Flautist Sally Walker introduces us to her musical series
twilight musical dialogues
BY JOSEPH ASQUITH
Australian flautist Sally Walker is internationally renowned. From her Grand Finalist position in Italy’s Leonardo de Lorenzo International Flute Competition, to her second-prize win in Germany’s Friedrich Kuhlau International Flute Competition, she has achieved success the world over.
She’s toured, recorded, and hosted masterclasses across more than 20 countries – and has a special interest in contemporary Australian composers. Indeed, Elena Kats-Chernin, Paul Stanhope, and Andrew Ford have written works for her.
So it’s no wonder that her 2017 concert series Twilight Musical Dialogues was such a success. Containing international influences, often coupled with culturally traditional food and dance, Sally’s musical adventures mirror her own travels across the globe. We have a chat with her about her series, in light of her 2018 series Musical Luminati.
Sally, captured by Sarah Dockrill, performs at the fourth TMD concert in 2017.
Sally, thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on such a successful concert series in 2017. But let’s backtrack, first: what prompted the idea of Twilight Musical Dialogues?
Thank you for interviewing me, Joseph – it’s lovely to talk to you.
I found myself daydreaming about programs I would like to play. As a musician, one always has musical ideas developing and processing, consciously or unconsciously. Ideas were percolating last year, and they became more concrete as I started to imagine people who could play these programs, along with central themes that enveloped the repertoire choices.
Soon after this, a regular concert supporter approached me to say that it would be good to have a chamber music series in Newcastle of a higher order coming from within the city.
So, we’ve had music from Germany, Russia, Bohemia, Australia, Spain and South America. What was particularly special about the music from these areas?
They are all areas that have very strong musical traditions, and I tried to find the unique elements of each of these musical nationalities to highlight in the program.
In the program notes, I invested a lot of time in researching the background and history, along with current events, to give a wider cultural context.
What have been some of the highlights about the series?
The community support and enthusiasm, which was huge. We had hoped to have 100 people attend the first concert and we ended up having over 200. By the third concert, we needed extra seats, which well exceeded our expectations.
We also had people wanting to contribute. In the Russian concert, the St Nicholas Russian Community brought Piroshki to eat. In the Bohemia concert, Pekárna Czech Bakery provided pastries. In the South American concert, Pukara Estate presented their olive oils; and local Tango dancers joined us. These extra-musical aspects developed very naturally and became a part of the series.
We have a featured Young Artist each concert, and watching these talented people embrace the experience and following their path thereafter is enormously satisfying.
What have you learnt from your own teaching career?
Teaching has made me aware that each person has a special niche and so my idea of teaching students is to be a step ahead, but not to prescribe their path. For example, some students may very well be suited to orchestral life and others may find that a quick-paced job doesn’t suit their personality. For students who are interested in performance and composition, I’ve tried to facilitate ways for them to do both.
There are so many career options as an artist, and one must have initiative to follow their own path. People should do whatever they do with their full heart, with whatever combination of skills they have.
You have a very busy schedule! You’re also a regular guest for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, you are in-demand as a teacher, you collaborate with small ensembles, and you appear as a concert flautist across the country. What advice can give to musicians for maintaining balance in their lives?
Firstly, you need to know yourself. What’s right for me may not be right for somebody else. You need to know your ideal rhythms of how much activity or how must restoration you need.
From my own students, I know this to be highly individual. If some people aren’t busy enough, they won’t feel stimulated and if some people are too busy, they’ll feel burnt out. It’s really important for everyone to work this out for themselves and be very honest about how they best work. A mistake I made as a student was the ‘cramming’ technique – this just doesn’t work with instrumental practice. This was a hard lesson to learn, but a worthwhile one.
Ideally, I practise a long way ahead, gently and with time for close attention to detail. Then, I have a deeper and more satisfying performance experience. If you’re preparing very thoroughly, your performance anxiety will go down. When you perform with a feeling that you haven’t done all the work, this can compromise your confidence on stage.
What role do you think musical events such as TMD play in maintaining appreciation for the arts in Australia?
We’ve been very inspired by the fact that people who have never stepped into a classical music concert before have become great fans of our series. Because we have the meet-and-greet afterwards, I have had the chance to talk to audience members and can ask what brought them to the concert. One thing that they like is the fact that they can laugh. We always have some fun in the concert that is related to the theme or the history of the theme for the night.
One example was in the concert with David Greco, where I pretended to be Freud interviewing him. Another is when Elena Kats-Chernin was given headphones by Tamara-Anna Cislowska so she could compose and not be distracted by the Prokofiev sonata.
I think the audience is very aware that they are a valued part of the experience and feel very involved. Of course, these people tell their friends, these friends tell their friends, and what we ultimately have is a group of people enjoying and being a part of a musical experience that they would otherwise not have been exposed to.
What can we expect from Musical Luminati?
The overriding theme links the guests and the repertoire. The artists I had been interested in asking for next year are fabulous performers but also very strong philosophically. Most of the performers have another significant aspect of their career.
And based on the fond reception of Twilight Musical Dialogues, Musical Luminati is sure to be another great success. I’m very much looking forward to it!
Throughout 2018, Sally will bring together a range of talent in her concert series. You can look out for German neurologist and flautist Professor Eckart Altenmüller, Sydney physiotherapist Dr Bronwen Ackermann who will visually represent Sally’s skeletal system during a performance of an Elena Kats-Chernin premiere commissioned by Sally, a Bach in the Dark concert with cellist Rachael Scott who has a wealth of experience teaching music to people in difficult circumstances, and more. You can find out more about Sally and her events, on her website.