In addition to an international career as a soloist and recording artist, flutist Luisa Sello is an ambassador of music and Italian culture and professor of flute in Trieste. She specializes in multi-media projects combining flute performance with poetry, visual arts, dance, and acting. Her repertoire encompasses a wide range of musical styles from Baroque through contemporary techniques. Sello’s principal teachers were Raymond Guiot and Severino Gazzelloni.
This past April Luisa Sello and pianist Bruno Canino presented a recital and masterclass in Pittsburgh sponsored by the Italian Ministry/Mondo Italiano (local Pittsburgh Italian cultural liaison). The concert featured Italian opera composers including Donizetti, Verdi, and Rossini. The masterclass was hosted by the Pittsburgh Flute Academy where attendees asked the following questions.
What was music education like in Italy when you were a young student?
At that time the only music education in Italy was offered through local conservatories of music in larger towns. There were no classes, bands, orchestras or choirs in the local schools, and no formal music classes at the primary and secondary schools except a bit of singing. However, my parents were members of a parish choir, so I grew up singing and improvising in counterpoint with the choir. My father was delighted with my natural musical abilities and presented me with a small accordion. I started to play by ear, searching for harmonies and melodies without any knowledge about reading music. Eventually, they sent me to a class hosted by our local parish. In Italy today it is quite different. There are schools of music in every village and conservatories of music are very popular. You can find live concerts and concerti everywhere.
Why did you decide to play the flute?
This is quite a funny story. The flute just happened to choose me. When I was 10 years old, my mother wanted me to enter the local conservatory of music when she noticed that I was singing and playing on any instrument I came across. After about a year of private piano lessons, she had me apply for the entrance exam. Waiting for my examination, I suddenly realized that it was the wrong day. I started to cry, and a door man at the Conservatory took pity on me and scooted me into a non-piano room saying, “Go there, and once you are on the accepted candidate list, you can move into a piano class.” I asked who was in that room, and he told me that it was a flute committee. “What is a flute,” I asked innocently. “Go. You will see,” he answered. I never moved from the flute class after that day. That was my fate and how the flute chose me. The flute became a part of me.
Who were your teachers?
My first flute teacher was Milos Pahor who was at the Conservatory of Udine, the town where I was born. He was my teacher from age 11 until the Final Degree when I was 19. In Italian conservatories there is a strict adherence to a tradition. When you begin with a teacher, you stay with that teacher until graduating. My particular tutor was a Baroque specialist, and to this day I am grateful for my nearly 10 years spent learning about early music – historic flutes, embellishments, harmonies, counterpoint, and performance practices. After earning my diploma, I went on to study at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, recognized for its famous Summer Academy of Music. (The school was founded by Count Guido Chigi Saracini in 1932 as an international center for advanced musical studies.) The flute professor at that time was Severino Gazzelloni, a flute legend. There were flutists from all over the world applying for only eight places, and much to my surprise, I passed my audition. I was privileged to study with him for three years.
I then began traveling to study with Europe’s celebrated flutists including Alain Marion, James Galway, and Konrad Klemm. Only after meeting Raymond Guiot (Principal Flute at the Opera National de Paris and a student of Marcel Moyse) did I stop traveling. I settled in Paris and developed my flute repertoire for an additional eight years. I also took a break from my teaching career to devote attention to improving my playing. It was a great school that utilized a pragmatic approach to practicing and learning and made students conscious of their talents as well as their weaker points. I was so grateful and committed to Mr. Guiot’s pedagogical principles that I wanted to introduce his method in Italy where he had never visited nor taught. I invited him to Cividale (where he wrote the Cividale Duo dedicated to me), and he loved it so much that he remained in Rome for ten years, creating a real Italian school of flutists.
Besides these great flute teachers, I also had the opportunity to pursue a course in conducting and interpretation with the conductor, Luigi Toffolo who was Toscanini’s student, and spent time with an expert in Bach and Baroque music. I also studied historical flutes for two years, analyzing and interpreting Bach’s Partita in A Minor, Telemann’s Fantasies, and Hotteterre’s Suites to better understand the performance practices of this period and to be better equipped to perform these works on the modern flute.
What insights did you gain from your study of Baroque performance practices?
I found the experience of studying and performing on historical flutes extremely interesting. I could compare how difficult it is to jump quickly among the octaves on the modern Boehm flute, compared to the Baroque one. I also discovered that modern staccato can have completely different results on the modern flute if flutists apply the historical articulation of le-re-le-re instead of the current tu-ku-tu-ku. In addition, especially for Bach’s music, it is important to know that the final note (top octave A) of the first movement of his Partita was impossible to play loudly because the Baroque flute has a naturally loud low register and an extraordinary naturally soft high register. So, the answer to how to play that last note is obvious.
How did you become an ambassador for Italian music and culture?
Even as a student I was very interested in contemporary music – especially the Italian composers Berio, Castiglioni, and Maderna. Several years ago, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was seeking interpreters to promote Italian composers abroad. I began working for the Ministry introducing and promoting contemporary Italian composers to the world. Eventually it evolved into my current ambassadorship, including not only contemporary Italian works, but all eras and styles of Italian music.
How do you develop multi-media projects that incorporate text, poetry, dance, and electronic music in your concerts?
I began to create new projects and programs when I realized that the traditional music market for classical proposals was in crisis. I thought an infusion of creativity and innovation would help revive the live concert scene. This would mean a totally refocused and reimagined format. Since my interests include acting and literature (I earned a PhD in Modern Literature), I began imagining concerts from this point of view. I combined natural interpretive gestures with musical expression, bringing exaggerated gestures combined with text, acting, and micro-theatre, where symbolic colors and direction become metaphors of art. I then intertwine gesture, flute playing, and texts, with dance and acting, creating new plots with the signs and meaning of the music itself. This idea took off, and I received national recognition and awards for these concerts and started to perform in many countries. Many of the reviews referred to these performances as “an artist one-woman show” because I am acting, singing, dancing, and playing. The text is often one of my own – either poetry or drama or just a presentation. I really enjoy these events which involve the audience.
What are your thoughts about Alexander Technique?
As a young flutist my posture and playing position was not suited for the number of hours I devoted to practicing. So very early on I had problems. It became so painful that the doctors recommended that I stop playing and seek a cure through medication and therapy. After periodic breaks the pain returned repeatedly because my posture was not aligned for proper playing. I have long arms, a long neck and was not able to hold my flute without using tension. Fortunately, I met Conrad Klemm during one of my summer courses. He was a famous flutist, an Alexander teacher, and a great musician. He immediately understood my problem, and from that moment on I discovered the huge benefit of the Alexander Technique. I became so dedicated to these principles that I reached the so-called monkey position in a very short time. It was my salvation. I could return to my rigorous schedule and artistic activities.
Where do you teach?
I am flute professor at the Conservatory of Music of Trieste. It is one of the leading institutions in Italy and because it is geographically close to Austria and eastern European countries, many foreign students come to study there. In my class there are students from Austria, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, and of course from Italy. I teach all repertory from Baroque to Contemporary including orchestral excerpts. My students are preparing for competitions and recitals. There is opportunity for them to coach with my colleagues to gain further insight into Baroque repertoire or contemporary techniques.
During my concert travel I often teach masterclasses. I recently returned from Thailand where I gave one at Bangkok Music University. In the coming months I will be performing and teaching in Melbourne, Australia, Valencia, Spain, and at The Juilliard School in New York.
I spend my summers teaching courses, giving concerts, practicing and of course spending some time at the beach. I cannot rest without getting bored. A few days at the beach or in the mountains are okay, but never without my flute or working on music. My favorite summers are spent in research, not only with music, but with literature, history and human traditions. Wherever I travel, I like to discover local traditions and embrace the local cultures. My recent journey into Thailand brought me together with the Myanmar refugees tribes (the ones with women with the long necks). This was an incredible experience; I presented them with some of my art, sharing my knowledge with them. I also played and sang some of their local, traditional songs. This was an unforgettable summer.
Which concertos do you enjoy performing?
Over my career I have been privileged to perform numerous concertos with various orchestras. There have been many Baroque concertos: the entire Opus 10 by Vivaldi, J.S. Bach Suite No 2 in B Minor; and concertos by C.P.E. Bach. I also recorded Classic era concertos by Stamitz, Haydn, and Mozart. Romantic pieces include Saint-Saëns Odelette and Romance and the Cecile Chaminade Concertino. In addition to the standard works, I have enjoyed performing contemporary masterpieces like the Flute Concerto by the Austrian composer Rainer Bischof and the Five Elements by the Chinese/American composer Zhou Long.
Not many musicians can claim this, but I have my own personal string orchestra to work with, an unbelievable luxury. I enjoy working on Baroque pieces with them, and from time to time I resurrect the less frequently played repertoire of Quantz, Telemann, Galuppi, and Donizetti. I believe it is crucial to work with strings in order to comprehend and execute the proper articulation and sonorities that are not apparent when playing with a piano reduction. We spend our entire careers preparing solo parts with wonderful pianists, but then when we play with strings we discover that the tempo is much slower, the harp needs more time to express its part, or the strings are a bit louder, etc. I am always grateful to the pianists, but I feel more comfortable and at home when I can practice with a real orchestra. For these and many more reasons I decided to create my own orchestra.
What are your upcoming projects?
In the fall of 2016, Stradivarius will release my flute and guitar CD and in July 2017, Falaut (the Italian flute magazine) will release my solo flute and flute and piano CD. This performance was recorded live. I will be returning to the United States early next year. I will be in Pittsburgh February 17-19, giving masterclasses at Carnegie Mellon and at the Pittsburgh Flute Academy. On May 22, I will give a recital in Carnegie Hall with Chinese flute colleague Han Guoliang and Australian pianist Amir Fadir. We will perform the Doppler Andante and Rondo, the J.S. Bach Trio Sonata, and Kuhlau’s Trio for two flutes and piano besides the Borne Carmen Fantasy and a duet by Mozart.
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Lessons Learned from My Teachers
The most important meeting in my flute life was with the French flutist Raymond Guiot. He was a student of Marcel Moyse and knew exactly what Moyse was writing about in the De La Sonorite. Besides this, Guiot was excellent in creating exercises for me to develop sound and flexibility.
My first teacher was Milos Pahor. He paid a lot of attention to singing on the flute. For me this was natural because singing is one of my favorite modes of expression. When he asked me to sing a phrase on the flute, it was quite natural to do that. Later during my career, I went back to those lessons many times and am thankful to him for them.
I always was interested in Baroque repertoire. I read many theoretical books and studied the Baroque flute with Stephen Preston for two years. I was able to play the Bach Partita, Telemann Fantasies and Hotteterre Suites on the traverso. Playing this music on the traverso was very helpful in understanding ornamentation as well as the articulation and phrasing of Baroque music. My thanks also go to organist and friend Sergio Gaggia who helped me understand the similarities and differences in the Italian, English, and French Baroque which I applied to the modern flute.
To see Sello’s multimedia projects go to www.luisasello.it. Click on videos and then on Pierrot Solaire (the title of the show). There are different performances from China and Italy.