Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rampal Masterclass in NY 1978

Dear Flute Lovers,

A wonderful new addition to the wide world of flute fascination: a 1978 documentary taken of Jean Pierre Rampal teaching a masterclass in New York City.

Part 1 - Interview with Rampal (video)

Part Two: Masterclass in NY 1978 (video)

Rampal plays Faure Fantaisie opening, and parts of Carnival of Venice & Carmen:

Things to listen/watch for:

In Rampal's playing:
- a sense of humour, style and joy while playing
- a rounder, darker, sweeter tone quality than some contemporary orchestral players today*
- an admission that when you perform this much, you do not always practice like you did as a student (this is often much quoted, but never substantiated until now.)
- while playing Syrinx, Rampal's left pinky finger moves below the Ab lever, and at the end, reaches for a low LH4 key that is no longer there.....?
- keys tilting slightly backwards
- upper lip pulled down very obviously

In student's playing:
- posture of shoulders hunching forward (look for the Doppler video with Rampal and Wilson and compare teacher's and student's posture).
- severe backward tilt of keys in some students.
- less humour, sense of style and joy while playing (less at ease, obviously, than seasoned professional). The students are very intense in body language.

Comments welcome.
P.S. I attended a Rampal Masterclass in Toronto in 1978! Might that have been this tour??

Best, Jen
*Flute Tone Quality Question: About Rampal.

An email arrived with this question for me:

Rampal always sounded sweeter than most of today's modern flutists.
What created this change?
Some principal flutists today really hurt my ears.
What can you tell me about this? K.

Reply: Dear K.

There are several factors:

- microphone placement
- remixing of the sound quality on professional productions by professional sound engineers who "sweeten the flute sound" during re-mix.
- Rampal may have played a darker-sweeter-more-oval-cut headjoint (Did he play a gold Haynes? Was it rounder sounding, like a headjoint by Louis Lot? Comments welcome.)
- some modern players use a bigger, louder, higher spectrum and more projecting sounds due to playing with huge loud orchestras where the flute has to cut through. This can lead to hiss if the microphone is too close or if the venue is unforgiving.

Here are some listening examples:

1. Microphone placement:
Example: Harsh - too close:
David Formisano plays Doppler Valaques (video)

This was recorded with a video camera placed too close in a hard-surfaced hall.
The hiss and high overtones that are acceptable at a distance are made more harsh.
Example: Blended - from above the orchestra plus in front of the orchestra (stage front)
David Formisano plays Bellini (video)

This is the same player as in the first example, but heard from a distance, cutting through a huge stage, huge orchestra, and lush orchestration. The rounded sound that results from the mic placement is more acceptable to the ear.
Example: Mic is ultra-distant:
This home-made type recording has a microphone placement that sounds like it is halfway back in the hall, over the audience perhaps? There is no microphone on stage to capture the near sound we prefer as flutists.
Sharon Bezaly plays Faure Fantaisie op. 79 (video)

This sound quality does not give a clear idea of the close-up tone quality of the player but is acceptable to a non-flutist listener.

Also of interest:

2. Rampal playing softly then loudly in two different venues:

Compare studio playing on this recording:

Jean Pierre Rampal - Moon Over Ruined Castle by Taki (video)

This would have been remixed and balanced to allow repeated listening without ear-fatigue.
To a studio recording of full concert hall:

Rampal - Romberg Concerto - (video)

I believe Rampal's choice of tone quality in  what sounds like a large venue, is as driving (shrill, with upper harmonics, some hiss, very projecting, with very fast air speed) and is similar to that heard from some large-orchestra principal flutists today. It's not my preference either.
But the flute must cut through much louder instruments at times and sometimes it is pushing past the boundaries of "easy on the ears" at close range. Especially when it's a huge venue and the microphones are in the wrong places, or badly mixed.

In general I prefer the balance in tone quality flutists use in very good acoustic spaces.
I don't appreciate the "harsh" qualities, as you say.

Another player with a generally "darker" tone quality for solo playing, similar  to the round, French sound preferred by Rampal:

William Bennett plays Mel Bonis Sonata (video)

Try and guess the microphone placement and hall size of the above Bennett performance.
How far is it from the player?
How much echo is in the hall?
How audible is the flute in quiet dynamics in an echo-filled small hall?
Listen and imagine the answer.
Then try out your sound in various spaces.
Put your recording microphone in different placements in each venue.
It's all a big, fascinating experiment.
Amazing what you'll discover.

Hope this quick overview helps explain a little more about this complex topic.
Flute players need to match their tone quality to their performing situation.

Best, Jen

Comments (3)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think playing loud to cut through other instruments is not an intelligence thing to do due to masking effect of sounds sharing the same frequencies. What's problematic with orch. principals is their tone has too much mid frequencies , which could be gorgeous in solo performance but ineffective when competing with other instruments with far more energy and projection in the mid frequencies. What I prefer is to play a tone with more high frequencies so that the flute could cut thru without being driven too hard. I run Rampal's recording thru spectrum analyzer and confirm that he has much more even frequencies distribution than contemporary flautist.

Play even instead of boosting the mid frequencies will make flute sound sweet, in my opinion.


Monday, March 10, 2014 11:29:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Li,
I really like what you're saying here. Thanks. So interesting!
If you have more information about what you see when you're spectrum analysing various famous flute sounds, I'd love to know more. Fascinating! Thanks so much. Jen

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 12:19:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rampal's gold Haynes flute was custom made for him using his other Louis Lot flute as a model.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015 1:29:00 AM


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