Elzbieta Wolenska is a dynamic artist who embraces both traditional and contemporary classical music. An avid performer, she frequently performs as a soloist with orchestras, and in chamber music groups. Elzbieta is currently the flute professor at the Zhaoqing University in China. She, along with pianist Zhang Moru, will perform at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall on October 4, 2019.
When did you start playing the flute and why?
At the age of 7 I started my education at The National Music School in Bytom, Poland. My first instrument was a piano and after 4 years there was the chance to choose a second instrument. I wanted to play the trumpet, like my elder brother, but the trumpet teacher said that girls cannot play trumpet! I started to play recorder, still piano as well of course, and the recorder flute teacher told my parents that I am good so maybe I should play flute. It was not easy because there was a lot of flute students and my first flute teacher didn’t wanted to teach me at all. Because my mother was working in the opera, she eventually agreed to teach me.
How would you describe the Polish flute method?
It is difficult to say if there is any Polish method because everything depends on the teacher. I can confirm that we have a very good music education system in Poland because there are many professional, free of charge, music schools.
Why did you decide to take a teaching job in China?
This is a very mysterious and interesting story. I met with my friend, mother of a young flute student, who is a masseuse and a kind of a fortune-teller. During our meeting she told me that I will live and work in China. I thought this to be impossible because I had full time position (permanent employment) contract at The Music Academy in Wroclaw, and I had never been to China before, I had no connection to the country. I was convinced that my future was already known. But she kept insisting that l would someday live in China. On Friday, I received a call from my Professor and he asked me if I would like to go to China for a concert tour with his trio. After that tour in China, I found my job. I didn’t hesitate a second because I found it to be the most interesting, exciting experience and the best solution for my future. China offers very good conditions that I will never have in Poland including a satisfying salary. I can enjoy my life here. People are very nice, food is amazing, lifestyle is fascinating. In Poland, there was nothing new waiting for me, no more development. In China everything is new, different, and I have to learn a lot and I can make new progress for myself. My way of teaching developed, my way of thinking has changed and ultimately my goals are different. And I had to (and continue to) learn Chinese – this is a challenge!
What major differences do you notice from the music conservatory in China vs Europe?
The first difference is that most of the students are not using Italian musical expression which is absolutely basic in Europe. The other thing is that in China there are only a few Music Conservatories. Mine belongs to a University and it is a Music Department ( similar in the USA). These universities mostly focus on preparing students to be teachers not performers.
What do you like to perform and why?
I enjoy performing all good music. Of course, my repertoire is changing during my life. Sometimes I love to play contemporary music and sometimes I really have to play romantic music, more classical. I think it is a matter of balance in a life. I am also a big fan of all kinds of flutes so I love to play my 4 flutes (concert, alto, bass, piccolo) to show the audience the beauty of every type of flute.
What composers have you worked with? What have you learned from new music?
I was lucky to work with many composers in Poland because my former work place, Music Academy in Wroclaw, has an absolutely fantastic composition class. Some of them started their career as young students when we first worked together like Jagoda Szmytka.
I have performed in many contemporary music festivals and worked with many ensembles, for example with OFF (l'Orchestre de Flûtes Français). I learned a lot from composers but the most important for me was that the beauty of the sound is not always what we have learned. The classical conception of the beauty can be not useful for composers. Their perception is far away from our flutist perspective.
Do you plan to stay in China?
I would love to stay in China as long as possible but I am open minded – the future is unknown.
How would you describe the classical music scene in China?
I think the classical music scene in China is still quite young. In the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai it is already more western style but in the small cities, people are not so much interested in classical music. They enjoy more Chinese Traditional music rather than classical music.
Is there a large flute community in China?
The flute community in China, in my opinion, is divided between the cities and the provinces. China is a big country with a lot of people which means a lot of flute players. There are a lot of flute festivals, masterclasses and concerts.
Do you do any orchestral work? In China or Europe?
I have, when I was younger, and I played at the opera in Poland. But for many years I am performing as a soloist and chamber musician – I feel more free and independent.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall.
On October 4th, I will play a debut recital in Carnegie Hall which I am very excited about. My pianist, Zhang Moru from China, will accompany me for a program of very interesting repertoire. On the first half of the recital, we will play romantic virtuosic music, fantasies from operas, Chopin and even some Chinese music. On the second half of the concert, we will perform works by some of my favourite composers from around the world, with music that is absolutely fantastic from Mike Mower, Gary Schocker, Ian Clarke and Blaz Pucihar.
For more information on Elzbieta please visit her website: https://www.wolenska.net