. I then know much better which parts still need some work. Before really important events I also make mini-concerts for my family, friends and colleagues. I think after the mentioned training & preparation, on the big day it is not so difficult anymore to let yourself go and concentrate only on music and communication with the audience or jury.
16. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
I purchased my first Miyazawa PA-202 flute when I was 16 years old, right in the beginning of my studies at the Bela Bartok Conservatory. More than ten years have passed since then. As a professional, I now play a Boston Classic 14k golden Miyazawa flute with the fantastic Brögger System. Some things didn’t change though: over these ten years each time when I held my instrument in my hand, I could only think and concentrate on music as I could produce any sound color I imagined and could fully rely on the superb precise mechanism provided by all Miyazawa flutes. I also live in a ‘Miyazawa family,’ as my husband, Gergely Madaras, who is a professional flutist and conductor, has also been playing a Miyazawa for more than seven years.
17. If you had one piece of advice to give for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
With huge online music libraries, professional live broadcastings from all over the world’s biggest concert halls and YouTube we now have an opportunity to collect an immense amount of information about musical styles, different interpretations, techniques or even new repertoire without having to leave our home. I think this is an unbelievable advantage for the upcoming generation: listening to as much repertoire as possible from all musical genres and instruments will help you to learn and appreciate the finest differences in the language of each musical style. Besides that, hearing the world’s most outstanding performers live can give you new & great ideas for practicing and inspiration to perfect your playing to the highest possible level.