THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN RUN
Berlin Philharmonic principal flautist Emmanuel Pahud talks music, sleep and turning off the radio in the car
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.