In rehearsal in South Carolina, apparently expressing a very firm opinion about something or other
In concert with Juilliard415 and William Christie. Being a part of this programme and this ensemble was one of the greatest privileges of my musical life.
I’ve long been a fan of historically-informed performances, particularly of Bach and Mozart. I was lucky enough to be in the audience when John Eliot Gardiner performed the John Passion at the Proms with Mark Padmore and Peter Harvey, and my Bach playlist is full of his recordings and those of Masaaki Suzuki & Ton Koopman.
At the RAM, the mantra was that “the superfluous was the enemy of the necessary” (a Nietzsche quote I think), so I earnestly devoted all my time and energy to the modern flute, failing to take advantage of the incredible Lisa Beznosiuk who taught there, unaware of how profoundly the historical instrument was to help my modern playing as well.
Whilst studying at Yale a couple of years later I met Robert Mealy, who after bravely coaching our modern-instrument chamber group as we made heavy work of some Couperin, gently suggested we might like to try it on historical instruments. Yale has a wonderful collection, including two modern copies of a Palanca flute made by Martin Wenner. The Palanca is a forgiving model for a transitioning modern flautist, and it was with some surprise that I found myself making a better noise than expected. The Couperin suddenly made a great deal more sense, and with Robert’s encouragement, I started taking lessons with Sandy Miller, joining them both later that year at the American Bach Soloists Academy in San Francisco.
It was whilst there that I first experienced playing in a large ensemble as a baroque flautist. Bach’s B minor mass could hardly have been a more thrilling introduction, and I also found myself really enjoying our other big project: tackling in full the five-act French baroque monster that is Marais’ Sémélé. In short, it was a transformative experience which motivated me to apply to Juilliard’s Historical Performance program, for which I was thankfully accepted.
I hadn't expected to be playing much in the way of contemporary music in a period-instrument ensemble, but for a tour to India in 2017, Juilliard commissioned a work from the remarkable composer Reena Esmail to be performed alongside Bach's Magnificat (a rather more familiar work for us!) in Delhi, Mumbai & Chennai.
The result was This Love Between Us, an extraordinary synthesis of Western and Indian classical music, celebrating texts from different religions and the common threads that run between them. The use of a period-instrument orchestra was something of a masterstroke. Its lithe, transparent sound blended beautifully with the tabla and sitar, and instruments like my own were far closer in sound and design to their Indian counterparts than their modern descendants would have been.
We recorded This Love Between Us just before what would turn out to be an incredible, life-affirming tour to India. The CD was released on the Hyperion label in December 2019. You can hear extracts and order/download here.
That performance of Marais' Sémélé sparked a lifelong (if belated) love of French baroque music, and I always relish the opportunity to play more.
My final performance with J415 was in a full production, alongside Juilliard's extraordinary singers and dancers, of Hippolyte & Aricie, conducted by Stephen Stubbs. A favourite moment is the wonderful aria towards the end of the opera, "Rossignols amoreux," in which the soprano is joined by a solo flute and violin. The Wall Street Journal was in attendance, and were kind enough to say nice things about my duet with Australian violinist Annie Gard.
More recently, after many months of lockdown and social distancing, it was a joy to play with other musicians again in a recording of Charpentier's beautiful Sonate a huit and Annuntiate Superi. Video coming soon!