Welcome to the second post in my Performer Spotlight series! For this entry I decided to focus on another living artist who has conquered not only the solo and chamber music stages but has also made quite a reputation as an orchestral performer with a sound of solid gold. Emmanuel Pahud has served as the principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic for well over 20 years and has performed and recorded in venues throughout the world. His sound will amaze you and his technique will leave you speechless. Enjoy and please feel free to comment below!
Emmanuel Pahud is a Swiss flutist who has developed a solid international reputation as an orchestral, chamber and solo flutist over the past 30+ years. Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1970, Pahud received early flute lessons at the age of 4 from his father, François Binet (who studied flute in Zurchin and Paris in his youth) and his older brother Phillipe. In 1978, the Pahud family moved to Brussels, Belgium where Emmanuel studied with Michel Moinil and Carlos Bruneel at the Music Academy of Uccle in Southern Brussels. In 1985, Pahud won the National Competition of Belgium (le concours National de Belgique). At the age of 17, Emmanuel entered the Conservatorie de Paris in France where he studied with Michel Debost, Alain Marion, Pierre Artaud and Christian Larde. During his time in Paris, Emmanuel won 2ndPrize at the International Scheveningen Music Competition in Scheveningen, Netherlands (1988), was named principal flautist of the Basel Radio Symphony (1989) and served as the principal flautist of the Munich Philharmonic. Pahud graduated from the Paris Conservatorie in 1990 at the age of 20 at which time he continued his studies with French flutist, Aurèle Nicolete. Two years later in 1992 he won the first prize at le Concourse International de Geneve and was appointed as the principal flautist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 22, a post that Pahud currently shares with Andreas Blau who has held the position since 1969. Taking an 18-month sabbatical in 2000 to teach the Virtuosity Class at the Conservatorie de Musique de Genève, Pahud returned to the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002 and was voted into the Media Vorstand (or Media Board) of the organization in 2007. Pahud presently performs roughly 90 solo or chamber music concerts and 75 orchestral concerts per year and has performed with several leading orchestras throughout the world including the London Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The work performed in the following clip is the Fantasie Brilliante on Themes from Bizet’s Carmen, or as it is known to most flutists, the Carmen Fantasie by Francois Borne. François Borne (1840-1920) was a French flautist who served as a composer and professor at the Conservatorie de Musique de Toulouse (High School for Music in Toulouse). He is recognized for technical improvements made to the flute and his appearances with the orchestra of Le Grand Theatre de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Opera House). The Carmen Fantasie is based on several themes taken from Bizet’s opera, Carmen. Carmen, an opera written in four acts, tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the Gypsy, Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts his military duties to be with Carmen. Unfortunately he loses Carmen’s love to the toreador, Escamillo, after which José murders Carmen in a jealous rage. Although controversial due to the tragic death of the main character on stage (among other things), this opera is considered by historians to be a bridge between opéra comique and the realism, or verismo of 19th century Italian opera.
Emmanuel Pahud – Carmen Fantasie by F. Borne
The tone quality Pahud achieves in all ranges of the instrument is extremely solid. Like a shimmering nugget of gold at the bottom of a raging waterfall, the sound remains consistent, dark and brilliant, (namely in the lower register). It is as if the notes are mere decorations on top of what Pahud is showing us to be the true center of the music – the sound. What I find so compelling about this clip is the way that he uses postural changes to show the shape and direction of the musical line which, in turn, shows us the direction of the sound. From the opening notes of the solo line, Pahud clearly brings the flute to him leaving his beautiful posture unaltered (and again quite solid and very controlled). As the music descends into the low register, Pahud slowly lowers his stature by carefully bending his knees and leaning slightly forward. In fact, he almost takes the appearance of a bull in the opening solo! (Character development? Or a clever method to produce a remarkable sound in a tricky register?) As the melody extends into the upper octave, Pahud in turn raises his stature, lifting his head and shoulders at the very top of the line at the same time moving his elbows away from one another as he takes a breath to begin the next phrase. It is as if he has constructed his own very subtle dance to control the direction of the sound. Pahud also makes use of the performance space in this clip the way an opera singer would approach an aria, stepping to the right and to the left to emphasize the dramatic rise and fall of the melody. He also tends to hold the flute at a slight right angle to his lips (a close up of this can be found at 7:50) and tilts his head slightly to the left to increase the volume of the sound. Finally, at the finale of each theme (namely at the very end of the work itself), Pahud removes the flute from his lips with the greatest of ease as if to say, “Ah, that was nothing!” This is what Keith Underwood has described as “playing from weakness.” Never let the audience know that being a virtuoso is difficult. Using that simple, single yet graceful move, Emmanuel Pahud tricks all of us into thinking that playing the flute is simply a walk in the park. Exciting and a bit of fun!
Initially I wanted to comment on the placement of the music stand in this clip as it appears to be a bit too low to read the score properly (therefore potentially leading to significant postural compromises) however upon further examination, Pahud does not really seem to be looking at the score at all. The score has merely been placed there as a reference. In that case the placement of the stand is very much appropriate. For those of you who intend to perform this piece in recital reading the score as necessary, a higher placement of the stand will help you avoid any unnecessary tension that may result in the neck as you read the music. Finally, I was initially perplexed by how high Pahud raises his fingers off the keys. As a flutist who has heard the line, “fingers closer to the keys, please,” from numerous teachers throughout my career, I was puzzled by the amount of space between the fingers on Pahud’s right hand and the keys (how does he play those runs with that much distance between his fingers and the instrument…???) but it is clear in the clip that he alters the degree of lift in his fingers to match the speed of the music. In slower meters his fingers not only raise higher off the keys but he uses them to add dramatic effect, gracefully moving them with the music until they fall on the correct keys at the correct moment. In faster moving phrases, his fingers are closer to the keys allowing him to perform runs and broken chords with quick and deliberate movements. This of course again emphasizes the control that Pahud has over all elements of his performance and highlights the bravura in his sound and the ease of his technique.
Solid yet magnificent. Mr. Pahud’s sound transforms the flute into a powerful yet graceful device capable of virtuosic flexibility with the utmost control of tone.
What do you notice in this performance? What else can we learn from Mr. Pahud in this clip? How else does he use posture to control the direction of the musical line? Please comment below!