THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN RUN

Ber­lin Phil­har­monic prin­ci­pal flautist Em­manuel Pahud talks mu­sic, sleep and turn­ing off the ra­dio in the car

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Em­manuel Pahud

You fa­mously play a 14-karat gold flute. Where and when did you pro­cure it, and what at­tributes does it pos­sess that a reg­u­lar sil­ver in­stru­ment does not? I bought that flute from an Amer­i­can man­u­fac­turer back in the sum­mer of 1989. I could af­ford it af­ter win­ning a few com­pe­ti­tions. Nowa­days a lot of stu­dents with wealthy par­ents have golden flutes, but most of them don’t know how to play them: they are 50 per cent heav­ier than sil­ver flutes, which re­quires more power and strength in the body, but they are also more dense in the sound, and re­quire more air con­trol and pro­jec­tion. It works well for me, but I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily rec­om­mend it to ev­ery­body. Sil­ver in­stru­ments typ­i­cally have a some­what lighter sound that wouldn’t fill a big con­cert hall but may be eas­ier to use in a recital hall. But it is re­ally up to the abil­ity of the flute player. You know, I don’t feel re­spon­si­ble for what other peo­ple think of me. I try to play mu­sic as well as I can, try­ing to re­vive what I be­lieve and un­der­stand the com­poser has been ex­press­ing through his mu­sic. It is a quite mag­i­cal spir­i­tual and phys­i­cal jour­ney ev­ery time you pick your in­stru­ment and play, whether there is an au­di­ence or not. So if peo­ple like my play­ing, I am grate­ful. You be­gan lessons as the four-year-old son of non-mu­si­cal par­ents. What was it about the flute that drew you to the in­stru­ment? At age four, I could dis­cover and hear vi­o­lin, cello, flute and pi­ano from the neigh­bour’s flat in Rome. I ob­vi­ously must have been hyp­no­tised by the sound of flute, as I told my par­ents I wanted to play Mozart’s Flute Con­certo. Your fam­ily moved a lot dur­ing your child­hood, from Switzer­land to Iraq, Madrid and Brus­sels. Did that life­style con­trib­ute to your genre-cross­ing style of mu­si­cian­ship? Not at all, we were merely go­ing to sym­phonic con­certs and to the opera reg­u­larly in Rome and later in Brus­sels. The genre-cross­ing ex­pe­ri­ence came later, while I was study­ing in Paris and went on my own to many shows of other kinds of mu­sic. Nev­er­the­less, trav­el­ling a lot with my par­ents was a very good prepa­ra­tion for what a mu­si­cian’s life can be. You were only 22 when you were ap­pointed to the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic, the world’s most pres­ti­gious orches­tra, at a time of great gen­er­a­tional change for that in­sti­tu­tion. What was it like be­ing the new kid on the block? I was fill­ing one of about 15 newly ap­pointed key po­si­tions that year but of course, as a prin­ci­pal flute with such pre­de­ces­sors as Aurele Ni­co­let in the 50s and James Gal­way in the 70s, you do feel a cer­tain ex­po­sure. At the same time, an orches­tra is like a foot­ball team: in­di­vid­ual tal­ents alone are of no use if we don’t play to­gether in a good and pro­duc­tive team spirit. So we went for the col­lec­tive way to­gether, spend­ing a lot of time to­gether on and off stage, learn­ing very quickly to play to­gether even though we were all from dif­fer­ent hori­zons. Af­ter an 18-month sab­bat­i­cal in 2000 you re­turned to the Ber­lin Phil, where you have since been ap­pointed prin­ci­pal. What does the daily life of a prin­ci­pal flautist look like? There is no such thing as a daily rou­tine in my life. Even in the orches­tra, you play very dif­fer­ent pro­grams ev­ery week, and then on tour, the con­cert halls, the times, the acous­tics, the au­di­ence changes all the time. Our prepa­ra­tion is re­quired to be in top form so that we can adapt to the new con­di­tions and de­liver to­gether the best pos­si­ble per­for­mance Con­certs and sleep are cer­tainly not in­com­pat­i­ble. The tough thing for me is to get up the next morn­ing. I can de­liver my best when­ever I get eight hours of sleep. Fifty con­certs per year I play in Ber­lin at the Phil­har­monic Hall, 25 on tour with the orches­tra, and a good 80 are solo projects that im­ply a lot of time loss in trav­el­ling and trans­fers. Per­form­ing and re­hears­ing ev­ery other day keeps me in good shape on the in­stru­ment, but it is hard to find time to re­ally prac­tise alone with­out be­ing dis­turbed. You and the Aus­tralian Cham­ber Orches­tra’s Richard Tognetti are good friends. Do you have any­thing planned be­yond con­certs while you’re in Aus­tralia? We won’t have much time off, and I can’t un­for­tu­nately ex­tend be­yond the three weeks of the tour with the ACO, but yes, I know we shall spend ev­ery pos­si­ble free minute to­gether to en­joy great shows, restau­rants or sports. I would turn on a jazz pro­gram. Im­pro­vised mu­sic is heal­ing and leads us some­where else. My job be­ing in mu­sic though, I of­ten find my­self turn­ing it off in the car. I have lived in Ber­lin since April 1993 and I feel this is home … (though) I have been on the road an av­er­age of seven months per year.

As told to Justin Burke will per­form with the ACO in Can­berra tonight, then na­tion­ally un­til Oc­to­ber 13.

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