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Contemporary French flutes in tune with Taiwan

Article published on the 2009-10-23 Latest update 2009-11-05 15:38 TU

Orchestre de flûtes français

Orchestre de flûtes français

Culture in France: flutes of all shapes and sizes

31/10/2009 by Rosslyn Hyams

Two women composers from Taiwan brought music to the ears of the Salle Cortot in Paris one evening in October. May-Tchi Chen and Sue-Ya Wang both composed their concert pieces for the French Flute Orchestra, L'Orchestre de Flûtes Français.

The orchestra is composed of 20 or so flautists who play a range of instruments that create sounds as high as a piccolo and as low as a cello.

May-Tchi Chen

May-Tchi Chen

May-Tchi Chen, composer of the opera Firmiana Rain, is based in the United States. She came to Paris for the four-part programme to hear her piece, Sonority of Spheres.

“This composition is an exploration of the richness of basic and partial sounds, of the sound properties of natural sonorities,” May-Tchi Chen says.

The piece is dedicated to the Orchestre de Flûtes Français and to its founder Pierre-Yves Artaud. This veteran musician also teaches at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris.

In May-Tchi Chen’s Sonority of Spheres, he plays two flutes. One of them he says he thinks he invented. It’s an "octobass" flute which Artaud says he designed in 1970 when he set up his Arcadie Quartet, and which is “one octave lower than a bass flute”.

“I like classical music like that of Mozart, or Brahms or Schubert," he says. "But we must live in our times and play the works of living composers".

 Pierre-Yves Artaud

Pierre-Yves Artaud

"We should play something new every week or every month! All artists must live in their times. I like going to the Louvre to see classical paintings, but I don’t live there. Mozart is like having a warm shower, it's comforting. But an artist must live in his times.”

Sue-Ya Wang offered a more experimental sound in her Obsessions des Points, Obsessions of Points. She works with the computer to “mix different languages, the higher frequencies and the lower ones”.

She also works with compatriot Chen Wei Hsieh on this interactive piece, in which the sounds of the flutes are accompanied by images that dance like fallingn, exploding and shrinking stars on a screen suspended in the middle of the stage.

As the stage was taken up with Artaud’s oversize flute and the screen reflection of its sounds, the other flutes were located all around the concert hall, up behind and beside the audience.

Sue–Ya Wang's sound and vision composition was inspired by the work of a Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama.

Sue-Ya Wang

Sue-Ya Wang

From that starting point she imagined the flutes playing sounds like molecules, growing in intensity and then disappearing, renewing them-selves.

Then she set out to capture the sound of the musicans using microphones linked to the computer which can then translate each note and phrase into real-time images.

The Orchestre de Flûtes Français often plays contemporary pieces, like those of  Sue-Ya Wang and May-Tchi Chen, or of Canadian Robert Aitken and Frenchman Renaud François.

The Orchestre de Flûtes Français doesn’t enjoy the celebrity of a Philharmonic, but with its seven or so different types of flute – and only flutes, it’s certainly a revelation to the ears. And especially to those ears which would have flutes playing only the roles of good fairies and the breeze in the trees.



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