Katherine Bryan - plays Flute Concertos by Christopher Rouse and Jacques Ibert - The Scotsman
31 May 2013The Scotsman
Concerto repertoire for flautists is surprisingly limited, but one musician is testing the boundaries with her latest recordings
Katherine Bryan is best known to us as the flamboyant
principal flute of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She was just
21 when appointed ten years ago, direct from her studies at the Julliard
School in New York. Before that she had been a pupil at Cheethams
School in Manchester and three times finalist in the BBC Young Musician
of the Year competition, so it was clear even then that she was a cut
above the ordinary.
It was no surprise, either, to learn a couple
of years ago that Bryan had cut her debut disc as a soloist on the
prestigious Scots-based Linn label - a superlative collection of
performances including the flute concertos of American composer Lowell
Liebermann and Carl Nielsen, in which she was joined by her RSNO
colleagues and conductor Paul Daniel.
The many favourable reviews
referred to the delicacy, playfulness and natural musicality of her
performances. The question was, when would the next release be
Well, it's out this month - a follow-up disc that is
every bit as charming, lively and challenging as the first. Once again
she is joined by the RSNO, this time under Jac van Steen, for concertos
by Christopher Rouse and Jacques Ibert. These, and two shorter pieces by
Debussy (the beguiling Syrinx) and Frank Martin (his attitudinal
Ballade), offer up a delicious cocktail of rare and beautiful music.
Bryan's wistful performances do every one of them justice.
Maintaining an American thread was important to Bryan in mapping out her programme.
the first disc I featured an American concerto by a composer I had come
to know at Julliard, but who wasn't so well known over here," she says.
"I've taken the same approach with Christopher Rouse's concerto, a
piece that was written for my teacher, and which I fell in love with
when I was studying it."
It is a genuinely lovely work, written in
response to the death of Liverpool toddler James Bulger in 1993, news
of which clearly touched the composer. Bryan and the orchestra spin out
its lilting, Irish Celtic influences with affectionate spirit. Only
towards the end of the work do we hear the more familiar, rhythmically
spirited side of Rouse, though the Gaelic strain - in the manner of an
Irish jig - persists.
In the search for suitable repertoire to
record, Bryan has been struck by the small amount that is available. "In
terms of new pieces, I am always on the lookout for modern music that
can communicate with an audience. The Liebermann did that, and I think
the Rouse does too. But there is a general lack of concerto repertoire,
particularly after Vivaldi and Bach. When I'm asked to play a concerto,
it's normally Nielsen or Mozart. The options are limited."
believes it's down to a certain lack of confidence in the flute's
capabilities: "Perhaps some composers think it's limited. While I would
agree that it might lack the physical range of a string instrument or
piano, I disagree with those who say it is emotionally limited."
what she's set out to prove in her two CDs to date. "There are certain
qualities that cannot be matched by other instruments, which is why it
is so important to me to find repertoire that will present the
instrument in a new way."
Already, she has ideas on how to
approach a third disc. "One of my thoughts is to look at the violin
repertoire and see how that might work transcribed for flute. The Franck
sonata sounds brilliant on the flute, and I know string players who
would agree. I'm even looking to see how Vaughan Williams' The Lark
Ascending would work for flute and orchestra. I think that would bring
another dimension to it."
Given the sound that Bryan herself
produces - mellifluous and full-bodied - is any of that down to the
actual instrument itself? "As far as I am concerned, it's the player
that makes the flute, and not the flute that makes the player. I'm not a
flute geek. I know lots of players who try out hundreds of flutes and
change head joints all the time, but my view is if it ain't broke don't
fix it. I've been playing the same flute for the past 13 or 14 years."
recalls being asked by a prominent wind instrument dealer if she would
come in and try a selection of new flutes they had just received.
said I would blind test them and took a couple of my RSNO colleagues
along to listen. There was one particular flute, they said, that
enhanced my qualities, at which point a chap came in and said, ‘Don't
try that one, it's just a student Yamaha.'
"The thing is, the
flute is probably the nearest instrument to the voice. Obviously there
are some that are like a good car - they just drive better. But that
doesn't make you a better driver."
As for her career, Bryan finds
that the current balance between orchestral and solo work gives her all
the musical satisfaction she wants.
"On the one hand I love
working in the orchestra, where I get to play composers I'd never come
across as a soloist - Brahms for instance. On the other hand by taking
time away to do chamber music and solo work, I come back to the
orchestra with a new freshness. One feeds off the other."
past ten years she has come to love living in Scotland - she shares a
home near Loch Lomond with her husband, RSNO cellist Kennedy Leitch -
though coming here directly from Manhattan, she says, was quite a
change. "I can't decide whether, at heart, I'm a city or country girl.
But the great thing is I can be walking the dog at home in my wellies,
and within an hour be in Harvey Nicks in Edinburgh. That's perfect for
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