Recently, Vienna-based Romanian flutist Matei Ioachimescu went on a national tour, presenting Traversée du Fantasme in three extraordinary recitals accompanied by pianist Mara Dobresco, where they performed classic world-known pieces by Dvorak and Bartók and some by young Romanian composers such as Sabina Ulubeanu and Alexandru Murariu, among others. BR sat down with the international artist.
What is your approach regarding contemporary composers?
I see myself as an advocate for contemporary music. It is important to me to include the music of living composers regularly into “classical” programs. What started as an impossible mission has now become a part of the success of my programs. Contemporary music uses rather abstract languages which might be new to ears used to the tradition of hundreds of years of melody and harmony. People tend to reject this kind of artistic manifestation, as they usually reject what they don’t understand. I often speak to the audience during my recitals (a kind of verbal programming notes – it is fun for the audience and it relieves my stage fright), so I get to explain how to listen to this music, how to feel it. They are privileged to witness the music of their time, to be part of a new creation. And they love it! Interestingly enough, kids are naturally thrilled about contemporary music, as they are having so much fun with all those effects and weird sounds.
For this program (Le Traversée du Fantasme), which we put together with the amazing pianist Mara Dobresco, we invited two fantastic young composers to write music that would fit into our thematic proposal. It couldn’t have worked out better: both Sabina Ulubeanu (prolific artist, recently known for her piece #justacomposer, successfully performed at the famous George Enescu Festival) and Alexandru Murariu (winner of the prestigious George Enescu Competition for Composers), dedicated two amazing pieces to us, which are greatly enriching this program.
What was your first experience with music?
I started playing the piano at the age of five. Even before that, music was already in my life, as my father was a composer and my mother played violin at the time. There were always fragments of different kinds of music coming to my ears, either while my father was working on his compositions or when I was listening to LPs of Emil Gilels playing Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto…or Prokofiev…or the Beatles. I guess my first true experience with music was when I had my hands on the piano, following the suggestions of my first, very kind piano teacher.
Why did you pick the flute?
I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t enjoying practicing the piano so much. I grew up on a street full of fantastic and dynamic kids with whom I could play every day, so I would rather do that than sit for hours and hours, practicing. After a couple of years of studying at the music school with several different teachers, I realised that my technical level was behind my colleagues’ and I started to feel frustrated about it. Realising that I would not become a world famous pianist, my stepmother introduced me to a flute teacher who showed me all the advantages of this instrument: less practice time; light, portable instrument; less competition, etc. (most of them not true, as I would find out later…). But it was then that I first heard the sound of the flute and I realised what I was instinctively searching for – a more intimate approach to a musical instrument. While the piano felt for me like a mechanical device, in which you had to invest a huge amount of work to make it sound “human”, the flute seemed so organic, just like my own voice. It felt so natural!
Tell us about your instrument. How would you describe your relationship to it?
The flute sound is considered to be closest to the human voice. We even use vocal techniques for sound production. The flute itself doesn’t create sound (no matter if it’s made of gold, silver or wood). It is us who make the sound, with our air pressure, our chest and head resonance, that is why the audience should focus more on the instrumentalist’s skills and uniqueness, rather than on the worth of their instrument. While playing this instrument, almost everything happens inside the body and people don’t see what we do while playing it, so practicing the flute becomes a kind of spiritual journey. Our practice is like meditation, like a prayer, with a lot of introspection. We use abstract elements and imaginative thinking. It is probably why some call it magical.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, by emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist?
The process of artistic development starts with a crime. We “steal” information from our mentors. We squeeze them until they tell us everything they want us to know, then we move on to the next victim. We learn what worked for them and we also learn from their mistakes. We go on like that until it’s our turn to become the victims of our pupils. That is our natural habitat. On the other hand, as an interpreter of others’ music, researching what a composer’s message is about, the language they use, constantly searching for new sources of inspiration, drawing parallels to other forms of artistic manifestation, etc., that is where it all becomes really thrilling! I spent many years trying to perfect various technical aspects of flute playing, until I realised that true improvement comes from the artistic message itself. So I started working on that, where the possibilities are infinite, concentrating on the story I want to tell the audience and not so much on how I do it.
Tell us about your work space. What were your criteria for setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process?
Our work as performers is like the combined work of an athlete and a poet. So we spend hours every day, working with our instrument, repeating bits of music again and again. Sometimes we can get really loud, so the first ones that come to mind when choosing a work space are our neighbours. Luckily in Vienna, the city where I live, people are used to hearing musicians practicing, but somewhere else, for instance in Bucharest, one might get funny comments like “this guy must have a strange disorder, he keeps making the same noises every day!”
A more creative part of our daily work, studying the scores, contemplating different things which can possibly make our music more alive, etc. can be done anywhere we have the luxury of quietness. Sometimes I have the need to go out searching for inspiration, but mostly I love to travel far with my mind, from the comfort of my home.
What is the best advice a teacher has given to you?
“Be honest with your audience!”
What do you do to relieve the stress of performing on stage?
That is a very complex process. First, the nature of what we do is to go on stage and perform in front of an audience. This is a constant act of courage, as we are putting our heart and soul on a plate and offering it to people we don’t know. The performer-audience connection is of a great level of intimacy, which can only be achieved in a concert hall. We stay connected throughout the performance, and that requires an enormous amount of concentration. That concentration, if well trained, makes the whole stress fade away. For me, as a very anxious performer struggling with stage fright, it was of great help to realise that the audience comes to a concert to be deeply moved, to feel that connection beyond words. In order to achieve that, you have to be emotional as a performer so that this whole anxiety has purpose and meaning. The anxiety creates the connection. Finally, I realised that once I am on stage, there are far more important things than my ego. It is the music itself and the artistic message that have to transcend my little problems. And this is how we let go of our ego and become free (of stress).
Any audition preparation advice?
Of course, prior to being on stage, there has to be a solid preparation which will help reduce the stress. Working on details, looking at them through a “magnifying glass”, in order to gain stability and precision, is mandatory. Being “in the music” even before the first sounds are played is also important. Knowing what the music you are playing is about, reading about it, adjusting your technical skills to it, sharing your experiences with more seasoned players, playing at home daily like you would play on stage, with the same amount of energy and enthusiasm, are some of the things everybody should do.
You wrote on your official website that you are living the life of a freelance artist. Can you explain that?
As a freelance artist (by choice) I enjoy the freedom of being my own employee. I can dedicate my time to projects of my choosing. I have the flexibility to accept projects based on at least one of the following variables: a great artistic concept, a collaboration with other inspiring artists, or a good fee. It is not always the case, but I am happy when all those come together!
With more and more musicians emerging now than ever before, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality?
I wouldn’t know if there are more classical musicians than ever, but I think musicians are nowadays more exposed to a wider audience, through social media. That exposure can sometimes be a trap as it has become quite easy to confuse popularity with the level of artistic quality. Luckily it is in our power to present musical projects of the highest quality and to inspire our beloved audience. Like that, in time, projects with more form than content will disappear. In terms of originality, I do believe that it reveals itself naturally, when we stop trying to be original.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Many things contribute to a good live performance. For a performer on stage it is very important to have an audience who is dedicated to the moment, who record everything with their ears, eyes and hearts and not with their phones and cameras. For me, a good performance is when my soul touches the soul of the audience, undisturbed by external factors. Furthermore, the acoustics and the vibe of a venue can also contribute a lot to a good performance. A feeling that you are well-respected by the concert organisers is also something that motivates us.
Personally, I have my little rituals, where I try to feel the energy, looking at the people in the audience, trying to see whether they are into it. If not, I can always image them being naked and wearing fluffy bunny ears. That always saves a bad performance!
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR professional. What’s your perspective on the promotion system?
Reaching out to the press has always been important. In the old times, it was important to be praised by respected critics from specialised music magazines. Nowadays everyone has the opportunity to promote themselves, mostly through social media, and almost all artists of a younger age take that seriously and spend a great amount of time on it. That is beneficial, as artists have to think of different ways to present their strong artistic concept now. This way, they also become more aware of how they want to be presented by a PR professional.
I personally think it is also important to reach out to a new and different audience segment, by addressing them through the outlets they read regularly, whether they are science, medical or business magazines and websites.
© PHOTO: Petru Ivu