A high note

Renowned Swiss flutist Emmanuel Pahud performs at the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival.

Emmanuel Pahud (photo credit: Monica Ritterhouse)
Emmanuel Pahud
(photo credit: Monica Ritterhouse)
Emmanuel Pahud, (pronounced Pa-you), one of the world’s leading flutists, returns to the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival for the 15th time.
Pahud, who is the Berlin Philharmonic’a principal flute player, has never missed an opportunity to participate in the festival.
“Meeting top caliber musicians like those who perform at the festival is always rewarding, while the programming is always interesting and clever,” says Pahud in a phone interview between rehearsals of the Musique à l’Emperi Festival in France, of which he is one of the artistic directors. Earlier this summer, he participated in the Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee Festival.
Born in Geneva, Pahud traveled with his parents from an early age. It was in Rome that the four-year-old Emmanuel fell in love with the flute.
“There was a musical family in our apartment building, whose four children played the flute, the violin, the cello and the piano. But it was always the flute that fascinated me,” recalls the charismatic musician.
Graduating from the Paris Conservatory with honors at 20, Pahud became the principal flutist with the Berlin Philharmonic at 22 – the orchestra’s youngest member.
A busy musician, he now divides his time between his orchestral duties and his solo and chamber career. Pahud performs music of various genres – classic, Baroque, modern, jazz.
“For me, playing the flute is very simple. It is related to the way we breathe and sing. I see it as the most direct way to convey emotions. The flute is one of the most ancient instruments in the world; it has been played for some 20,000 years. And I can’t even say that I am fascinated by the flute itself – musicians always try to go beyond their instrument’s limitations.”
Pahud recently released an album entitled A Night at the Opera, featuring popular arias from operas by Verdi, Gluck, Bizet, Weber, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, arranged for flute. Pahud, together with flutist Juliette Hurel, is accompanied by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
Quite a few opera singers might envy the ease and naturalness of his sound production, his virtuosity and the expressive abilities of his flute.
“Probably,” he responds,”but that is only because I can imitate a singer’s voice, while a singer cannot imitate a flute.”
He explains that the idea of creating the album is rooted in his childhood. “In the 1970s, going to an opera or to a musical comedy was a wonderful thing for me. So this album is about my being fascinated by the opera divas.
Technically, playing the flute and singing have a lot in common. We do not breathe into the instrument but on the top of it, so there is no resistance at all, and we flutists use the resonance of our chest and head to project sound, just like singers do.”
Among the singers who inspired him, Pahud names Nikolai Gedda, Domingo, Pavarotti “and many whom I heard on the old LP recordings and strongly influenced my standards in singing.”
Pahud also performs a lot of contemporary music. “I have commissioned a concerto every year for the past 10 years,” he says.
“For example, in 2009 Carter’s new flute concerto had its world premiere at the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival – it was composed for that occasion. But that is just one example.”
Asked if world audiences are interested in contemporary music, Pahud says that judging from his experience of performing it on all continents, it depends on the piece, on the readiness of the audience to perceive it and on performers’ the ability to present it and to give the audience the clues to understanding it.
“If the piece is too abstract, it could be difficult to understand; but sometimes you don’t need to understand – just let it work, and maybe you will understand it later.
The genius of an artist is about looking into the future, of which we know nothing, and maybe they can help us learn something about it,” he says.
“The music of the past was once new, and if we limit ourselves only to what has been created in the past, it means we do nothing for the future. As a musician, I feel committed not only to performing new pieces but also to helping them come into existence and, in so doing, keeping this tradition of music-making alive. Only time will tell which pieces survive and set new standards for creating music.”
The International Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival takes place September 1 – 15 at the YMCA auditorium in Jerusalem. For a full program, go to www.jcmf.org.il.