Elisabet Franch: Artist Interview

Tell us a little about yourself, where you're from, your education etc..

I am from Sant Cugat del Vallès, a city 15km from Barcelona; Catalonia, Spain.

I was the second child of an economist and a lawyer and my older brother was the perfect first son: calm, organized, obedient, polite...of course I can't remember that, but seems that from an early age I started to show I would be a bit different from him.

My parents, especially my mother, loved to listen to classical music, so, from the beginning, I was used to that amazing world that one day would become my world and my life. Later, when I was 7 years old, my parents made me try many things, never as an obligation, but just as a way to discover a bit more about me: I did dance, I did painting, I did ballet, I did chess...and I did music: piano and violin/viola were my first instruments. Apart from breaking my first violin, playing the piano with my feet or closing it while my brother was playing it, it looked like I had also some skills in music, and I liked it too, so that was how all started.

Years later I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Barcelona with Júlia Gallego and Albert Mora, then I moved to Paris to do the Cycle Superieur of Piccolo with Nathalie Rozat, and later I finished my studies in Milan at the Civica Scuola di Musica with Raffaele Trevisani.

Apart from that education, I was very lucky to be accepted in two amazing Orchestra Accademy's: L'Orquestra de l'Acadèmia del Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) and Orchestra dell'Accademia del Teatro Alla Scala (Milano). Of course, being in your twenties and playing under Gustavo Dudamel, Fabio Luisi, Gianandrea Noseda, Daniele Rustioni, and playing in La Scala, The Bolshoi,and the Liceu Opera House was an amazing experience and, for sure, the best training I could have to later become a principal flute in an orchestra.

Why did you choose the flute? How old were you when you began?


I didn't choose the flute at the beginning! I started piano and violin (which would later be viola) when I was 7. Even if I don't belong to a musical family, they did their best to bring music home.

Flute would come much later, when I was 12 and I was having my viola lesson next to the flute class in the conservatory. I remember playing the viola while listening to the flute in the next room and I told myself I wanted to be a flutist. Of course, at the beginning my parents weren't convinced; luckily, they felt the most important thing was to rely on my love for music, so they gave me another try. As we had already one piano and one violin, my grandparents were the ones who bought my first flute, a Trevor James.  Little did I know that the first time I had that flute in my hands that my life had started to take its path.  Since I started flute very late, when I was 18, I wasn't ready at all to make that difficult decision, and I was not sure if I would be a musician, so I started University majoring in Visual Communications and Journalism as I love to write.  But 2 years later I took the exams for entering the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC): only 2 flutists are accepted every year, so I told myself it would be the best way to find out if I should keep playing the flute or give up that dream.  I was one of those 2 to be accepted.  I was 20 when I dropped out of University and started my Bachelor in Music.

I understand that you are in an orchestra now in Tianjin, China.  What is that like?


I have been principal flute of Tianjin Symphony Orchestra since May 2018. I had already been in China one year  before that so it's been quite a while that I am living here. It's a big change, in many ways, culturally and professionally. Even if it's hard sometimes, especially being so far away, I have to admit that in the last months I've learned more than I would have in five years if I had stayed in my country. The main problem is the language; Chinese is so difficult to learn, but with patience and help from colleagues, little by little, things are becoming easier.

What is a typical rehearsal day like with the orchestra?


We usually rehearse twice, morning from 9.30 to 12 and afternoon 1.30 to 3.30. I get up at 7.30 and start warming up and practicing around 8.30. First concert is on Friday. Every week we play a different program and have a different conductor, so "learn fast and adapt" is my self-advice. At the beginning I was quite sad when, after lots of practicing to play big solos (like Beethoven symphonies or, Dvorak 8 & 9) the week was over, and I had to start looking at a totally new program, but, with time, I realize all this work remains under my fingers. And it's priceless.

What are some of your career highlights?


One of the most important moments of my career was when Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway gave me the Rising Star Award at the Galway Flute Festival which takes place every year in Weggis, Switzerland, together with two beautiful headjoints (a gold Nagahara for my flute and a rosewood Mancke for my piccolo).

In competitions, there are several to mention, including the Domenico Cimarosa International Flute Competition (Italy), the American Protégé and the Golden Classical Music Awards which lead me to debut and play twice in Carnegie Hall, and the latest one, The Vienna New Year's Concert Music Competition.

As soloist, the most important achievement until now has been the release of "Gypsy Airs," my debut album, in 2015. I was so scared doing the final stage of the CD, weeks before being published, I even had my doubts that the CD should be released. But, again, I had a big support from my family, friends and people involved in the CD and between all of them I  stood still until the end. Shortly after its release "Gypsy Airs" was awarded two Gold Medals at the Global Music Awards in California (Best album and Emerging Artist) and, Best Classical Album of the Academia Music Awards in Los Angeles. Reviews from several magazines (including the Flute View!!!) highlighted the quality of the album. Thanks to that my nightmare was over and all my fears vanished giving place to a beautiful moment of joy and success.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years?


I would like to know that! If I've learned something from my career, it’s that you never know what will happen next. So, my advice is to enjoy, cherish and take all you can learn from every moment of your life, because it will be the key to the next chapter. What I would like in the future is to find a balance between my Orchestral duties and my solo career. For now, it’s very difficult and I have had to cancel many concerts and reject good opportunities because of my job, which is understandable. What I would like in the future, is to be able to keep performing in orchestra but, at the same time, have time to develop my solo career, record another CD and perform more as soloist.


Any future projects you would like to share?


Yes!! I am so excited about my last concert of 2018! It will be my debut in Austria, playing in Vienna on December 30th.  This concert is part of the prize of the Vienna New Year's Concert International Music Competition and will be with orchestra, I can't wait for that! In January 2019 I will go back to Tianjin and sign another year contract with them.  Some other things I cannot yet announce that will happen too.  2018 will end great, and 2019 looks promising!

Who are your major influences?


Everyone who knows me knows how faithful I am to the Galway Flute Academy. This School of the Flute has been the key to my success in the past years and is the reason I pick up the flute everyday (even on those hard days) with a smile and say to myself "Go Bet, you can do it". Sir James and Lady Galway have been not just my mentors and role models, but my guides during my last years as a student and my first years as a professional flute player. I'll never have enough words to thank them for their dedication in the educational field and their trust in me. For that, I believe my duty now is to represent, as best as I can, the School wherever I play.

My other major influence is The French School. I cannot  be satisfied with my sound before a rehearsal or a concert if I don't spend time before doing Moyse De la Sonorité, Taffanel and Gaubert, vocalises and all the Exercices Journaliers which raised this school of playing to its best. Rampal, Nicolet, Marion...I could listen to them everyday and still learn only by listening to them!

How do you like living in China? What's it like for you?


Well, it wasn't easy at the beginning, and it's still difficult sometimes. Can you imagine having your first Principal position (100%) in a country with a totally different culture and language? My trial period was quite a nightmare; I was asked to play some of the most important works with big flute solo, with no break between programs: I was playing Shostakovich 5th one week and the following would be Beethoven 7, and after that Dvorak 8 and the week after Bizet...and while playing all those solos, I knew a mistake would be the end of the trial. I learned to count in Chinese from 1 to 500 to be able to understand which bar we were on while rehearsing!

After that, things started to calm down a little bit: I've started to learn Chinese and it’s great when you start understanding things for the first time. I am not able to have a conversation yet but I am still not giving up. I cannot say how long I will be staying there, but, for sure, it's a big experience which will make me grow and improve as an orchestra player.

You've been a winner of many competitions.  Do you have any tips for preparing for competition?


Competitions are rough and difficult, and I always think it’s so unfair to be judged in such a short time. Of course, it’s the only way when you 1 of 50 contestants or more, so I always try to make a difference during those 5-10 minutes usually given in the first round.

I've found a system of working when I prepare for competitions that helps me a lot and, given the results, I believe it works. It involves a mental and psychic work combined with practice. First, I make a kind of schedule of what I will work in the day, deconstructing the pieces to the limit (I once spent a whole morning practicing only 15 bars). I believe it is very important to really work on the piece and really learn it: the day of the competition we will all be nervous, it's part of our nature and is good if we learn to control our nerves, but if we don't have total control of our fingers, articulation and breathing before the competition, the risk of mistakes rises enormously, and one thing is for sure: there's no place for mistakes in a competition.

The mental work is to focus on the competition: when I am practicing, I always imagine myself doing the competition. I close my eyes, I see that table in front with the Jury, the rows of chairs behind them with the audience, and the stage with a piano and a music stand. And believe me, when I do that at home my heart starts beating faster!  It sounds crazy, but by mentally making that image and visualizing, our mind and body have the same reactions we will have the day of the competition, and although we cannot control them, we can learn how to live with them.

I always put a deadline on myself, two weeks before the competition, which is my time limit to have the works ready to play. This way, the last two weeks are more focused on playing the whole program in run throughs (very important to play the works in concert with the public before the competition), playing slowly while finding a nice sound, and listening much more. I record all of the rehearsals so afterwards I can notice mistakes I didn't hear when playing.

As I said, competitions are not easy, and of course we all get upset when we don't get to the next round or we don't win. But the work and the discipline we have been through remain there and will make us play better next time.  And for this it has already been worth the experience and we have won something.

What advice would you give to a young player just starting out?


Of course, to a young player, I can’t tell them all the sacrifices and difficulties music involves, I just would say the most important thing is in the beginning: To love music, never regard it as an obligation but as a passion. The beginning is the most special moment: first contact with the instrument, first sound, first tunes...it’s a magic that only happens once, many people who could have been great musicians dropped it because this first contact didn't go well. Technique, practice and the hardest part of playing will come later.  And if that young player once becomes a professional flute player, scales, arpeggios, sons filés, vocalises and sonorité won't be an obligation but a necessity.


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