Happy NEW YEAR to all our readers out there!
I had the wonderful opportunity to have a brief chat to the outstanding British Low Flutes specialist, Carla Rees the other day. This extraordinary performer, arranger and improviser has contributed so much to promotion and enthusiasm of these instruments, that it is only fitting to have her intriguing story as our very first ‘featured artist.’ We hope you enjoy the story and performance links.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?
I first played an alto on a flute course as a teenager and fell in love with it. I lived in a rural area where there weren’t many flute teachers, and began teaching at the age of 14 after I did ABRSM Grade 8. I charged £3 a lesson, and saved up until I had enough to buy an alto flute. They were hard to find at that time, and I managed to get a second hand Monnig for £1000 – it changed my life! I loved the sound, and it opened up a lot of opportunities because I was the only one that had one. My first lessons on alto didn’t come until much later -when I was at the Royal College of Music, there was a masterclass once with Mary Karen Clardy, which helped me realise I was on the right track, and later Simon Channing joined the faculty. He did some orchestral alto playing and was kind enough to give me some lessons. By the end of my undergraduate I was convinced I wanted to specialise on alto – and later added bass (and now contrabass) to my low flutes collection.
HOW MANY COMPOSITIONS HAVE YOU COMMISSIONED FOR THESE UNIQUE INSTRUMENTS?
It’s hard to say exactly because my archives were lost in a house fire in 2011. I started working with composers around 15 years ago, and now I get sent a new piece through the call for scores nearly every week. I think it’s probably close to around 800 pieces that have been written for me, but a smaller number (300 maybe) that have been written as part of a closer collaboration with composers. My ensemble, rarescale, premieres around 30 pieces a year, and I do more premieres with other projects too. I’ve also had nearly 100 works written specially for Kingma System low flutes.
AS AN ACTIVE COMMISSIONER OF LOW FLUTES MUSIC, WHAT MOTIVATED THIS JOURNEY?
I started off wanting to specialise on chamber music repertoire for the alto flute in around 2000. At that time there were very few published pieces, and what I could find was either too musically bland or extreme contemporary repertoire, neither of which were particularly suitable for me at the time. So I set about to create the repertoire, and formed rarescale as a flexible chamber ensemble in 2003 to help promote the works through performance, and in 2012 I launched Tetractys Publishing to make some of the pieces available to the general public.
YOUR WORK WITH ELECTRONICS HAS BEEN SUBSTANTIAL OVER THE YEARS. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS MEDIUM?
When I was at the RCM, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Michael Oliva, an electroacoustic composer. He has a particular interest in writing music for low woodwind instruments, so it was inevitable that we’d start a collaboration. We’ve been working together now for around 15 years, and his music incredibly idiomatic for low flutes. He understands the instruments and his language combines the tradition of Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin with the spectral language of Murail. It’s music that has something expressive to say, and which is a real pleasure to play.
YOU ARE A CHAMPION ‘QUARTER-TONE’ PLAYER AS YOU WERE ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF THE EARLY ALTO FLUTE INSTRUMENT. YOUR GRADUATE WORK IS BASED ON THIS TOPIC. WHAT ARTIST OR WORK INSPIRED THIS EXPLORATION.
My Masters research was on the history of the alto flute since Boehm. During that time (1999 ish) I heard about Eva Kingma’s development of a quartertone system flute. I was finding the closed holes of the alto flute a major obstacle in musical expression – I had studied a little bit with Robert Dick and extended techniques were (and still are) part of my musical language. I was a major frustration having to deal with the limitations of a closed hole alto – so I approached Eva about a Kingma system alto. The system has developed and refined since then, and the ergonomics, as well as head joint design, have improved significantly. Now you can do more with a Kingma System alto than a standard C flute, and my doctoral research explores how the Kingma System can be used to develop repertoire on both alto and bass flute. As part of it I made websites about each instrument – www.altoflute.co.uk and www.bassflute.co.uk it’s an enormous privilege to be part of the dialogue between composers and makers, and the repertoire, and the instrument itself, develops as a result of this dialogue.
WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS?
I love the diversity of my low flute playing colleagues, and it’s a real honour to be able to work with them. Each one of the world leading players has their own area of special interest, and a personal repertoire develops around them. Every time I get to work with them I learn more and more – and have a great time too!
COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?
That’s a hard one – so many great pieces! Michael Oliva’s Apparition and Release has become something of a theme tune for me – we’ve performed it over 80 times now I think. But there are sooo many great pieces in different styles…I could give you a massive list!!
WHAT DO YOU SEE (AND HEAR) FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?
Low flutes are becoming increasingly important in the flute world. When I started out it was several years before I met anyone else with an alto flute – now everyone has them. It’s a very exciting time – the repertoire that has been developed over the last 15 years is now starting to be played by more people, and the instruments are improving all the time.
RECORDINGS (Sound files):
Michael’s Apparition and Release – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi5uf9CVQcg
Multitracked arrangement of Lotti – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/lotti-arr-carla-rees-crucifixus-in-8-parts
And a bit of Bach – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/js-bach-sarabande-from-cello