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An Extended Journey, Part 1

Leonard Garrison | February 2013

    The realm of extended techniques for flute is expanding at an increasing rate throughout the world as composers and flutists create new effects that enrich the language. With an opportunity to take sabbatical leave from the University of Idaho, I decided to explore the breadth of new developments, working with specialists in North America and Europe. I wanted to expand my repertoire, particularly with modern pieces frequently performed in Europe but not in America, and master techniques used in recent music. Another goal was to learn a program of challenging unaccompanied music for flute, alto flute, and piccolo and then perform it in recitals and record a CD. A final benefit of the project was the opportunity to eat some really good food. Preparation for the project began in early 2011 as I chose music, contacted flutists and composers, reviewed French, German, and Spanish, and renewed my passport.

Toronto: Robert Aitken
    My first stop was in Toronto in February 2012, before my actual sabbatical. The Canadian Flute Association invited me to present a master class and recital, and I arrived a few days early to study with Robert Aitken, Canada’s foremost flutist and recipient of the NFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is former principal flutist of the Toronto Symphony, soloist on numerous recordings, former teacher at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, and founder and director of New Music Concerts in Toronto. We worked on his two unaccompanied flute pieces, Plainsong (1977) and Icicle (1977), Takemitsu’s Voice, and Betsy Jolas’ Episode Second: Ohne Worte (1977). He was extremely generous and spent many hours with me.
    Aitken is a pioneer in extended techniques and likes to say that pieces using them are the only true flute music, as these works cannot be transcribed for other instruments. Icicle, his most popular work, is a perfect introduction to extended techniques for intermediate students and is required for entrance into French conservatories and featured in the Royal Conservatory/Carnegie Hall Flute Syllabus. Less than three minutes long, it uses nonstandard fingerings that result in special hollow sounds, glissandi, a melody decorated with tremolos and trills, and vibrato created by the tongue rolling inside the mouth.
    Plainsong is more difficult, employing multiphonics, finger vibrato, splatter tones (blowing forced air with special fingerings that create a jarring interference in the sound), whistle tones, patterns repeated as many times as the player chooses, singing and playing, and harmonics. There are two different editions, and Bob shared his manuscript to explain several details that are not accurately portrayed in print. He discussed his theory of changing registers on the flute; unlike many flutists, Aitken uses little lip movement but rather manipulates air speed and pressure inside the body. This approach stabilizes the simultaneous octaves and facilitates the quick registral jumps in Plainsong. He dedicated the piece to his close friend, Toru Takemitsu, who modeled some of the writing in his solo flute piece piece Itinerant (1989) on Plainsong.
    All serious flutists should know Takemitsu’s Voice, a ground-breaking, powerful, and elusive work employing a plethora of special techniques. Everyone with whom I worked had a different approach to Voice. There were major disagreements about which multiphonic fingerings to use, how to employ the voice, whether to use pizzicato or tongue clicks, whether to use flutter tongue or double tongue in certain passages, etc. 
    Aitken encouraged me to approach Betsy Jolas’s Episode Second: Ohne Worte as a French flutist would, with a warm sound, clear articulation, and light, quick grace notes. His technique of staccato is different from a standard American approach; he cuts each note off with the tongue, retaining the air pressure between notes.

Iowa: Harvey Sollberger
    In June 2012 I visited Harvey Sollberger in Strawberry Point, Iowa, northwest of Dubuque. He grew up near here and was one of Betty Bang Mather’s earliest students at the University of Iowa in the 1950s. He later studied composition in New York with Jack Beeson and Otto Luening. He founded, with Charles Wuorinen, the Group for Contemporary Music, that performed the American premières of numerous chamber pieces. He taught composition at Indiana University and conducted the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra at the University of California, San Diego before retiring recently to Strawberry Point.
    Harvey has been a true trailblazer, and his model was the Italian flutist Severino Gazzeloni, who he admired from afar before meeting him in 1977. Sollberger’s use of extended techniques became most extreme in his work for solo flute, Riding the Wind 1-4 (1974), inspired by the Japanese shakuhachi. In his more recent music, special techniques are a natural part of his language. I organized a retrospective concert of Sollberger’s music for the NFA convention in Las Vegas in August 2012, and to prepare for this event, he worked with me on his New Millennium Memo for solo flute, written for New York flutist Claire Chase. (This work is available from the American Composers Alliance in two versions, the original, 2000, and a new revised version, 2012.)
    Sollberger describes his music with poetic imagery, and New Millennium Memo juxtaposes jerky irregular rhythms, Italianate lyricism (he is the ultimate Italophile), bluesy languid melodies, and a processional. Extended techniques include harmonics, flutter tonguing, glissandi, key clicks, microtonal trills, whistle tones, and varied vibrato. The most interesting effect is the ending, similar to a passage in Berio’s Sequenza: a crossfade on a trill.  The flute tone diminishes while tapping on the keys evolves into an increasingly loud and slow key click.

Cleveland: Mary Kay Fink
    In July 2012 I had a lesson with Mary Kay Fink,  piccoloist of the Cleveland Orchestra. She masterfully premièred Robert Dick’s Gravity’s Ghost for solo piccolo (2007) for the NFA, which commissioned it for her performance at its convention, and subsequently for its Piccolo Artist Competition. The most ambitious work using extended techniques for piccolo, it employs multiphonics, wind tones, whistle tones, tremolos, and glissandi. Although Gravity’s Ghost was inspired by the Mississippi fife player Otha Turner, Mary Kay encouraged me to keep in mind Robert Dick’s fascination with Jimmy Hendrix and thus to exaggerate the dramatic contrasts of the piece, to play over the top.

Manchester: British Flute Society Convention
    Next stop: the British Flute Society Convention at the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester, where I had been invited to give a presentation, Visualizing Vibrato, in August 2012. Having just attended the NFA convention in Las Vegas, it was interesting to compare the two events. The BFS gathering is much smaller than NFA, and one can rub shoulders with famous flutists such as William Bennett and Trevor Wye. I heard some great new music on recitals by Ian Clarke, Philippa Davies, and Wissam Boustany.

Malaga: Wil Offermans

    I left Manchester before the end of the conference to attend the 21st annual Wil Offermans Summer Course near Malaga, Spain. The city is on the Costa del Sol, the Spanish equivalent of the French Riviera, and upon arriving at the airport, I took a cab east along the coast and then up a twisty mountain road to the village of Sayalonga, where Wil and his wife Junko met me for a harrowing ride down a narrow dirt road to a former olive oil mill, a gorgeous spot for our course.
    Dutch-born flutist and composer Wil Offermans, now a resident of Spain, is endlessly creative, well known for his Honami (1994) for solo flute. He first learned extended techniques as a young player but later realized that these new ideas were actually an older tradition practiced by performers of the Japanese shakuhachi, the Egyptian nay, the Indonesian suling and others. A formative experience for him was his project RoundAbout 12.5 in 1985-86, when he circumnavigated the globe to explore flute traditions of many cultures.
    My fellow students came from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden, but Wil taught in English. One of his tenets is that we should play the flute with our whole body. The course focused on his excellent collection of etudes, For the Contemporary Flutist (Zimmermann, 1992). Like all good etudes, these are suitable for public performance as well as study, and Offermans has recorded them on his CD, Daily Sensibilities. He offers detailed explanations of the techniques at, including not only how to practice them, but theory and background. For instance, he explains the acoustics of bamboo tones (with “a certain warm, covered or windy tone quality”) and how to create fingerings that result in them. He emphasizes that exploration of extended techniques improves a flutist’s command of basic technique, expands boundaries, and above all, creates pleasure from the process of learning. Among other ideas, the course emphasized circular breathing.
    Offermans is dedicated to teaching students of all backgrounds and has developed many materials for young flutists. He demonstrated his invention, the Thumpy, a simple cross-blown flute with open ends that one can open and close with both thumbs – a good tool for beginning flutists.
    Each day started with tai chi sessions with Junko Ueda, Wil’s wife and musical and business partner. She is a Japanese-born singer and satsuma-biwa player. She also prepared food for the course, and we enjoyed many delicious meals together.
     We learned several of Wil’s solo pieces (including the evocative Luna y Sierra for solo flute with drone accompaniment) and works for multiple flutes. In Labyrinth, flutists work their way across a mat playing bits of music marked in each square. Dance With Me is great fun; flutists play in unison and must memorize simple material, containing a few multiphonics, pitch bends, and wind tones, while following dance moves accompanied by a hip-hop-inspired electronic track. Everyone performed on the final recital, and Wil amazed everyone with his piece Ilios, that originated in an extended improvisation and used every imaginable technique.
    After the course, Wil and Junko generously took me to their home in a beautiful village just east of Granada, where I basked in the view that inspired Luna y Sierra. We shared tapas in Granada and enjoyed a view overlooking the famous Alhambra.
Cologne: Helen Bledsoe
    What a shock to arrive in green, cool, and rainy Cologne from hot and dry Spain. Cologne is one of Germany’s great cultural centers and boasts several major orchestras, a world-class opera, and numerous new music and early music groups. Its main attraction is the huge cathedral, built over many centuries. In World War II the allies bombed most of Cologne to rubble but deliberately saved its cathedral. The city is modern and sleek, and I had several wonderful meals here, including typical German fare such as Sauerbraten and, since many Turks live in Cologne, a fine Turkish dinner.
    My first stop in the city was the impressive facility of Ensemble musikFabrik, a well-established new music ensemble. The largesse of government support of the arts is evident, with state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms, piles of technology, innumerable percussion instruments, and grand pianos. Here I met Helen Bledsoe, an American who serves as flutist for the group. Having studied with Bernard Goldberg, Peter Lloyd, Kate Lukas, Harrie Starrveld, Robert Dick and Aurèle Nicolet, she now teaches at the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, Germany. Helen has a large repertoire of solo flute works and an excellent website dedicated mostly to new music. In two long lessons, we covered most of my program, and she had cogent advice on general interpretation and specific techniques.     For instance, she gave me useful quarter-tone fingerings for Jolas’s Episode Second: Ohne Wort (1977) and suggested focusing the air more for wind tones. She also shared several useful exercises for double stops, including repeating them in various rhythms to establish a consistency of attack. She has a real dedication to respecting the composer’s directives, multilayered in these scores.

Cologne: Camilla Hoitenga
    The other American ex-pat I visited in Cologne was Camilla Hoitenga, who welcomed me enthusiastically and celebrated my arrival with a party where I met her friends from all walks of life. Having graduated from the University of Illinois, Camilla has lived in Germany for decades. Many composers, including Kaija Saariaho, have written works for her. Hoitenga and Saariaho met many years ago at the summer program for new music in Darmstadt, and their careers have been tied ever since. We focused on Couleurs du vent for solo alto flute (1998), one of Saariaho’s many pieces for flute, most of them written for Camilla. At ten minutes, Couleurs is rather long but was originally much longer. At an early performance, Camilla turned too many pages, skipping several minutes of music. Saariaho liked the effect and subsequently made cuts. Camilla shared her ideas about the general form and character of the piece as well as practical tips on many special effects, including wind tones, pitch bends, varied vibrato, aspirated articulation with the consonants Sh, T, V, S, R, F, and H, and singing and playing. She also discussed “double trills,” using two alternating fingers on one key, to produce an extremely fast trill.
Strasbourg: Mario Caroli
    I next went to Strasbourg, France, which, considering its location in Alsace, territory disputed for centuries between France and Germany, has a remarkably preserved medieval center. Its main attraction is a cathedral, distinguished by red-tinted stonework, gargoyles, and a complex astronomical clock. Alsatian cooking mixes French and German influences, and I enjoyed excellent local dishes.
    The teacher at the Conservatoire Supérieur in Strasbourg is Mario Caroli, an amazingly fluent young Italian who performs numerous works from the Baroque to the present. I worked with him on pieces by Jolas, Saariaho, and Takemitsu but was especially interested in his approach to Salvatore Sciarrino’s Addio case del vento for solo flute (1993). Sciarrino’s music is all the rage in Europe. He is a mostly self-taught composer who has written two collections of solo flute music, the first dedicated to Roberto Fabbricciani and the second mostly to Caroli. Unbelievably, Sciarrino does not play the flute despite having invented many novel techniques.
    Addio case del vento (Farewell, houses of wind), from the second set, is the shortest of these pieces. It juxtaposes wind tones (with the flute in normal position and also with the embouchure hole covered), jet whistles, almost inaudible high harmonics (solo sibilo), and louder clusters of high harmonics. There are many ways to produce wind tones, but this piece calls for a specific technique. In normal position, the lips are very open (about an inch of vertical space), but the upper lip focuses the air. Also in this piece, the embouchure is hole covered, the flute is kept in the normal position without rolling in, and one drops the jaw to create as big a chamber as possible.

Paris: Betsy Jolas
    In Paris, the pulse of human life beats with a rare intensity, equalled in my experience only in New York, London, and Tokyo. I basked in the treasures of the Musée d’Orsay, the world’s best collection of impressionist art. One can eat better in Paris than anywhere else, and I especially enjoyed Tartiflette, a gratin of potatoes, onions, bacon, cream, and Reblochon cheese.
    Betsy Jolas welcomed me to her Paris apartment, looking out on a verdant garden. A revered French composer with mixed French, German, and American heritage, she graduated from Bennington College and studied with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud at the Paris Conservatory, where she taught for many years but is now retired. Jolas has several excellent pieces for flute and wrote Episode Second: Ohne Worte as a morceau de concours for the Conservatoire in 1977. Well known in France, the piece uses spatial notation with occasional metric sections, quarter-tones, harmonics, varied vibrato, multiphonics, portamenti, and glissandi. It derives its material from Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and Jolas explained her fascination with Schoenberg’s Schrechstimme, a cross between speaking and singing (thus the portamenti). She was thorough, working out every detail and insisting that I repeat each phrase until it was perfect. She was especially concerned with achieving an expressionist character, respecting the relative length of notes in spatial notation, exact tempos, clarity of technique, phrasing, tuning, and the pacing of a section marked constamment fluctuant. She insisted that the tempo changes be gradual and not sudden.

Paris: Kaija Saariaho
    In Paris, I also met with Kaija Saariaho, possibly the most famous composer of her generation in Europe. She comes from Finland but has lived in Paris for decades. She was originally associated with IRCAM, the world’s most advanced electronic music studio. She is soft-spoken and expressed appreciation for my playing of Couleurs du vent. Her comments were general, and she encouraged me to exaggerate contrasts between characters but also to achieve continuity, keeping a forward-moving flow. She says that the wind tones in her music always have a bit of tone in them to define the pitch. One of the most challenging aspects of the piece is the use of aspirated articulations (Sh-T-V-S, etc.) specified in the score, and she said that the player is free to improvise syllables as long as they are varied.   

Note: In the March issue, Garrison’s journey continues through Europe and back to the United States.