An indefatigable flautist with an experimental nature
By Shirley Apthorp
From the Financial Times - May 17 2006
Emmanuel Pahud has one day at home in Berlin between the Berlin Philharmonic’s Europa concert in Prague and the beginning of his European tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. What might seem a hectic schedule to most must be normal enough for Pahud, a musician who racks up some 90 solo or chamber music and 75 orchestral concerts in an average year – roughly twice the number of performances that most musicians would consider a heavy work-load.
“It’s a tight schedule, but I’m happy with the balance,” says Pahud, who spent 18 months out of the orchestra four years ago. “It’s a balance I’ve had all my life, because I won my first competition when I was 15 and I got my first orchestral job when I was 19. It’s a fantastic sound experience playing in an orchestra like this, and you work with great artists. But I try not to get stuck in one or the other musical corner.”
The man widely heralded as today’s finest flautist strides into the foyer of Berlin’s Hyatt hotel with the easy self-confidence of success. He is shabbily dressed, in old trousers and a shirt so worn that strips of cloth are pulling from the cuffs, but he carries himself as if he owns the hotel, and is treated by the waiting staff with the sort of deference usually reserved for film stars.
Since it is unlikely that the coffee-bar waitresses of the Hyatt are regular guests at the concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra across the road, the deference is probably a response to Pahud’s model good looks and charisma rather than a recognition of his musical status. Still, as woodwind players go, Pahud is well-known. At 22 he was appointed Principal Flute of the Berlin Philharmonic. He has won swathes of prizes and awards, and he is one of EMI’s best-selling classical artists. Born in Geneva in 1970, he studied in Paris. He speaks French, German and English with native fluency.
On the road with the Australian Chamber Orchestra this month, Pahud plays the Vivaldi flute concertos just released by EMI as part of its pioneer multi-media series. For the first time in the label’s history, a collaboration with iTunes allows the purchase and download of tracks online – long since standard practice in the rest of the music world, but a development that has failed to catch up with the classical music world.
“In a Vivaldi concerto, the movements are seldom longer than 3 to 5 minutes long. Some are only a minute and a half. So it’s suitable for downloading.
“We are facing new times in terms of music distribution. The whole logistics of distribution are bypassed by digital downloading. The music is available as soon as it’s released, and people who found it difficult to get CDs before favour this form. Students and young people find it especially useful. And therefore I see it as the future, since they are the new generation.”
EMI’s website includes audio teasers and video footage of Pahud and the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing Vivaldi in Sydney that answer any questions the curious observer may have about why a UK recording company would send a team to the Antipodes to record a New World ensemble playing 18th-century Italian repertoire.
“The Australian Chamber Orchestra was my first choice for this project, because of their creativity, their curiosity and their willingness to try anything and everything,” says Pahud. “
“They are always experimenting with sound. I have always found it a particular strength of this orchestra that they really find a different sound for each piece that they play. It’s what I like to say about myself – a kind of musical chameleon, with a different skin for each piece on the programme.”
Just after his Vivaldi tour, Pahud is the soloist for a Berlin Philharmonic concert with Simon Rattle, performing Carl Nielsen’s flute concerto, which EMI will also record. The irony of these repertoire choices in the Mozart year is not lost on him. Though it was the sound of his family’s upstairs neighbour playing Mozart’s G major flute concerto that made the four-year-old Pabud resolve to become a musician, he is determined to keep his focus as broad as possible. In honour of Mozart’s 250th birthday he has commissioned four new flute concerti, by Zoran Erić, Matthias Pintscher, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Michael Jarrell (respectively Serbian, German, French and Swiss).
“I love to experiment,” Pahud enthuses. “The day I stop experimenting will probably be the day I stop playing the flute.”