Circular breathing for a continuous sound

Flutist Sharon Bezaly shares her gifts with the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra

The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts symphony orchestra with Menahem Nebenhaus conducting (photo credit: ETAN TAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts symphony orchestra with Menahem Nebenhaus conducting
 “The essence of music is making a connection – a connection between the music, the musician and the audience.”
Renowned Israeli flutist Sharon Bezaly has a wealth of experience in developing that connection, having performed on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. The next one will bring her to Netanya for performances with the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Swedish conductor Christian Lindberg.
“These upcoming concerts... are all about connections,” she cheerfully said during a recent phone interview with The Jerusalem Post from her home in Stockholm. “An Israeli orchestra playing under the baton of a Swedish conductor, and me, an Israeli solo flutist, living in Sweden with husband and family.”
Even though Bezaly lives abroad, she said that Israel permeates her existence.
“Like many Israelis living overseas, it is as if we never left. We are permanently connected,” she said.
“Every hour, my radio is tuned to an Israeli station.”
Bezaly was born in Tel Aviv and began playing the flute at age 11. Her skills advanced rapidly, and at the age of 14, was on stage with the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta.
She was encouraged and advised by one of the greatest flutists of all time, Jean Pierre Rampal, to study in France and graduated the Conservatoire de Paris, where she earned top prizes in chamber music and solo flute. In France, Bezaly studied with Maurice Bourgue, Raymond Guiot, Alain Marion and Aurèle Nicolet.
“Studying with Aurèle Nicolet, I learned the art of circular breathing,” explained Bezaly. “This is a technique also used by glass blowers so that the form they are shaping does not collapse. For the flutist, circular breathing enables him or her to produce a continuous sound.
The technique involves learning to inhale and exhale at almost the same time, while keeping a small amount of air in the mouth while inhaling.”
Critics have praised her perfect control of circular breathing, with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saying that it “enables her to reach new peaks of musical interpretation.”
Upon embarking on an unconventional career as solo flutist and chamber musician, Bezaly says she was faced with the situation there is not a large repertoire for solo flute as compared violin or piano. Her solution was to commission pieces. To date, 16 composers from 12 countries on five continents have written 20 concertos for her, in addition to over 40 solo and chamber pieces.
Although Bezaly’s repertoire encompasses all the eras of music, she firmly posits, “We have a responsibility to also play music written today; just as Bach fertilized and inspired the music of others, so do we.”
“There is no such thing as “old music,” she continues. “Good music is good music, whether it was written 200 years ago or in the past two weeks.”
What are Bezaly’s criteria for choosing a new composition? “The music must say something; it must express emotion. I am totally connected when I play, and must feel the composer’s vision. Unfortunately, I miss this kind of musical expression in certain pieces of modern music.”
Therefore, she chooses carefully.
Among the long list of composers who have dedicated works to her, Bezaly mentions Sofia Gubaidulina, who created a beautiful piece which pays close attention to her breathing technique, and, very recently, she was attracted to the music of composer Jeff Beal – who won an Emmy for his music to the famous TV drama series, House of Cards. Beal composed a flute concerto and fantasy for Bezaly, which she played in its world premiere with Osmo Vämska and the Minnesota Orchestra in May 2018, and later released as an album by BIS in August 2018.
During the upcoming concerts with the NKO on February 8, 9, 10 and 12, Bezaly will perform three arrangements of well-known Hebrew selections written by the Swedish composer Per Egland.
“Music is such a unique language.
It crosses all boundaries and connects people and cultures. I worked alongside Per, and his arrangements are fantastic, real pieces, and so much fun,” she enthuses.
Bezaly has selected for performance the “Moroccan Suite” by Dr. Avi Eilam-Amzallag as a totally different aspect of Jewish culture.
“This is a piece based on the tonalities of Moroccan Jewish prayer,” she explains, “which is a different part of our national fabric.”
For concerts one and two, Bezaly will perform the concerto for flute and orchestra by Israeli contemporary composer Michael Wolpe; and concerts for five and six, the world premiere of “Noam” – a fantasy for flute and orchestra by Ella Milch-Sheriff.
“Last year, when I listened to an interview on Army Radio with composer Ella Milch–Sheriff, I was immediately taken with her and her music,” says Bezaly. “We met and it was an instant click.”
“I am going to write a very happy piece of music for you,” promised Ella at that meeting. Unfortunately, during the year her husband, the illustrious composer Noam Sheriff, passed away. “Would she be able to rise above this?” Bezaly questioned.
“Her piece which transformed from a concerto for flute to a fantasy, dedicated to her late husband, is a real masterpiece, which I am honored to play.”
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