Monthly Archives: October 2012

An interview with flute player Annie Wu

The Mondavi Center graciously invited me to watch their dress rehearsal for their show, NPR’s “From the Top“, which is an NPR

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radio show hosted by Christopher O’Riley that features young musicians. In addition, I got to interview one of the performers, a rising young star flute player Annie Wu, who is as adorable in person as she is in the video. Widely known as the “beatbox flute player”, I saw this viral video way before I knew she was coming to the Mondavi Center. She is also more prestigiously known as the 2011 high school soloist winner of the National Flute Association. My conversation with her really reminded me of my old high school flute days, and it was definitely a trip back to memory lane for me. Below is a brief interview we conducted prior to her dress rehearsal (edited slightly for content.)

When did you start playing the flute?

I started when I was 8, and I’m 16 now, so I’ve been playing flute for eight years now. I started playing piano when I was five, and I really liked it. But my older sister picked another instrument to play when she was 9 – she picked cello. And I wanted to pick a new instrument too, and I wanted to pick something different from my sister. I had a picture dictionary with an instrument page, I ended up picking the flute from the dictionary randomly. And I’m glad I did!

Tell me about the Three Beats for the Beatbox Flute video.

The piece was the commissioned piece for the National Flute Association competition. When I got it in the mail, I was really surprised. Greg Pattillo [the composer] had been there

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at the NFA the year before, and I saw him perform there. The program was really good and really funny, for instance he performed the Peter and the Wolf with beatboxing and stuff. It was really interesting. I never thought about doing beatboxing for myself, but when I got the music for the commissioned piece for NFA, he sent us videos of him playing the piece. So there were no instructions, but he just played it, and that was our instruction, to watch him play it. When I first saw the video, it was really intimidating because when you don’t have the music in front of you and you’ve never done anything like that before – I was pretty scared. Working on it was pretty crazy because you have to learn everything by yourself, and I only had two months. But it was a great experience in the end because it’s such a different aspect of music, and I think that’s the whole point of the commissioned piece.

How did you learn to beatbox?

I learned from youtube videos and just trying it myself. At first, it was really discouraging because if you don’t get it at first, you feel like you don’t have enough time. What I did was basically search a bunch of youtube videos and looked at tutorials online. As a flute player, I’m comfortable with anything classical, but this was definitely a new experience for me. Usually I listen to classical music, but in preparing for this piece, I tried to

listen to more music with heavier beats.

Whose idea was the costume?

Before the NFA competition, I wanted to have a recital for my family and community to prepare, so I can play through the whole program and get a feel for it. I held my own recital at a church near my house, and I played through the whole NFA program. I wanted to do something neat for the Three Beats piece, and my friends were there, and I wanted to break the ice a little bit. It’s not something that you’re expecting after Dutilleux! And so I just came out with sunglasses and a hat and just had fun with it.

Are you surprised by the attention that this video has gotten?

Yes! It’s been amazing, and I think it’s cool how people focus on the beatbox aspect of the piece. And now I’m

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really glad that it’s a piece that I’ll always have in my repertoire. The beatbox video has also brought back a lot of opportunities for performing – I got to play in Las Vegas, for instance.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m a junior in high school, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s a hard question to answer, but so far, I really do want to do music. But at this point I’m not sure if I want to solely do music at a conservatory or a dual program or something at a university. I’m trying to keep all my options open, but at this point, I really want to do music.

Who are the flute players you admire?

First, it’s my teacher Isabelle Chapuis who’s been my biggest inspiration for the past two years that I’ve been with her. I also really like Tim Day with the San Francisco Symphony; since I’m in the youth orchestra, we get to watch a lot of the SF Symphony concerts. And I also like Robert Stallman, and Emmanuel Pahud. This summer, we went on tour with my orchestra and we played in Berlin, and I got to sit in his seat! That was really exciting.

Are you excited about performing in NPR’s “From The Top”?

Yes, I’m very excited! It’s really exciting to meet the other performers and to work with Christopher O’Riley. I listen to the show  and we’ll listen to it when we’re in the car. I’m playing Copeland, and then I’m ending with a part of the Three Beats piece.

Many thanks for the Mondavi Center and for Annie Wu for this interview. Best of luck to you, Annie! We’ll be watching out for you.

NPR’s “From the Top” will be taped live tomorrow night on October 25 at the Mondavi Center, and will air on NPR sometime in the near future.

Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Review: 2012 Mariinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake

Photo courtesy of Gene Schiavone, used with permission.

It was such a treat when the Mariinsky Ballet breezed through northern California at Berkeley’s Cal Performances a few weeks ago. There were many pleasures to be had in their brief stay, and adjectives such as “traditional” and “old world”

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come to mind with the feeling that perhaps this is a little closer to what the original Swan Lake was intended to be like. But who knows, right? More than that, this production made me realize how “stylized” my ballet-watching eyes were, and how it had been shaped by the flashy (perhaps Balanchinean?) styles of American dance companies in modern ballet companies today.

One big difference – American dance companies appear to favor soloists over the corps. Say what you will about possible political influences of American individualism and freedom vs. Russian communism, but there is more flash and individuality in the dancers I’m used to seeing on the North American stage, with big personalities. In the Mariinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake, the corps were impeccable and beautiful, the heart of the show. They didn’t dance to announce, “see, we can dance together”, but the corps breathed together in a collective and powerful tour de force. The corps dancing was more instinctive, rather than intentional, with incredible awareness of the placement of the other dancers. The effect was in short, breathtaking.

On the flip side however, there were a few characters who could use a bigger personality. The role of the jester was rather lackluster, without humor or joyful buoyancy, appearing to merely perform the steps. I could think of more than a few dancers who could have danced that role better for laughs and in general be more “jester-like”.

Ekaterina Kondaurova. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Ekaterina Kondaurova. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Not to say that there weren’t amazing soloists. Ekaterina Kondaurova showed us how much fun it is to be Odile, with a look that could kill and a fierce sexuality. She tore up the stage as Odile, and it was obvious that she loving every minute of it. Her Odette was characterized by sensual

back bends that arched forever, a strong portrayal filled more with tragedy rather than fragility. She imbued cool elegance and glamour in her long extensions, but I couldn’t help but to feel that there was a detached cold quality to her dancing particularly in her Odette. Systematic yet ultimately still it was lovely – it was a quality I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She was partnered by Danila Koruntsev, who danced the role of Prince Siegfried. He was a deft partner, but unfortunately this role is not a good showcase of his skills as a soloist, but he performed ably and nobly. Another standout dancer was Xander Parish in the male lead in the peasant trio, looking anything but peasant-like. His long extensions were noble and graceful, with a regal elegance that really stood out.

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He is definitely a dancer to watch, with an arresting stage presence and perfect body proportions for ballet.

Xander Parish. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Another huge asset to this production was the Mariinsky Orchestra. Not only is live music becoming more rare these days, but the emotive power of this famous orchestra surged and propelled the story in its wake. Unfortunately the music surged towards the tragic ending, but the Mariinsky chose a happy ending where Von Rothbart is killed in a semi-ridiculous and half hearted dance-fight and Prince Siegfried and Odette are united in love forever. The most discordant part about this happy ending was the music sustained tragedy in gorgeous phrases, but a short and quickened happy ending was an unexpected twist that I hadn’t been expecting.

Overall, it was a glimpse of old world charm on a classic, Swan Lake. This production is the reason why this production still stands today, and the Mariinsky Ballet breathed life into this production with an emphasis on all the right things. We can quibble about details, but most likely this is secondary to my taste – I could not get used to the bows after every movement of the pas de deux, and I think my jaw dropped when the music actually stopped and Kondaurova took a bow after her fouettes in the Odile variation – but this really is the reason why this ballet has stayed so long in our repertoire as well as our hearts.

Many thanks to Gene Schiavone for letting me use his gorgeous photos. Check out his Facebook page for many more photos of this production as well as others.