Linda Mark: The Flutist’s Pianist

Pianist Linda Mark is in demand as an active soloist, collaborative pianist and music coach. She was first prize winner in the Baldwin Piano Competition and received two grand prizes in the International Guild Recording Competition in Austin, Texas.

Ms. Mark regularly performed with her mentor Julius Baker, and Charles Rex (former Associate Concertmaster, New York Philharmonic).  She has also performed with Jean-Pierre Rampal, Jeanne Baxtresser, Keith Underwood, Marina Piccinnini, Jeffrey Khaner, Robert Langevin, Carol Wincenc, Maxence Larrieu, Karl Heinrich Schutz, Christina Jennings, Bart Feller, Mathieu Dufour, Linda Chesis, Michael Parlof, Mark Sparks, Jim Walker, Ransom Wilson, Denis Bouriakov, Stefan Hoskuldsson, and Eva Amsler.

Ms. Mark recorded the soundtrack for the film ‘Song without Words’, which was shown at the Berlin Film Festival.  She was the subject of an article in Flutist Quarterly, the only pianist ever to be featured on its cover.  As a guest artist, she has conducted masterclasses on the art of collaboration at colleges and universities throughout the country.  Ms. Mark also was the Pianist-in-Residence at the prestigious Julius Baker Masterclasses.  

Currently Ms. Mark is on the accompanying/collaborative piano staff at the Juilliard School in New York City.  Each August she and Wendy Stern host a multi-day masterclass for young flutists in New York.

Tell us a bit about how you got involved with accompanying flutists: when did you start?


Well, I always LOVED to sightread, I was known to describe it 'like eating candy'.  As a kid studying piano, I learned pieces quickly, and really loved that process.  When I went to college, to continue my piano performance studies, somehow it became known that I liked to sightread pieces up to tempo, and so I began 'accompanying' for fun, any instrument, any time.  The flute teacher, Charlie Delaney, and his students, then asked me to play for some lessons and it all began.  Some of the first pieces I remember learning was the Pierre Sancan Sonatine, the Mucynski Sonata, Copland Duo, Poulenc Sonata, the Martinu Sonata!  When I moved to NY, I literally just walked around the halls of Juilliard, asking if anyone needed a pianist for lessons, and stumbled into a flutist, who was just starting lessons with Julius Baker.  So we went in together for her first lesson with him, and amazingly, that's how I started playing for his lessons.  He ended up liking me, and my playing, shook my hand and asked me to accompany for all his students.  I said of course! easily, not yet understanding who he was, his fame, his legendary presence, and his importance in the world of music.  So that became a door that opened because I took the risk of being involved and interested and asking questions.


Were you drawn to the instrument and repertoire?


I think at first I was drawn to the sight-reading and learning many pieces for  many instruments and just having fun.  I played for almost any instrument, such as strings, bassoon, trumpet, french horn.  I just loved the excitement of all the different textures and timbres of different composers for different instruments.  In college, I especially made friends in the flute studio, so that encouraged me to enjoy playing a lot of flute repertoire.  When I got to NY I continued playing for many instruments and I was always learning how to hear music in a more detailed way than I had ever done on my own.  When I started playing in Mr. Baker's studio, he took me under his wing, truly as one of his students, and ended up mentoring, teaching me, coaching me, and just showing me the incredible details of musicality, technique, articulation, vibrato, and beautiful phrasing on the piano as well as the flute.  So I became truly in love with the flute repertoire.  He was always insistent that I learn the flute part, and listen to each note the flutist played, so that I could weave my tone, rhythm and phrasing into their sound and style.  He taught me that I needed to understand where, and how, the flute student was breathing, so that I knew when to lead, and when to give time to the flutist and to the piano part, to make sure I was never ahead of the beat or ever behind the beat.  He conducted us in the lessons, in such an artful, defined, yet musical way, that I also learned how to play with a better touch on the piano, something he taught me, so that I sparkled on the piano like a flutist!


What's the hardest thing about accompanying/collaborating with flute?


I've been told by pianists that sometimes it's difficult playing with flutists because the piano parts are difficult. As well, that the flute part has so many moving notes, that it can be hard to follow.  Now I don't necessarily find that, but I think this can show that one's piano technique, one's tone on the piano, how one listens to the flutist, is more suited to some pianist than others.  There Can be so many fast, running notes on the flute, and each flutist plays slight differently of course, so it's important for me, as the pianist, to really know the flute part as well as the piano part.  I need to know what the flutist is doing to group their notes, to fit all their fast notes into the rhythm of the beats and measures, when they might be taking a breath, or how they're using their vibrato to sing a phrase.  I think as with any instrument,  a flutist's experience playing with piano can determine how easy it is to put the piece together collaboratively with a pianist.  For me, if a flutist comes to me not having played the piece with piano yet, that's totally fine.  I work with them to help understand the process of how to play with piano, and to learn the map the composer gives through the piano part.


What was your most memorable concert?


That's a question only answered this way: each concert I do becomes my most memorable in that moment.  That's because each performer is different, and they are different again when they get on stage, and become their pieces, on a more heightened level than when we are rehearsing.  So those nerves, that charge of excitement, the focus of listening to my artist, playing right up to the level of my artist, becomes my most memorable job of the moment.  I'm always working on how play my own tone or technique differently and play better than my last time.  Always a challenge as I'm usually on a different piano each time, a different hall, a different day; and that provides me with plenty to do on each and every time I perform!


What projects do you have coming up?


Well, let me start with some of what I've luckily gotten to do this year!  Playing a recital with Jeffrey Khaner this spring, for the NYFC and performing with three of the NYFC Young Artists competition was a great highlight for me.  Playing with Robert Langevin, Bart Feller, collaborating with Keith Underwood, working and collaborating with Wendy Stern, Judy Mendenhall, Linda Chesis, Laura Gilbert, Mary Barto, Carol Wincenc, and always remembering what I've done with Julius Baker, being in touch with his wife, Ruth Baker,---these are all parts of Wonderful projects I've done with or for these artists, or their students, recently.  Working with all the marvelous students I've had the good fortune to meet or continue to know this year, has been thrilling.  I finished playing recitals and auditions for entrance exams into colleges, and pre-colleges.  I'm a guest artist pianist for the Yamaha Corporation in Indiannapolis playing with other guest artists in front of an amazingly receptive audience and venue, in June.  I've started my own flute masterclass with my friend and colleague Wendy Stern, in August, for young flutists, called the Heyhoe Woods Mini Retreat, where Keith Underwood is our yearly guest artist teacher, and we've had the good fortune to bring Bart Feller, Carol Wincenc, Judy Mendenhall, and Kathleen Nester, as the guest master teachers.  I had played and worked at the NFA Convention for as long as I can remember, but have chosen to take a break from that marvelous set of artists, and performances; Just to make sure I also enjoy other aspects of life, because that's very important also!


What advice would you give to flutists looking for a good pianist partner?


I think it's important to find out if a pianist is interested in collaborating.  I think How you ask is important.  Sometimes students are forced to do that as part of a school curriculum, so it can be tricky.  I think one way to help get someone interested is to make sure you ask Way ahead of time, maybe even months.  Ask them if they know the pieces.  Ask them if they would be comfortable playing a contemporary piece, or a French piece, or Bach, or Hindemith.  Not everyone is comfortable with different styles.  And make sure you, as the flutist, ask the pianist what their needs are with the piano parts, providing the pianist immediately with original scores, or at least the scores should be taped back-to-back just like the original, with metronome markings, and a link to listen to a recording of it.  This shows instant appreciation and respect for the job you're asking a pianist to do.  I believe that kind of appreciation helps the pianist Want to learn and practice the pieces for the flutist.


What advice would you give to flutists in communicating with you or another pianist they are working with?

Communication is always having a different set of tools on hand, by being gracious, humble; it's being specific with your needs, in talking with pianist, asking what their needs might be to make the job easier, and also being specific and direct about dates, times, programs, places, rehearsal expectations.  I am asked to do a lot of projects without details, and then I have to ask, which takes me more time and energy.  I think the better the communication from the flutist to the pianist, the better the outcome.  I also think it's totally fine to come to a rehearsal without ever having played the piece with piano, or knowing the piano part.  But you want to come to that rehearsal being aware if the pianist has experience with the piece, has experience playing with flutists, and what expectations are.  And talking about it.  For me I want to help the flutist through the nervousness of playing with a pianist or playing with me, for the first time.  And communicate the piano part to them in a way that makes it easier to play best as instantly as possible.  Also, I've been incredibly lucky as I always feel respected and appreciated.  But I think any small way you can show that you appreciate and respect your pianist, first as a pianist, and not an accompanist, can go a long way, in helping fulfill the great collaborative results we all want!


What advice would you give to flutists negotiating rates?


Of course in any job, negotiating and talking about rates is always a process.  Sometimes in-school jobs have specific rehearsal and recital rates, so that makes it clear. If you know who the pianist is, and you have a general idea of the quality of work or time you will get with that pianist, then the rates will reflect that. Some experienced pianists will state their rates initially, so that takes the guesswork out.  Of course you can always ask the pianist what they charge, and that pianist should be specific.  For instance, I have a 24-hour cancellation policy and I think it's important to make sure that's clear.  Hourly rates are usually different than a job out-of-town, jobs for recitals don't necessarily have an included rate by the hour.  It's very specific to each person, and each job.  Charging extra for including time needed to travel can also be a factor in rates, and it's important that everyone is clear as to their needs and wants to feel comfortable, either in paying, or being paid.


Is there any standard flute repertoire that you don't know- or don't like?


Of course I'm very lucky, because I do know a lot of the flute repertoire!  But the flute repertoire is Huge, and certainly I run across pieces that I don't know, and even some times don't wish to learn, or don't have time to learn.  I try not to be difficult about it, but I believe I can have my small tantrums! For instance, I was asked to learn the Rouse Flute Concerto, which has a devilish piano transcription of the orchestral part.  Not only was I hesitant  to learn it, but I think I'm not the best pianist for more contemporary pieces, meaning I don't even think I'm good at it!  However, I said yes, of course, and spent nearly three months learning and redoing the piano part in a way that hopefully served the piece, the orchestra part, and the flutists I was playing for.  In doing all that work, I actually came to really like the piece also, and so learned a good lesson; which is, if you put in the work, and trust the process, you Will be able to learn at a level that gives you the confidence to get on a stage and perform it satisfactorily!


How much time do you generally need to learn a new piece?


It absolutely depends on the piece.  And it absolutely depends on if there's a time crunch for whatever the reason is.  I've played several programs with Robert Langevin, that were filled with brand new pieces for me, and he asked me a year in advance.  And that was totally great, appropriate and so appreciated, by me. Jeffrey Khaner asked me 5 months in advance, for a program I did know, and that was also wonderful and appropriate.  I think it's never to be taken for granted that a pianist may or may not have the tools of time in their own schedule, or the technique it may take to learn a new piece for a performance. Again, it's also that appreciation and respect shown to the pianist, in recognizing how hard they may have to work to get pieces ready, that helps allow the pianist to Want to practice their best to get a program/pieces ready for the flutist.


What advice would you give to a young flutist about to embark on a music career?


There are so many avenues and answers to that wonderful question! But first, I would say to make sure the foundations of learning the instrument have had enough time and years.  And learning the discipline of practicing, of problem solving what one really needs in terms of tone, technique, rhythm, articulation, and style of the composer.  Learning to ask questions of your teacher for things that feel confusing, either on how to play the instrument or how to play the particular piece...

Of course, it is very important to involve oneself in chamber music and ensembles, learning to play with different instruments, listening to other music in addition to flute music.  Learning how to teach is important, even if your intention is only to perform. It's also important to learn to play orchestral excerpts, listen to Symphonies, and generally involve oneself in many art forms of music, even dance, art, electronics, if one has that interest.  I think it's important to be able to multi-task and learn several different things, either to be a musician, or just to gain access to the world in general, and have different skill sets. All these tools can help start to set up a career that is multi-faceted.

Past all that, asking questions, reaching out, taking risks in taking jobs that don't initially seem as if that's the end goal, even for very little or no money at first, is a great networking tool and skill. This will always lead to different roads, even if it seems that's not what you initially want, but some that will lead to a path of where you might want to get to!

Also, being consistent with writing, texting, emailing back, to whoever you're supposed to be in touch with. And following up by saying appropriate thank you's, if someone has lent out their time and energy to you.   All that shows dependability, and understanding of how the world works and serves as a way to show someone, or a  job on the other side know you're a person who works hard and has something special to offer.

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