Sunday, August 23, 2015

#NFA2015: A Convention Virgin's View

I have no idea why it never happened until last weekend...I mean, I really, really love flutes. A lot. I've been to tons of regional flute fairs, and conventions for nearly every other instrument I play that HAS a convention. (Ask me about the year that I thought I could pull off Schnittke at the American Viola Society Festival...I still have nightmares.) Last summer, I went to both the International Clarinet Association convention AND the International Double Reed Society convention in the same week! 

Yet...

I have never been to the National Flute Association convention...until now. 

In a hilariously ironic twist of fate, two years ago, the convention was held in New Orleans. Where I, you know, LIVED at the time. I literally could have *walked* from my living room to the hotel in 10 minutes. I didn't go. 

Why? 

I was performing in Tokyo.  #facepalm (Not that that's exactly a terrible reason...)

So when my dear, lovely friend Betsy Winslow Trimber, proprietrix of the esteemed Flutist's Faire (go ahead, click on it!) in Virginia, asked me over a glass of wine after the last night of the New York Flute Fair a few months ago if I'd be interested in volunteering at her booth this year at NFA, of course I jumped at the chance. Of all the conventions out there, the NFA has always been the one I longed to attend most. 

All that gold! All that platinum! All that wood! Yes, I'll do it! 

...as it turned out, however, in addition to the dream-like field of flutes, there was also all that butchered Daphnis! All that mangled Voliere! ALL THE HIGH Cs ON ALL THE PICCOLOS. 

(And I thought the clarinet convention last year was bad, with all those horrific Rhapsody in Blue smears.)

But I digress. Though my primary function at the NFA this year was to man Betsy's table of wonders (she had some KILLER flutes that I'll tell you about in a bit), I did manage to do a bit of wandering and discovery. I didn't try nearly as many flutes as I'd thought I might, but I did make sure to hit a couple of things that were DEFINITELY on my list. 

Let us start with a couple of the products that were new for NFA this year that I found particularly noteworthy (and before we begin, I must disclaim as always that I am in no way being compensated or coerced into writing any of this; these are purely opinions of my own formation): 

THE SANKYO BASS FLUTE

Sweet mother of Barbra, this thing has singlehandedly changed the bass flute game forever. Sankyo has created a bass flute that is actually capable of projection in the lower register! This bass has a huge sound, down to the low B (LOW B!), and plays with an almost C-flute-like homogeneity and ease of response the whole way up to the top of the third octave. Gone is that weird woofy, boomy. hollow bassflute sound in the middle octave, the weak, buzzy, anemic bottom octave, and the screamy, edgy, wine-bottle-overtone top octave. It is truly a joy to play, and the redesigned ergos are an absolute dream. The teardrop-shaped key touches are incredibly comfortable, and ideally spaced. The footjoint keys are easily reached, and it balances beautifully in the left hand. It's silver-plated except for the lip and riser, which are sterling, so it isn't nearly as heavy as it looks. At $15,000, you'd have to do some HARD justifying to buy one (unless you have that cash just lying around), since there isn't exactly a ton of rep for the bass flute outside of the flute choir/jazz/contemporary music world, but if those particular spheres are your thing, and you can afford it, BUY THIS DAMN THING. (Then let me borrow it, pretty please?) It really does make every other bass flute out there just feel...depressing. 

Then again, it's a Sankyo, so what did you expect? ;-) #TeamSankyo 

The Bernhard HAMMIG "Mezzo" MK II 

You may recall that when I first started this blog, one of the very first instruments I wrote about was the Hammig "Mezzo" flute, which I tried at Betsy's table at the Richmond Flute Fair back in December of 2012, and I absolutely raved about it. 

Well, Jason Blank and Bernhard Hammig have been hard at work in their secret underground lab (I'm making that part up), and have released a new version of the Mezzo called the MK II, which has a .950 silver body and is priced exactly at the Muramatsu GX/entry pro flute price point (just about $6,000 even). Now, from previous blogs, you all know how I feel about high-purity silver alloys (I love them), so I knew I was going to like this instrument. What I didn't know was just how MUCH I was going to like this instrument, and how different it is from the previous generation. 

There aren't really adequate adjectives to describe the complexity of the sound of this flute. It is so colorful that at times it seems like you'll never find the right place and time to use all of those colors; there are so many ways you can go with the sound. It also packs an enormous amount of power, particularly with the new headjoint cut that Jason and Bernhard have come up with. The prior BH heads were a more traditional, oval-style that required you to have a pretty serious grasp on what you were doing already in order to get the most out of it; the new head is geared to the Bigger, Louder, Edgier American style of playing, but without sacrificing the tonal palette that they created these flutes to provide. I love them both, but I would be lying to your face if I said I didn't wish I could have walked out of the Marriott with the new cut. The BTUs you can crank out of this thing could burn a house down. I remember standing at their booth (which was at the very end/beginning of a long row on the far side of the exhibit hall) and playing Brahms 1 with as much air as I could force out of my rather colossal lungs, and not only did the sound never flatten or break, but I'm pretty sure people at the other end of the hall turned to look and see what the f*k just happened. (Or maybe they were just glad it wasn't Daphnis or Mozart G, I dunno...) 

The point is, wow. With the stock 95% silver setup, you're getting a flutefetti cannon. 

Then I started messing around with gold headjoints. 

I still haven't recovered. 

Jason has recently taken delivery of a 95% silver handmade custom Hammig flute with one of his unreal 22K yellow gold headjoints for use as his own personal instrument. He let me take this headjoint and put it on the MK II, and I'm pretty sure I cried.

 First of all, the 22K headjoint is un. believably. beautiful. I know most of you out there are like "Ugh, yellow gold, GROSS! #Rosegoldplz", but I happen to find yellow gold stunning. (On a fun note, unlike the other 22K gold head out there, the Lafin, this one does NOT come with a rosegold 14K lip/crown, but is actually ALL 22K yellow gold. #baller) 

Secondly, it is the flutey equivalent of what happens when you make Bruce Banner mad. There is not an orchestra on earth you could not bury with this thing, Bruckner be damned. With this headjoint, you are king of the world. 

It's also $13,000, so if you can afford it, you probably really ARE the king of the world.

I then put on the BH 15% gold head (which I have also previously raved about) with a gold riser, and it felt like someone had reached into my brain, pulled out my dream flute sound, and spun it into an instrument. Just like with the 15% gold head I had on the Mezzo M1 that Jason and Betsy sent me a couple years ago, it was the perfect match to my playing style, but the gold riser added a bit of assertiveness that maybe wasn't quite as easy to achieve without it. (I blow big, I can't help it. Have you SEEN my ribcage?) 

The ergos on this one are also fantastic...Jason has redesigned the G# key to be much longer and at a more natural angle for the left hand pinky, and the right hand pinky cluster just sits there right under the finger like a patient puppy. He's also redesigned the keycups to be a bit more traditional-looking, as opposed to the contemporary Powell 3100-like design of the Hammig custom and prior generation Mezzos (which, frankly, I like better. It's gorgeous, and lets you know that you are playing something special that stands out from the pack!) 

There are one or two more developments with this flute in the works (Jason is redesigning the C# trill key, for example. I'm REALLY looking forward to the result of that experiment, because as we all know, I find that key absolutely imperative on a flute, and wouldn't seriously consider purchasing a flute without one.) 

I gotta say, though, Sexy Readers, if you're in the market for a new flute and you want something that just might be your Forever Flute but can't cough it up for gold or a $13,000 soldered-tone-hole silver Brannen et al, you really, REALLY need to try one of these. Either contact Jason directly via Bernhard Hammig North America, or reach out to one of the nicest guys in the biz, Bill Hutzel, who owns The Flute Loft in New Jersey and is a dealer for the complete Hammig line (including the AMAZEBALLS Magic Crown as well as the handmade flutes). The vixenous Betsy Trimber of The Flutist's Faire can also hook you up...she's also a great resource for getting your hands on a Hammig custom headjoint, as she has some in her current stock for immediate trial/purchase. TRY THEM.

Any one of them would be happy to figure out how to get one of these puppies in your hands for a trial! 


BERNHARD HAMMIG CUSTOM HANDMADE FLUTES

So we've talked about the Mezzo, now let's talk about Bernhard's custom flutes, painstakingly and brilliantly crafted by him in his workshop in Lahr, Germany. There were several on offer, including the personal 9k rose gold flute of one of my favorite NYC-area solo flutists who I finally had the incredible pleasure of meeting in person, the stunningly beautiful Carla Lancellotti Auld, who had Bernhard build her a flute last year (and sounds INCREDIBLE on it!), which she generously donated to the table for the duration of the convention so that people could try it. In addition to Carla's flute, there was also...are you ready for this...a 9k WHITE GOLD flute! I have never, ever in all the years I have been flute-obsessed seen a 9k white gold alloy. There were also several silver flutes (.943 and .950), and what may have been my favorite...a wooden one. 

The silver ones (including Jason Blank's personal flute) were all like turbo-version of the .950 Mezzo. Color and power to spare, and much more satisfying to play than your average sterling silver flute. (I kind of hate sterling silver, but I think we've covered that before). 

Carla's 9K flute (with 14K headjoint) gave me goosebumps and a serious case of Flute Envy. It was like what I'd imagine driving a Porsche for the first time would be like...if I knew how to drive. Smooth, but always a sense of the potential power humming right underneath the surface. When that power is finally unleashed (Brahms 1 again; it's my default test for How Obnoxious Can I Get Before This Sounds Bad), it does not disappoint. There is a sort of shimmer on top of the sound that I think you can only really get from a low-karat gold, but it's a dark kind of shimmer, very unlike that of silver. Sort of like purple glitter, I would say. 

Side note: It is virtually impossible to crack an E6 on a Hammig flute.

As much as I loved Carla's pink beauty, when I picked up the 9k white gold, I seriously just about died. The difference in density and hardness between the two alloys was very apparent in the sound. Whereas the rose 9K alloy was sensuous but assertive and sort of silky (like Carla herself, actually!), the white gold was direct, piquant, and sort of...bossy. I loved it. Literally could not put it down, and the only thing that made me stop playing it was how badly I wanted to get my hands on the wood flute. 

The wood flute he had with him was a classic grenadilla flute with a gorgeous bulb-style headjoint (kind of like a huge piccolo), and good lord, was it everything I had hoped for! I took it into the soundproof booth that Jason had brought along and gave it a good spin. This flute is the perfect example of why we must take wood flutes seriously as an option for not just solo and chamber, but orchestral playing. The wood Hammig PROJECTS, but with a burnished sound that could easily make one weep. Highs are extremely easy to control and spin, and you can flap pant legs with the low notes if you wish. I would very, very much love to hear someone play Bolero in an orchestra on this flute! It is also really quite reasonably priced for a handmade wooden instrument, right in line with the Sankyo and Powell flutes. Gold mechanism and gold-plated mechanism are options, as are full engraving, rollers, a C# trill, and COCUSWOOD! :-) (This makes me happy) He only has enough cocus for five more flutes, though, so buy one now (and one for me, please. I'd love you forever.) 

There was also a wooden headjoint made to fit a silver flute, and it was exactly what I'd expected from Bernhard. I have a feeling one might be finding its way into my house sooner rather than later...my TJ needs a sibling! :) 


THE LEVIT FLUTE


I've been trying to figure out for quite some time what to say about Lev Levit and David Houston's flutes, because I want to make sure that I accurately convey how special they are. Ever since the morning my friend Jesse Han and I visited their hotel room the day after the New York Flute Fair and tried a wide range of their flutes and headjoints, I've been fixated on these instruments. Like the Hammig flutes, the Levit instruments possess a color spectrum that you just do NOT find on the vast majority of flutes being made today. This is not to say that our friends in Boston are not turning out incredible flutes, because they are, but every once in a while, you come across a flute that has a very different voice, and speaks to a very special sort of individualistic player, and I think that Levit has done just that. 

Lev and David have between them a combined 40+ years of experience in the flutemaking industry, having worked extensively for both Brannen and Powell. The Levit flute is in fact built upon the foundation of the Oston-Brannen flute, which was the original Kingma system flute. Lev first began his flute company with the production of a Kingma system flute, and expanded to offer standard flutes as well, in silver and gold. A tireless experimenter, Lev has developed a new acoustical design for the flute, which he calls the Modified Acoustic. These flutes are more colorful, provide greater projection with less work, and are near-flawlessly in tune compared to a large number of flutes on the market. 

I have played about a dozen of the Levit flutes, in both gold and silver, Traditional and Modified acoustic, standard and Kingma systems, and I would be more than happy to put on a blindfold, pick up any one of them, and play it for the rest of my life. 

It truly is nearly impossible to describe these flutes, so visit their website at Levit Flutes, or contact my amazing friend Joan Sparks at the Flute Pro Shop, the exclusive dealer for Levit Flutes, and get one on trial. Now. Seriously, you have to. I said so. (She has a particularly special Levit in stock right now, #114, for an absurdly delicious price for a 14K gold flute. My birthday is Sept. 29th...thanks in advance! ;-) ) 


TREVOR JAMES 14K GOLD-IN-SILVER FLUTE

So, with the gold-layered alloy craze that is sweeping the flute world (Powell started it with their Aurumite, and now Haynes and Burkart are each offering their own versions of a gold and silver tube fused together), it was only a matter of time before other makers started experimenting with it. English flute superstars Trevor James have just joined in that particular game, and while they are currently working on both 9k and 14K gold fused tubes with both gold-inside and gold-outside versions, the 14K Inside version was on display at NFA this year. 

If you've been following the blog lately, you'll know that I have developed a very close relationship with Trevor James in the past year, and am just a HUMONGOUS fan of their flutes. So, naturally, it was with great excitement that I tried this particular prototype...I don't think I was quite prepared for how well they'd pulled it off, though. This flute is really, really good. It had all the complexity of the Powell 14K Aurumite flute with perhaps just a bit more lightness, and there was a really nice mellowness to the upper register that I enjoyed. I think with a gold lip and/or riser, this flute will be an absolute monstrous beast that will make the world sit up and take very strong notice of TJ as a maker of fully-professional flutes and not just student/intermediate models. 

I am so, so excited to try the 9K and gold-outside versions, I can hardly stand it! Stay tuned for updates on this whole project :) 


lefreQue

I was first exposed to the lefreQue acoustic bridges last year, when I played a production of Into The Woods, and our bassoonist had all these strange-looking contraptions on his instrument. I had briefly read about them online, so I knew what they were, but I had never met anybody who had them, and certainly never seen them in real life. I was intrigued, and he swore by them, so I decided to investigate further...

Well, they work, kids. They work amazingly well. I won't bore you with a long scientific explanation of how they work, but the basic premise is that all of our instruments come apart in pieces, right? Well, when you put these pieces together, they don't magically fuse into one unbroken tube, so they don't vibrate like one. 

The lefreQues are, in essence, acoustic wave bridges that assist in the propagation of vibrations from one section of our instruments to the next. They are offered in a wide selection of materials, all with slightly different properties, and they really do make a difference. 

At NFA last weekend, I tried them on a couple of different flutes, including a gold-bonded Muramatsu that I really loved but also felt had some stifled potential; I put the lefreQues on it between the headjoint and the barrel, and it felt like I had picked up a different flute. The overtones were more present, the dynamic range was larger, and it was all-around just more fun to play. It seemed like I had more control over what was coming out of it, and I would also swear in a court of law that it was more in tune. 

Definitely worth a try, and overall, not a terribly large amount of money for a potentially large improvement to your musical life. (Certainly less than buying a new flute, or even a new headjoint!) 




That's about all for the new/noteworthy stuff that I tried (as I said, I really didn't get much of a chance at all to attack the exhibit hall in an organized way and try everything), but now I'd like to discuss some of the wonderful and interesting instruments I played at various tables, many of which I've written about before, but have formed deeper opinions on. 



THE FLUTIST'S FAIRE

I will start with the whole reason I was there at all...the Flutist's Faire. Betsy does a great job of curating interesting instruments to offer, and she had a gem-laden collection at NFA this year. Of her high-end offerings, first and foremost was a flute she had on consignment from a German collector, a very interesting (and heavy!) platinum flute by German maker Gerhard Sachs, who you may recall from my wooden flute blog. This thing was a BEAST. The body was platinum, and everything that attached to it (ribs, rings, toneholes, lip, riser, crown) was 14K rose gold. The mechanism is gold also, but appears to be a mixture of rose and pale yellow or white gold. The LH1 C key was also open holed, even though there is no tonehole under that key. It felt very cool, and sort of made sense, I guess, in that the rest of your fingers sit on open holes, so why not make them all feel the same? It had a huge voice, very dark sound, and was a bit difficult to play for all but the strongest air columns. Definitely not a flute for the casual flutist or small player, but for SOMEONE, this will be an absolute dream flute. Yours for only $60,000! :-) 






Next in line, from that same German collector, was a very special all-14K gold closed-hole Powell, from the era when the barrels were still engraved with the logo and not the body. The headjoint had Powell's new Adler-esque wings, so it was either a new headjoint, or they had been added post-production. This flute, despite its all gold construction, had a very sweet voice with a lot of character, and really liked to float in the upper register. At $33,000, it is actually an extremely good deal for an all gold flute! It features a B foot, offset G, and split E mechanism. 

After that we had my next favorite flute after the platinum, a 14K gold Powell from a similar vintage era as the previous, with a silver mechanism, inline G, C# trill key, and B foot. (Open holes this time). THIS flute was really something; I don't know exactly what it was, but I connected with it almost instantly on a very deep level. The headjoint style was very old-school, in that it was quite oval and on the smallish side, with very little under/overcutting. Very colorful instrument, not an ENORMOUS voice, but would be quite suitable for pit work, soloing, or chamber orchestra. An excellent instrument for the recording artist. It is also only $19,000, which makes it an unbelievably once-in-a-lifetime deal for someone looking for a gold Powell. 



Rounding out the consignment-gold-Powell-family on offer were not one but TWO 9K Aurumite Powell 3100 flutes, both priced at an insanely reasonable $6,500, both with the P style headjoint, and both with absolutely killer huge sounds. These are very popular with doublers/jazz players, and are a wonderful, wonderful flute for the college student or adult amateur who wants the look and sound of gold with that Powell sound, but can't afford the scratch for a new 9K Aurumite Conservatory, which will now run you north of ten thousand dollars. The mechanism of the 3100 is also very, very cool looking! :) 

In the same price category, she had one of the last gold-bonded Muramatsu flutes (once called the "Galaxy" series) that they made before they phased them out. This one is very Japanese spec, with a B-foot, open holes, inline G, and nothing else. It plays like a dream, with a beautiful, sweet, colorful sound from bottom to top. This particular flute benefitted enormously from the addition of a pair of lefreQue plates, so I'd recommend adding them if you decide to purchase this instrument. It is, I believe, $6,400-ish, which is basically free. Plus, they don't make them anymore, so there's that. 

Rounding out the higher-end flutes that I loved the most was a family of Burkart flutes: a 9k-on-silver Pro model, a heavy-wall sterling silver Pro model, a .998 Elite, and a 595 (5% platinum, 95% silver) Elite. These are all incredible flutes, but I want to focus particularly on the 595 and the 998 flutes...they have very different personalities, but both of them are monster flutes that are just begging to find a home with a professional symphony player. 

The 595 was my preference of the two, as the platinum content gives it a roaring voice that is full of color and heft, and when paired with the 595 headjoint with gold riser, you will get anything you ever needed out of a flute in an orchestra. Just be aware that you have to be able to handle it; it takes a lot of air to get the most out of this flute, but it's very worth the work. 

The .998 silver (99.8% pure silver) flute is like playing a singing rainbow. The color spectrum is intense, and every note seems to have a heat-shimmer on top of it. Legatos are effortless, and the "spin" is unreal, particularly when paired with a C4 style head in .998 silver with a 14K gold riser. (I found the M2 style to be a bit overwhelming with this particular flute.) If you REALLY want to treat yourself, a 9K Hammig headjoint turns this into a magic wand. I would particularly recommend this flute to the orchestral 2nd flute player who needs to be conscious of blending and changing tone colors easily to match their principal, but without sacrificing volume when needed. 

All of Betsy's Burkarts have a B-foot, open holes, offset G, and a C# trill key. (What I refer to as the "New American Standard" configuration, and my personal preference). 

Another instrument that she had on her table that I found myself going back to often, which I have also previously written about, was the Trevor James Recital "Aria" model flute, which features a sterling silver body, sterling handmade Flutemakers' Guild of London headjoint, silver-plated mechanism, and soldered tone holes. With C# trill and D# roller, this flute comes in at UNDER $4200, and is an absolute killer for anybody who wants some Real Flute meat but can't afford the 5-figure flutes. It plays unbelievably well, and everyone I asked to try it had the same reaction: disbelief. Trevor James is really, really upping their game in a huge way right now, and this model is definitely part of that trend. They are no longer just a maker of basic student-model flutes; they are rapidly becoming a serious contender in the Big Boy Flute market. 

Betsy also maintains a fantastic stock of Burkart Resona and Elite piccolos. If I were in the market for a piccolo right now, the Resona would almost 100% be my pick. I never fail to be amazed by the performance-to-price ratio of this instrument; for just over 2K, you are getting a wooden US-made piccolo that plays like a $7000 instrument. (The wave headjoint makes it a particularly pleasing experience for the occasional piccolo player who does not specialize on the instrument). 

If it's headjoints you're looking for, well, she is the LADY. From a fabulous platinum-and-gold Haynes to a huge selection of handmade wooden headjoints by Dutch maker Jan Junker (which are killer heads!), and everything in between, including a large selection of gold headjoints from Powell, Burkart, Dana Sheridan, and others, you just must give her a ring! 







THE FLUTE PRO SHOP

Next up for discussion is the inimitable Joan Marsh Sparks' baby, the Flute Pro Shop (click here!). Joan always, always has an amazing assortment of treasures, and this weekend was no exception. The centerpiece of her booth was a one-of-a-kind all-gold Muramatsu flute, #40000, which was built as a show flute for the brand and was never intended to be sold, but instead to be used as a demonstration of the pinnacle of Muramatsu's flutemaking art. All engraved, with an additional 24K gold headjoint, it certainly attracted attention in its Lucite display case! (And, though it has never been on offer before, for $275,000, it can be yours! Own a piece of flute history today...and then lemme borrow that flute.) 

What she brought to the convention this year was a veritable Sophie's Choice of flute babies. Had I walked over there with a no-financial-consideration bank account, I don't know what I would have done. Here's a short list of the things she had that keep me awake at night, in no particular order: 

Levit 14K gold flute #114: This flute is the ne plus ultra of the American flutemakers' art. Priced well below $20,000, this flute is almost literally a steal. Barely used by someone who has defected to another maker (hrmph, marketing!), this flute is BEGGING for an owner who will break it in and love it forever. It is just unparalleled. (AND IT'S GOLD!) 

Miyazawa Platinum-clad body with a sterling head w/platinum riser: This flute is just fascinating! I've not come across many platinum-clad Miyas, but here's one! Fully loaded with options, this flute is a screamer. Big, bold, beautiful voice in all registers, the un-platinum-ed sterling head lightens up the whole thing a bit, but the platinum riser gives it some meatiness and allows you to spin the power out of the platinum-clad body. (Mechanism is also platinum plated!) 

Platinum Brannen with silver mechanism: This is exactly what you'd expect from a platinum Brannen flute. I very much enjoyed playing it, and would think this would be much beloved by a big dude who loves to blow hard. (Or a lady with iron lungs; let's not be sexist here!) 

9K Muramatsu with 14K Mancke head w/wood lip and 14K riser: This flute. Wow. Previously used by stellar flutist Sergio Pallotelli, who has since switched to wood, this flute is just a total killer. It's resonant, it's colorful, you could knock down walls with it, and it's just super, super fun to play. The wood-lipped Mancke head is extremely comfortable on the face, and the gold riser inside the wood lends crispness and immediacy to the articulation, which can sometimes be a challenge of wood. It's just over $21K, which is a completely okay price for a flute of this caliber. This and the Levit would be the ones I'd recommend the most out of Joan's offerings from the weekend! 

5K Sankyo headjoint: One of the rarest flute-world items I've come across, this is an UNPLATED 5K gold Sankyo headjoint. For those of you who remember when Sankyo was using the 5K gold alloy, almost all of the flutes/heads produced in it were then plated in 18K rose gold; this headjoint did not receive that treatment, and possesses a glowing, champagne-like luster that would look absolutely breathtaking on a silver body. 

Muramatsu 14K gold with 5k gold mechanism: God, where do I even start with this thing? I don't really know what else to say about it except I would kill a leprechaun with his own pot of gold to own this flute. I didn't even know Muramatsu USED 5K gold...this flute is crazy good. Huge sound, tons of color, the mechanism is flawless, and the paler shade of the 5K mech on the 14K rose body is mind-blowingly pretty. The lip is gorgeously engraved, and it's $32,000, which is seriously not horrible for an all-gold instrument with engraving, a C# trill key, and D# roller. 

Joan, you killed it this year! :) 


SANKYO FLUTES

I know I've already talked about the bass flute, but Sankyo had a few other tricks up their sleeve that made me scream a little bit inside. In addition to their regular offerings in the silver line (up to and including the 99.7% pure silver 901), they brought two different models of 10K gold (drawn and soldered), two 14K/silver flutes, and one all-14K gold flute. They were, as expected, incredible, and just reaffirmed why I've been a Sankyo player for literally my entire career. I still feel the most at home when I'm blowing into a Sankyo RT headjoint, no matter what it's made of. 

However, they also had some very, very, very special treats for me this year. 

Wood. Lots of it. Two grenadilla flutes, one with a 14K gold mechanism, and not one, but TWO cocuswood flutes, one with a silver mechanism, the other...well the other is possibly the most special flute I have ever played in my life. 


This flute was made by Kikuo Hisakura, the late president and co-founder of Sankyo Flutes, an absolute visionary and flutemaking genius who lived for the flute and the art of making them. He sadly left us in 2009, but he left behind this flute, which he made for himself. It is the most beautifully figured and highly colored cocuswood I have ever seen, and it has both B and C footjoints and two different headjoint styles, one with a lipplate and one traditional style...and a 14K rose gold mechanism. I have honestly, in all my years of obsessively seeking out unique flutes, never seen anything this beautiful. 

(Photo courtesy of Yuka Honda/Sankyo Flutes)


It wasn't even on display. It was hidden beneath the table, and when Yuka Honda (Sankyo's Director of Marketing) pulled it out and opened the case, I was actually afraid for a split second that I was going to cry. I still cannot believe that I was afforded the honor of playing this flute. I don't know what to say about it, but I think a picture says a thousand words, so here is a photo that Liz Vergili, the US Sales Manager of Sankyo, took of me both while I was playing it and then after. 

I don't think I've been this happy, perhaps ever: 




I mean, LOOK AT THAT HEADJOINT! I literally cannot even. Thank you, Liz and Yuka...I will never, ever forget this. 


There are so, so many more instruments and accessories I wanted to try, but fear not, I will get to them one way or another! The biggest takeaway for me from this convention, which I honestly did not anticipate, was the people. I met a staggering number of people that I have heretofore only known in cyberspace, either on Facebook, Instagram, or via my blog. So, to all of you, I say thank you...thank you for being my friend online, and thank you all for being EVEN MORE wonderful in real life. I adore you all! (If I forget anybody, I am so, so sorry, I don't mean to!) 

And of course, as ever, it was a delight to run into friends I just don't see enough...here's to spending more time together soon! (*cough* Guilherme Andreas, Eric Maul, Rachel Hacker, Paula Robison, Joan Sparks, Kristen Michelle, Betsy Trimber, Felipe Tristan, Lev Levit, David Houston, Luke Penella!)

Big, huge, giant flutey hugs to Ethan Lin, Liz Vergili, Yuka Honda, Cathy Miller (OH MY GOD CATHY MILLER), Zachariah Galatis, Bill Hutzel, Jason Blank, Bernhard Hammig, Ted Anton, Johnathan Bernhardt, Adam Workman, Tracy Harris, Carla Lancellotti Auld, Delandria Mills, Kate Ridlon Fish, Andrea "Fluterscooter" Fisher, Nora Epping, Rebecca Ashe, Jonathan Landell, Hans Kuijt, Ervin and Susan Monroe, and anyone else I may be forgetting right now! 

See you all next year in San Diego! 

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Friday, April 3, 2015

The New Trevor James Double-Headed Flute Outfit: Two Heads Really ARE Better Than One!

In my last series of blog posts, we discussed the wide, wonderful world of wood flutes, and how much I adore them. I had planned my next post to be about wooden headjoints, which have become very popular lately as an addition to the sonic arsenal of flutists who want to find a way to extend the color palette of their metal flute bodies beyond various high-purity silver alloys, golds, and platinum.

I was planning out the layout of that next post when I received a series of wonderful messages from Jean-Paul Wright, the Marketing Director of Worldwind Music, the parent company of Trevor James Flutes; and Cathy Miller, Vice President of Miyazawa and Sankyo flutes, who also oversees US distribution of Trevor James, asking me if I would like to give their newest product a whirl, and of course who could refuse?!

Back in January, TJ unveiled a new wooden headjoint at NAMM in Anaheim. A wooden lipplate and riser has been an option on their silver headjoints for a few years now, which are beautifully made and sound gorgeous, so it seemed only logical that the next step was an all-wood headjoint. The timing of this venture was perfect, as wooden headjoints are only increasing in popularity (which my next blog post will discuss, wink wink nudge nudge, so stay tuned!).

So, it was with a tremendous amount of excitement that I took delivery a couple weeks later of the newest offering from Trevor James Flutes, a flute outfit that comes with both a sterling silver headjoint (with a weighted crown) and a wooden headjoint, both in the same case. I was just about to start the run of a production of West Side Story (which you may recall I played the North American Broadway revival tour of recently!), and it was the perfect opportunity to test out this new package and see what this new headjoint could really do.

She's a beauty, isn't she?!  

I have always been a fan of the Trevor James flutes, which are nearly unbeatable in their price range in terms of tonal quality, projection, and mechanical feel; and the recent generation of TJ flutes is better than ever. They have undergone a sleek redesign, with beautiful flat body and crown rings, pointed keys are now standard on all models from the Privilege on up, and the headjoints produce more power and color than ever. (And in the spirit of disclosure, I must tell you that since 2012, my primary road flute, which I've used in the pits of several national and international Broadway tours, has been a Trevor James body [of the old design] with a Sankyo headjoint, so I am certainly well-acquainted with the brand)

The model they sent me was the Cantabile, which pairs a silver-plated body with a sterling silver head. It is a $1500 flute that, listening to it with your eyes closed, you would swear cost 5 times that. The new headjoint design with the weighted crown (and it is HEAVY, believe me!) gives a depth and core to the sound that is unmatched by anything else in that price range. The mechanism is very solidly made and has stood up well to daily playing, though I'm sure the pads would appreciate me backing off the pre-show coffee a bit. ;-) With the silver head alone, it is an instrument that would serve the needs of any player well, particularly those of us who work in theater pits and need a reliable instrument that sounds good, plays well in tune, and isn't going to give us a heart attack if we accidentally miss the peg now and again during a fast switch.

Here's a bit of the sterling headjoint:

video


Adding the wooden headjoint to this flute turns it into a bona-fide dragon slayer. I wouldn't say that I was skeptical of the TJ wooden headjoint, but I was quite curious about how their wood head would compare to other wood heads I've enjoyed in my career, namely the Sankyo, David Chu, and Mancke heads.

Well, I needn't have wondered, because the TJ holds its own quite admirably with any of the current top-line headjoints on the market! The depth of sound throughout the range of the instrument is incredible, with more power than you'd expect in the lower register and an incredible sweetness in the top. What really makes this headjoint worth having, though, is the amazing range of colors that are possible with it. There are sounds you can make on this head that you just cannot with a silver or gold headjoint. In my opinion, every flutist should have a wooden headjoint. I love, love, love that Trevor James has made that possible for flutists on a tight budget, talented younger players, and doublers who may not have even been aware that wooden headjoints were a "thing".

The projection of this wood head is also impressive, *particularly* at low dynamics. Pianissimos just spin forever out of this headjoint. On the closing weekend of the recent production of West Side Story, which I recorded, I used the wooden headjoint for the Finale, which is a solo flute laying a shimmering gossamer line on top of the rest of the orchestra. This was recorded from the back of the house. :)



Of course, there are also great applications for this headjoint in solo playing, especially in the Baroque repertoire (you'll never want to play the Partita or any of the Bach sonatas on a metal head again!), though it also works equally well in contemporary rep. In fact, one of my best friends is also a spectacular woodwind doubler, and he borrowed the TJ to play a concert at 54 Below recently, where he had to play that amazing flute solo from "One Night In Bangkok", from the musical "Chess", which is a whirlwind of flutter tonguing, quasi-beatbox sounds, rapid articulation, and tone color changes. He did it on the wooden headjoint, and with your eyes closed, you'd almost swear he was playing some sort of Asian bamboo flute! It was amazing.

The double-head package is available for both the Cantabile and Virtuoso models...the Virtuoso is identical to the Cantabile, with the exception of the body tube, which is sterling silver, and the C# trill key is also an option on the Virtuoso. These outfits are available from Flute World for $2194 and $3194 for the Cantabile and Virtuoso, respectively, and that is with both the sterling silver and wooden headjoints in one case. (It's a beautiful case, by the way! Both heads fit like a glove, and the body trough has enough space to leave your Fingerport and Thumbport attached when you put it away :) ) I mean, you just cannot beat that with a stick! Worth every penny.

Until next time, happy fluting, and may the flute be with you!

(Read more about the TJ double-head flutes on the offical TJ website here: TJ Double Headed Flute Outfit)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wooden't It Be Lover-ly: The Omnibus Edition!

In the event that there are those of you who WOULD prefer to have it all in one go instead of 3 separate entries, here you are! :-) 

If you've read any of my past posts, watched many of my Youtube videos, or know me in real life, then you know that one of my greatest obsessions is the wooden Boehm flute. I love everything about wood flutes; the sound, the way they feel in the hands, the way they look, the gorgeous variety of woods that are used in their manufacture.  The topic of wood flutes has randomly popped up in conversation with several different people over the last week or two, and it has come clear to me that a great many people, even within the flute playing community, are laboring under the same general set of misconceptions about wooden flutes; primarily, that they are unsuitable for modern-day orchestral use and that nobody plays them. Many are unaware that they are even currently being produced!

This...well, this makes me sad. The modern Boehm flute crafted from wood is an instrument capable of just as much power and projection as her silver, gold, and platinum sisters; it is also possessed of a uniquely colored voice that is nearly always distinguishable from metal flutes. Many experiments by many flutists (the multi-flute video demonstrations carried out by James Galway and Nina Perlove come immediately to mind) have pretty conclusively proven that a listener cannot tell the difference between gold, silver, and platinum or any combination thereof. I have done this many times myself, and I personally can't tell the difference, nor could any of the people I played for.

Now, to a player, yes, they feel incredibly different and probably cause different physiological responses (vis a vis transmission of vibration through the cranium, etc), that make them sound different, but to an audience? Nein, mein herrHowever, every person I have ever blindly played several flutes for with a wooden flute in the mix has ALWAYS correctly identified the wooden instrument. There is just some magical, unexplainable element of the sound of a wood flute that makes what's left of my shriveled, blackened soul melt just a little bit. A bit of the ghost of Pan, perhaps...I dunno.

In the course of this particular series of blog posts, I am going to introduce you to the wide, wonderful world of the wooden flute in the 21st century, and you're gonna love it. :)

(Where possible, I've included a video of someone playing each of these and a link to either the maker's website or a retailer where they can be purchased.)

I've played (with one or two exceptions) all of these flutes, and I'd be hard pressed to say I have a favorite. I would very honestly be quite happy to own any of them!


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YAMAHA

Of all the currently active makers of wooden flutes, I think the one that elicits the most surprise when I talk about them is Yamaha. It seems that people are generally rather unaware of the insanely high quality of Yamaha's upper range of flutes, but they are particularly unaware that Yamaha makes an absolutely AMAZING wooden flute. In terms of available customization, it is a rather bare-bones instrument (for the purist, if you will), available in various combinations of the standard options of open/closed holes, offset/inline G, and C/B footjoints. The headjoint is a modified EC cut, and there are no further headjoint options, but they seem to have worked out an ideal cut that does pretty much whatever you need it to. For those who require something outside the realm of possibility offered by the standard Yamaha wood head, there are a plethora of aftermarket wooden headjoints that all fit the Yamaha (which is a standard metal tenon head, as opposed to a cork joint).

I have played quite a few Yamahas to date, and as one expects from a Japanese flute, they are remarkably consistent (insomuch as wood can be), and they tend to favor a darker, bass-heavy sort of sound that projects quite well but retains a great roundness to the sound. The third and fourth octaves are a bit more resistant than one may be used to, but speak reliably, with great control (owing to the resistance). I'd love to experiment with various headjoints on the Yamaha body...I bet it would be spectacular with the Yamaha Type A head in 14K gold!

Also worth knowing is that the Yamaha is the least expensive of the currently available high-end wooden flutes, and they are readily available from any Yamaha dealer. (And you didn't hear this from me, but fabulous deals on them are very often found on That Big Auction Site!)

Wanna buy one? Yamaha Wood Flutes at FluteWorld!

One of my most popular Youtube demo videos is of the Yamaha 894W wood flute, so here it is! :) (It's a C-foot, inline, open hole flute, for the curious)




And here is the incomparable Juliette Hurel, laying down some Haydn on her Yamaha:



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SANKYO

Next up, we have our good friends at Sankyo. If I were magically given the money to buy any wood flute I wanted, the odds are that it would be a Sankyo. Of the many wonderful marques turning out wooden flutes these days, Sankyo is one of the only ones that offers theirs with a C# trill key, which makes it very much a frontrunner for me (my previously discussed love of Sankyo flutes nonwithstanding). You can also choose from three different headjoint cuts, all of which possess very individual personalities. The most traditional looking of the three, with a carved lip plate, is a very comfortable all-purpose head that will allow you to do just about anything you want, and for the newbie to the wood flute world, it is probably the one I would pick. The "Traditional" cut is a simple embouchure hole carved directly through the wall of the headjoint, with no surrounding lipplate. This is for the Baroque enthusiast, or the wood flute specialist. It is quite possible to produce a great deal of power with this headjoint, but where it really excels is in smooth transitions between intervals and producing hugely rich colors at soft dynamics. High register response is also stellar with this head. My personal favorite is the Modern cut, which incorporates a cutout opposite the embouchure hole (also with no lipplate), and this head gives you a big, huge, dark, fat sound that will make pant legs flap in the first row. This is a soloist's head, a principal player's head. It's just magnificent.

In addition to the traditional grenadilla wood, the Sankyo wood flute was also built in cocuswood. Now, according to the Sankyo rep that I hung out with in Tokyo 2 summers ago, they are no longer using cocus, as the supplies are dwindling dangerously. However, there should be some still in stock at Sankyo dealers around the globe, so if you happen across one, snap it up! There is nothing quite like the brilliant darkness of a cocus wood flute, with its vast color spectrum. (And it is a gorgeous wood to look at!)

You can see the difference between the two here:



Curious? Call Jeffrey at FluteWorld and tell him I sent you :) They're $14,000, but they're worth every penny!   FluteWorld: Wood Sankyo

Have a listen to first the grenadilla, then the cocus Sankyo (start the cocus video at 2:01 to get right to the playing, unless you're fluent in Japanese!):





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POWELL

Returning to our home shores, we find the venerable Boston flutemaking institution, Verne Q. Powell, turning out some truly exquisite examples of wood flute making, which are hugely popular around the globe. There are a great many symphonic players using wood Powells, and an even larger number of soloists and chamber players. The wood Powell delivers enormous power, a smoothness of legato, and an almost mystical sound color. While they do not offer a C# trill (Powell has very strong opinions about the placement of such a large tone hole next to another on a wooden-bodied instrument), you CAN order your wood Powell with a solid 14K rose gold mechanism! :-) (It doubles the price, but some things are just worth it!) Split E and D# roller are options, of course, as are the usual inline/offset, open/closed, and C/B foot. You can also choose from the wood version of Powell's popular headjoint cuts, the Soloist and Philharmonic, and upon special order, there is also a "Traditional" cut, which does away with the lip plate. You want options, they got options! :)

During my time in Japan with the international tour of Dreamgirls, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a very special Powell flute made of the same laminate wood material that they are making the new Sonare piccolos out of, and I have to say, it was one of the most mind-blowing flutes I've ever played. It had the brilliance of a silver instrument, tempered by the mellowness of wood, and was a surprisingly lightweight instrument, very comfortable in the hands. I do not know the current availability of this instrument, but there are at least a couple of them floating around out there!

Ringing in at $13,200, a Powell wood flute isn't exactly an inexpensive proposition, but it's not much more than a soldered tonehole silver flute, and it is CERTAINLY cheaper than gold! :-)

Buy A Wood Powell!

You can see a wood Powell in many orchestras around the globe, including our very own Cleveland Orchestra, with the always-handsome Joshua Smith in the hot seat, wielding either his wood Powell or his gold Powell with a wood headjoint. The man's got taste! :)

Now watch this performance of Cleveland at the Proms in London last year and tell me a wood flute doesn't project in an orchestra! Hrmph.



And here, we have the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo playing some Shostakovich 7, with their principal flutist on a wood Powell with 14K gold mechanism. Isn't it to die for?! (there is a fabulous flute feature around the 2:00 mark!)




If it's solo action you're after, here's a lovely performance of Bach on a wood/silver Powell:



Here is our aforementioned handsome wooden flute hero, Mr. Smith, serving us some contemporary flute concerto realness:



And last but not least, remember that magical laminate material Powell I talked about earlier?





                                                                 Yeah. That one. :) 



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DI ZHAO

Though the brand is a newcomer to the flute scene, the man behind it is not. Di Zhao worked at Powell for 13 years, eventually becoming Vice President of Quality; he then moved to Haynes and worked as their Vice President and General Manager. Prior to all that, he had a decade-plus career in China as a principal flutist in two major orchestras. Now, if that isn't a man who knows flutes, I don't know what is.

The Di Zhao wood flute holds a very special place in my heart, if for no other reason that it is currently the only flute I will discuss in this series that could also hold a special place in my bank account. This instrument (which reminds one AMAZINGLY of the wood Powell flutes), will set you back only just a bit north of $3,000, which is absolutely unbelievable for an instrument of this quality. Di himself finishes each flute, making sure the mechanism is completely free of excess play and then play tests it to ensure it meets his lofty standards before it goes out the door.

Please don't let the low price fool you into thinking that this is an instrument of low quality, though. Nothing could be further from the truth. These flutes were a massive hit the moment the were released onto the market, and have continued to be so. It really is like buying a Powell (or a very, very close sibling of a Powell) at the price of an intermediate flute. The sound quality is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the scale of these instruments is very good. The headjoints are also expertly cut...so much so that they are an incredibly popular choice for people who wish to buy a wood headjoint for their silver or gold instrument. (I personally know 5 flutists who have purchased Di Zhao wood headjoints for their flutes, and they adore them.)

The Di Zhao is also available with a C# trill key (yay!) and a D# roller and/or split E.

Order yours today! :)

Watch the Man himself play one of his own flutes! (With someone else's headjoint, though...)







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In the last post, we discussed the wood flutes by Yamaha, Sankyo, Powell, and Di Zhao. Some of you may have been surprised that there were even *that* many modern wood Boehm flutes available, but as the late, great Billy Mays was wont to say...

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!

Let us now take a short trip to Europe and explore some of the flutemakers there who are bestowing gifts of wood flutage upon the world.

First up, we have:

BERNHARD HAMMIG

In my very first blog post ever, I wrote a short review of my experience with his "Mezzo" flute, a collaboration with American flutentrepreneur Jason Blank that fits in the intermediate/pre-professional handmade head/Asian body market segment. It's a fabulous flute, and I very much enjoyed playing it. Bernhard makes amazing headjoints, and many people know of his magical 22K gold flutes (he also makes flutes in silver, 9K, 14K and 18K gold), but did you know he also makes a killer wood flute? He uses both grenadilla and cocuswood in his instruments, and they are simply stunning. They are entirely handmade upon order, so you can have them customized however you wish. (C# trill key, D# and/or C# rollers, hand engraving, and solid gold or gold-plated mechanism are all available).

Bernhard comes from a family with a very long tradition of musical instrument making, and his instruments are infused with that spirit. I've been fortunate enough to play several of his handmade flutes (including the aforementioned magic 22K gold flute, and an incredible 9K gold instrument), and I would strongly advise that anybody wishing to make the switch to a wood flute consider auditioning one of his instruments.

Jason Blank is the North American representative for Hammig flutes, and you can contact him via his website: Bernhard Hammig Custom Flutes.  You can read more about Bernhard and his instruments at his official site, Hammig Flutes


Aren't they just beautiful?! (photo credit: B. Hammig, via Facebook)




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HOWEL ROBERTS

Well known for his wooden headjoints, it seems few people are aware that Howel Roberts also makes complete wooden flutes! A former member of the Flutemaker's Guild of London, Roberts has always been a great lover of the wood flute, and his handmade wooden flutes very much reflect that passion. Like Hammig, you can get a Roberts wood flute built for you in grenadilla or cocuswood, but you can ALSO opt for cocobolo wood (so very fashionable in the clarinet world these days, and to a slightly lesser extent, oboes). Also like Hammig, you can customize your flute with C# trill, rollers, engraving, gold mechanisms, etc. I've never personally played one, but of course I've played a great many of his headjoints, and if the flutes are anything like the heads....well, I wouldn't take umbrage if one were to appear under my Christmas tree. ;-)

Read more about them at: Howel Roberts Wooden Flutes  (and DO note that you can click on all photos on that page to embiggen them...I highly recommend it, especially that shot of the entire flute. It's cocus, and the detail of the wood in the large version of the photo is mesmerizing!)

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ALFRED VERHOEF

Virtually unknown to the American fluteplaying sphere, Verhoef flutes are extremely well-regarded in Europe, and for very good reason. They are, simply put, freaking stunning. One of the things that sets Verhoef apart from many other makers is the variety of woods he uses in making his flutes. In addition to the standard grenadilla (African blackwood, or good ol' trusty Dalbergia melanoxylon), you can order a Verhoef in palisander (palisander can mean one of several woods, but it is most commonly used to refer to Madagascar rosewood, or Dalbergia baronii,  and photos I've seen of his flutes in this wood support that assumption); African rosewood (or, as most people call it, bubinga. Not a true rosewood, as it isn't a Dalbergia, it's still a fabulous tonewood); coromandel, also not a Dalbergia, but a stunningly gorgeous wood often referred to (perhaps a tiny bit erroneously) as Macassar ebony; our old trusty friend cocuswood;  and finally, Bahia rosewood, which is much more commonly referred to in the West as Brazilian rosewood (or Dalbergia nigra, which you may also see referred to as Rio rosewood or Bahia jacaranda), which is an incredibly colorful red wood that those of you who are savvy woodwind doublers may recognize as the brilliantly colored wood that Patricola uses in their rosewood oboes and clarinets.

(Now might be a good time to mention that I will be doing an upcoming blog post on all of the woods that are used in woodwind manufacturing, and addressing such topics as "What exactly is 'rosewood', anyway?". I'm sure you'll want to make some popcorn and gather the kids around for that one.)

I digress...back to flutey things.

Mr. Verhoef painstakingly makes every flute by hand to order, and turns out some pretty marvelous works of art that sound as fantastic as they look. There are some lovely photos on his website, Verhoef Flutes, and check out some fabulous performances using his flutes:

Katja Pitelina plays Bozza's "Image" for us, using her rosewood Verhoef:




And HERE is something I was *super* excited to find, a 20-minute interview (in Dutch) with Mr. Verhoef himself, about his flutes. In the latter half of the video, he disappears for a second and returns with THREE of his flutes, all in different woods, and plays them all for us. It's just fascinating!



Amazing stuff!

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VINCENT BERNOLIN

A name well-known in Baroque flute and recorder circles, Bernolin also makes a wooden Boehm flute in his atelier in France. I've no personal experience with his concert flutes, but I have played one of his traversos, and know several recorder players who swear by his instruments. His flutes are also quite reasonably priced for a handmade wood flute (in the same ballpark as Yamaha), and you can get them with a solid sterling mechanism or a silver-plated mechanism if you're feeling economical.

Take a gander at some lovely photos of his work at: Bernolin Boehm Flutes



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ANTON BRAUN

From German flutemaker Anton Braun, we have perhaps one of the most recognizable flutes on our list. This is the flute that you will see in the hands of Michael Hasel and Andreas Blau in the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, and as such, examples of these flutes being played are readily accessible on Youtube. Unique among wood flute makers, Braun inserts a gold riser into all of his headjoints as standards, which gives his flutes a bit more of an edge in an orchestral situation, and adds a crispness to the articulation that is not always found in wooden headjoints. Braun flutes are available only in well-seasoned grenadilla wood, and you can order your flute with a one-piece body, if you so choose.

Like just about all wooden flutes, it's very reasonably priced, a base B-footed model coming in at slightly less than an average silver soldered-tonehole handmade flute.

Have a look around Braun's website, Braun Flutes. There is a bounty of great information to be had, and his C-foot piccolo is also worth a look! :-)

Here is the amazing Andras Adorjan playing the lightning-fast last movement of the CPE Bach D minor concerto on his Braun flute (listen to that articulation!!)




And here is the legendary Andreas Blau, of the Berlin Philharmonic, playing the Reinecke Flute Concerto with HIS Braun:



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HERBERT NEUREITER

From the picturesque Tyrolean region of Austria, master flute and clarinet maker Herbert Neureiter is doing some of the most innovative work in woodwinds today. I will expound on his creativity in a future post, but for now let's take a look at his wooden flutes.

Neureiter makes two models of wood flutes, the Vario and the Soloist. The primary difference between the two is in the construction of the head to body connection; the Vario, as the name suggests, is a straight metal tenon which enables one to use various (I see what he did there!) headjoints on the body. The Soloist has a traditional piccolo-style corked tenon, which limits the choices of headjoint you can use on the body, though one must assume that the one supplied with it is the one that is intended for that particular body. :)

Like some of our other wood wizards, Herr Neureiter uses a multitude of woods in the construction of his beautiful flutes, including cocus;  cocobolo; what he calls "vera-pok" on his website, but which we know much more commonly as lignum vitaeverawood, guayacan, or gaiac; and violetwood (kingwood). One infers from the Types Of Wood section on his website that other species outside of the dalbergia family can also be special-ordered.

Uniquely among the makers I'll discuss in this series, Neureiter also uses ebonite (or "hard rubber", which happens to be what my primary clarinet is made of, and I LOVE it). The Soloist model can be ordered entirely in ebonite, or you can opt for just an ebonite headjoint. This is a natural material, taken from a tree just as wood is, and the nature of this material enables the maker to produce a variety of colors and patterns in it. See below an example of a Soloist model flute in "emerald marmorate" ebonite (with his patented "Pieno Flauto" headjoint resonance/tuning feature):


Lovely, isn't it? This material can be made in a wide variety of appearances, and completely eliminates the worry of cracking or dimensional changes due to temperature and humidity, while preserving the dark, beautiful sound of the natural wood flute. See below for some of the possibilites! (All photos taken from the Neureiter website, which I will link below)



(the bottom photo is clarinet barrels, obviously, but it's a fabulous illustration of the array of visual options one has with this material!)

There is also a staggering array of wood headjoint options for the Vario, and these headjoints will fit any flute that takes a standard tenon, so you can use them on your silver or gold flute (or your wood Yamaha, Powell, Sankyo, Di Zhao, etc... ;-) )



I am relatively new to Neureiter as a flutemaker (I've experienced only one of his instruments, which was a German system clarinet, and it was lovely!), but I am very, very, very excited about what I've seen; so much so that I have reached out to him for further information. Perhaps a Neureiter demo video and blog review is in the not-so-distant future?? We'll have to wait and see! :)

Read more about his work yourself (really, I highly recommend browsing around the site, even the clarinet stuff!) at: Herbert Neureiter Flutes & Clarinets


That's all for Part Two!! In the third and final installment, we'll come back to the good ol' US of A for a couple final makers, and have a look at one of our British friends, as well!

As always, thanks for reading! :-)
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In the last two posts, we learned a bit about ten modern-day makers of wooden Boehm-system flutes, which seems like a pretty sufficient number of options, ja?

Flutists, however, are among the most spoilt-for-choice musicians in the universe, because THERE ARE MORE! (yay!) 

When last we saw each other, we were taking a trip around Europe and having a look at who's making what over there. Now, we'll pop back over here for a bit and learn about a couple of US makers who have been turning it OUT on the wood flute scene for quite some time; then, we'll fly back across the pond and wrap it up! :) 

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ABELL

One of the most instantly recognizable wooden flutes we'll talk about are the works of art created by Chris Abell, in Asheville, NC. The instant you see one, you can tell it is an Abell by the extremely thick metal ferrules at the headjoint/barrel and body/foot connections. The RH3 D key is situated completely within the lower body ferrule, which lends tremendous reinforcement to these areas of the flute which are particularly vulnerable to splitting. (See photo below)





Of all of the flutes I have discussed so far in this series, the Abell is the only one I have personally owned. For a period of slightly over a year, I played on an Abell flute, and I really, REALLY liked it. This is a flute that very much has a personality of its own, and there is a bit of a discovery process with it. I was also playing concurrently on gold at the time, and whether it was just the ignorance of youth or that I just wasn't ready yet as a flutist to tame the Abell, I found myself playing on the gold more, so I sold the Abell. 

A much younger, thinner me with my Abell. :-) 

Now I wish I hadn't. Looking back, I know now what I should have done on that particular instrument to get the most out of it, but at the time I was either too dumb or lazy to do it. Ah, hindsight! The Abell is a flute of extraordinary richness and body in the sound, and physically it's a rather imposing instrument. There is very much a sort of masculinity about the flute that is quite reassuring and comforting when holding it; it really lets you know its there! The low range on this flute is one of the beefiest and most resonant of any I've ever played, and it is capable of infinite sweetness in the upper reaches. 

If you visit the Abell website (and you should), Abell Flutes, you will see that the instrument is offered only in grenadilla wood, but if you contact Chris directly, it is possible to have an instrument built in other woods. I have seen Abell flutes and headjoints in pink ivory, mopani, and cocobolo wood. Another fabulous feature of this instrument is that it can be ordered with a C# trill key!


The Abell flute in pink ivory wood!! 


Let's listen to a couple of my favorite flutists play on their Abells-

First up is Irish flutist Aisling Agnew, who is one of my go-to Youtube flute channels, performing my personal favorite Teleman Fantasie (the A minor): 





How about that sound, eh? :) 

Next up, let's hear international sensation Patrick Gallois playing some Mozart on his very special Abell, borne of a collaboration between Mr. Abell and supergenius flutemaker Leonard Lopatin and his SquareONE design: 






I think this has got to be one of my absolute favorite performances of the 2nd movement of the Mozart K.299 of all time! 

And, not that I am even *remotely* in these two fabulous players' league, but here's me playing the Mendelssohn Midsummer Scare-zo on my Abell:






Check out an Abell if you get a chance, I think you'll enjoy it!


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ALEXANDER EPPLER


Seattle-based flutemaker Alexander Eppler has been in the business of wood flutes for 30 years, making him the longest continuously-working maker of wood Boehm flutes currently operating. (Also noteworth is that Mr. Eppler was the very first Straubinger-certified flute technician, and uses only Straubinger pads in all of his flutes).

Like myself, Alexander was also originally a violist...you *have* to like that in a fellow! :) (He is also an extremely accomplished player of the Bulgarian kaval, which he also builds; the balalaika; and the cimbalom!)


The Man himself, working on one of his flutes! (Which appears to have a one-piece body/foot)

As with several of the other flutemakers we've discussed, I like very much that Eppler offers a variety of woods to choose from (namely grenadilla, cocuswood, and *snakewood*, which is very adventurous indeed! Snakewood is notorious for splintering, but Mr. Eppler has devised a proprietary method of treating the wood that prevents this from happening).

Perhaps my favorite thing about his flutes, both wood and metal, is that every flute is built standard with a C# trill key. A man after my own heart, I tell you! One-piece bodies are also available, and he does absolutely exquisite repair and restoration work, so if you are the owner of an older wooden instrument (a Rudall Carte, perhaps, or a Lot or a Mollenhauer), he is THE man to send it to to get it back in tip-top shape!

His wooden headjoints are also widely sought after by flutists for their metal instruments, and having played on several of them, I can certainly see why. They are extremely rich-sounding, with incredible projection and really quite fine craftsmanship.




It's proven difficult to find video footage of an entire wooden Eppler flute being played, but the renowned Seattle flutist Felix Skowronek (who was quite close with Eppler, and in fact inspired him to start making wood flutes) played a cocus Eppler head on his cocus Rudall Carte body, and I've just stumbled across some fantastic footage from the mid-80s of him playing it in his quintet, Soni Ventorum (with Bill McColl, who played a custom-built BOXWOOD Buffet clarinet with gold keys! :) :) :) )





Find out more about them at the Eppler Flutes website!
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That about does it for the States, I think...let's head back 'cross the pond and check out some more!

First up, we have the...

FLUTEMAKERS GUILD OF LONDON


Officially formed in 1961 by 7 flutemakers from Rudall Carte who wished to continue the tradition of handmade flutes as RC was being absorbed by a larger corporation, the FMG has turned out some extremely impressive examples of the wooden flutemaker's art. Though they've made numerous flutes in silver and gold, what really sets FMG apart, at least in my estimation, is the quality of their wooden flutes and headjoints. There are few instruments that feel quite as organic and "alive" in the hands as a FMG wood flute, particularly those that were created with a one-piece body/foot. Though their works has largely been in grenadilla, there are FMG flutes and heads out there in cocus, and I've heard tell of a few in various other woods, though I've not seen them.


I would love to point you to the FMG website, but there seems to be a bit of confusion right now as to exactly *who* is currently making up the Flutemaker's Guild...I am under the impression that current FMG work is done by Michael Allen, who is (I believe) the craftsman of the handmade FMG headjoints that are currently offered by the venerable English flute shop Trevor James on their top-tier Recital model flutes. (Though Andrew Oxley may also still be involved?) Past members of the Guild include Howel Roberts, who we saw earlier, in part 2; Harry Seely, Ewan McDougall, Martin Gordon, Roger Harris, Chris Bouckley, and several others, all who have gone on to great renown as makers of flutes and heads in their own rights.

However, I digress (though I would LOVE a clear history of the FMG, so if anybody reading this can shed some light, please do!)...let's have a looksee at some FMG wood flutes!


This gorgeous cocuswood FMG flute is from the collection of Felix Skowronek, who we discussed just a bit ago in the Eppler segment. A great lover of the wood flute, he amassed quite a collection of them, and this beautiful example is currently for sale via David and Nina Shorey of AntiqueFlutes.com. (Photo credit: David and Nina Shorey, Antiqueflutes.com)



This one, as you can see, is in standard 3-piece head/body/foot configuration. FMG is also well known for making flutes with a one-piece body/foot, as the one below (also via Antiqueflutes.com) :



And no, thine eyes do not deceive you, this is yet another flutemaker who offers their wood flutes with a C# trill key! :-)

There is a GORGEOUS FMG wood flute in one-piece body configuration, with an additional Alexander Eppler headjoint, currently for sale via Anne Pollack at YourFluteWorks.com (FMG Wood Flute w/Eppler head!) Contact Anne to try and buy this amazing flute! I would myself in a heartbeat if I had $14K laying around :-D

Let's take a listen to the gifted and stylish Elizabeth Walker play some Bach on her FMG (one-piece body) wood flute!






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GERHARD SACHS

From the pastoral countryside of Sonnenb├╝hl, in southern Germany, come the gorgeous flutes of Gerhard Sachs. A relative newcomer to the global flute market (though not entirely unknown; in my Richmond Flute Fair blog recap, I described playing one of his gold headjoints), he does not yet have a website, but flute retailer Just Flutes, in England, currently has in stock 3 of his flutes, 2 in incredibly beautiful cocuswood (one open hole, one closed hole) and one in grenadilla. 

Visit Just Flutes: Wood Flutes for detailed photos and pricing information! The open holed cocus one in particular is ridiculously beautiful! (see below, photo credit: Just Flutes)



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HARRY GOSSE

Also from Germany, we have beautiful handcrafted wood flutes from Harry Gosse, whose flutes are played by prominent members of many symphony orchestras around the Continent. I have never played one, so I can't say much about them other than they exist, and he has a lovely website :) They are beautiful, though, as are his silver and gold flutes, and I'm including them for the sake of being as thorough as possible in this project! :) 

Read more about them (it's ok if you don't speak German, Google does and it'll translate for you :) ) at his website: http://www.boehmfloete.de/, and go like him on Facebook! Gosse Flutes On Facebook!



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I think this, while not 100% comprehensive (I'm bound to have missed someone!), has been a fairly accurate representation of the current Boehm wooden flute market. As we've seen, for those of us who have discovered the special magic of the sound of a wood flute, the options are greater than ever for obtaining a new instrument. 

I would like to finish by quickly touching on a few recent makers of wood flutes who are unfortunately no longer producing instruments, whether through discontinuation or (very unfortunately) having become deceased. 

Most well known of these is probably the Wm. S. Haynes company's late 1990s "Jacques Zoon" model, developed as a collaboration between then-president-and-owner of Haynes, John Fuggetta, and then-principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jacques Zoon. Jacques was (and is) a player and lover of the wood flute, and approached Haynes to work with him on making a modern wood instrument. They made but a scant dozen or so (maybe 2 dozen?) of these before discontinuing production. Truly ahead of their time! One of my current favorite young flute stars, Sebastian Jacot, plays this Haynes flute with a handmade Jacques Zoon headjoint. (Jacques was his teacher). 

Hear this miracle of wood and silver here: 







Another sad discontinuation story is that of Robert Bigio, famed former Flutemaker's Guild of London member who makes some of the best damn wood heads I have ever played on, who also made complete flutes for a time, but has retired from flutemaking to focus entirely on headjoints, according to his website, Bigio Flutes.  (Incidentally, he is also considered the world's foremost authority on the flutes of the Rudall Carte company, from which the FMG was born)

Still, I'm sure they will pop up on the secondhand market occasionally...SNAP THEM UP IF YOU SEE THEM!! 





And perhaps the saddest of the stories I have to relate is that of Koichi Sakurai, hands down one of the most brilliant flutemakers and flute-ventors to have existed since Boehm and Lot. A Japanese maker (remember THAT blog entry? :) ), Sakurai absolutely LIVED to experiment with various materials in flutemaking, and in addition to sterling silver, higher-purity silver alloys, 10% gold, platinum, a compound he called Black Silver, ceramics, DuPoint Corian, and a new laminate called "Complite", Sakurai-san also worked in woods. Lots of woods. He used Macassar ebony (Diospyros celebica), black ebony, kingwood, cocuswood, SNAKEWOOD(!), blue ebony, jacaranda, tulipwood, Rio rosewood, Honduran rosewood, African rosewood (bubinga), freaking PERSIMMON WOOD...the man used everything. He figured out a way to treat the wood to stabilize it for making flutes, and seemed to be doing quite a job of it. 

Tragically, Mr. Sakurai passed away March 30th of last year. :( I never met him, but I cannot express how saddened I am by his passing, and thoughts of all the incredible flutes he'll never make, and all of the innovation he won't pass on to the flute world. 

One of the most special flutes I have ever played in my entire life was one of Sakurai's snakewood flutes (with gold keys, of course), and I would give an internal organ to find that flute again and own it. 

The magical Snakewood Sakurai!


Sakurai flute in "Complite" composite, tulip-wood finish, with artificial ivory tonehole inserts

Sakurai in true ebony wood (with artificial ivory toneholes)

Sakurai flute in kingwood, with sterling silver tonehole inserts

Rest in peace, Sakurai-san! 

Looking to the future, though, there is some exciting work being done by the Guo flute company, in their Grenaditte and New Voice materials, which are aiming to give the sound of wood with the projection and brilliance of metal, and the light weight of plastic composites. I've played many of these flutes, and they are truly something to be reckoned with! They're also incredibly, incredibly affordable!! 

This is me testing out a New Voice flute in Japan:





Listen to that high register! It's like butter up there!

The New Voice flutes are only around $1,000, and available in a wide variety of colors. (I prefer the color of the flute I'm playing in that video, which looks almost like aged boxwood from a distance).


The more muted variety of New Voice flute colors...




The Grenaditte flute is available only in black, with either black or white polymer mechanism. This compound is of a slightly different composition than the New Voice, and sounds a bit more on the wooden side of the spectrum. 



Hear some lovely CPE Bach performed on a Grenaditte C flute! (Note that they also produce piccolos, G treble flutes, and bass flutes in this material! :) )






Should you have an interest in any of the Guo flutes, they are available from nearly EVERY flute retailer on the planet these days. Some of my personal recommendations of shops to deal with should you want a New Voice or Grenaditte are:

FluteWorld

Flutist's Faire - Betsy Winslow Trimber

The Flute Farm - Robert Strouf


I do hope this has been as fun for you to read as it was for me to write, and I wish you all the best and as always happy fluting! (And welcome to the World of Wood!)

Stay tuned as we next talk about wooden headjoints and all of the different woods that are used in making woodwind instruments!

:-)