Rachel Brown, flautist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I have been incredibly lucky to have some inspirational teachers, but the turning point came when I first met and was taught by Trevor Wye. His sheer drive and passion for the music and for the flute caught me at the age of 15. I returned home from that summer course and my parents couldn’t quite believe the change. From then on I was hooked.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My first real job was with Kent Opera. I was so privileged to be part of that company and it gave me a lifelong appreciation for singers with clear and meaningful diction, which I feel is so important for flute players.

At the RCM junior department I’d had fantastic recorder lessons with Ross Winters and playing consort music every week was such a great experience. When I first heard Barthold Kuijken play the baroque flute I was transfixed.

Through the amazing Celtic flute player, Chris Norman, I‘ve met some inspirational folk musicians like Alasdair Fraser and some of the wonderful traditional Scottish melodies which were first published in the 18th century have become part of my daily warm up.

Our collaboration and research with baroque dancer Mary Collins has been a revelation.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Juggling so many things and playing so many different instruments.

In terms of repertoire, I guess the CPE Bach Concertos and Bach Sonatas & Arias.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach and Mozart, but I’ve devoted so much time and energy digging up works from the Berlin school, and our ongoing baroque dance research has opened up so much more repertoire.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It can be unearthing forgotten repertoire, or lead by discovering interesting instruments, or finding new connections.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Esterházy Palace, where Haydn worked; it is a glorious hall, splendidly ornate and with extraordinarily wide wooden floor boards, which transport the flute sound, making it a joy to play there.

The other place of which I treasure the memory is the Schloß at Cöthen, where Bach worked for a few years. We filmed Brandenburg concertos there and similarly, the acoustic is flute-friendly! Without an audience it was rather resonant, but I loved it and was very reluctant to leave. Later that evening I wandered back into the grounds and discovered the door was open. I climbed the stairs in the dark and spent a magical hour till midnight playing Bach by moonlight!

You’re playing at the London Handel Festival this year – tell us more about your concerts there.

I’m playing a couple of concerts at the London Handel Festival this year, firstly with my wonderful chamber group, the London Handel Players at the Foundling Museum on Friday March 13th (more information here). It’s an unusual programme based around a painting, ‘The Music Party’ by Philip Mercier, of George II’s children making chamber music together.

My contributions feature a curious concerto by Handel’s flautist, Charles Weidemann and some arrangements of lovely Handel arias for flute and strings. Long before the age of recording, if keen music lovers in the 18th century wanted to revisit opera highlights, they would have had to sing, or play the music themselves. Handel’s publisher, John Walsh printed hundreds of arrangements of such arias for flute and continuo. We’ve made our own arrangements for this occasion.

The other concert on Sunday April 5th at St George’s, Hanover Square is with my friend and flautist Neil McLaren. We played together a lot years ago so it will be a particular pleasure to reunite for this recital of Bach, Telemann, Quantz and Fasch (more info here)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Well, there have been so many, but a couple of special concerts will stay with me forever… Many years ago at the Proms the London Handel Orchestra performed Handel’s L’Allegro and, perhaps heightened by the saga with my dress almost falling apart, the thrill of Emma Kirkby’s voice in our duet, Sweet Bird still sends shivers up my spine!

Another unforgettable occasion was performing the Rameau Pieces de Clavecin in Brazil with Nicholas Parle and Argentinian viola da gamba player, Juan Manuel Quintana, one of my all-time heroes.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

As a player heavily involved in the historical performance movement, I guess my path has always diverged from a conventional view of ‘success’. I believe it is vital to do whatever we do to the very best it could be done, whether that be performing, teaching, researching.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Keep exploring, keep learning, listening and questioning and think about the music aside from your instrument, then with your instrument strive to speak, to sing and to dance.

Rachel Brown will be performing at the London Handel Festival on 13 March and 5 April. For more information go to london-handel-festival.com

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