FeaturedInterviewsOctober 2020

Joséphine Olech Artist Interview

French flautist, Joséphine Olech, enjoys a busy career as a soloist, chamber player, and orchestral musician. She was appointed Principal Flute of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017 where she regularly plays with the world’s greatest musicians. A graduate of the Paris Conservatory, Joséphine is the First Prize winner of the Carl Nielsen International Competition (2019). Her debut CD, "Reconnect", will be released this fall, followed by a concerto CD.

Can you give us 5 career highlights?

I haven't had a very long career yet, and it's hard to look back in this way but on the top of my head here are some strong moments :

  • Of course I'm immediately thinking about the Carl Nielsen International Competition (2019), which I felt was the reward for long months of hard work, and has opened a lot of doors for me.
  • Winning the Fanny Mendelssohn Forderpreis (2019) : this German award gave me the opportunity to record my first solo album, "Reconnect", a disc about the complex relationship between Nature and Modern Mankind, which will be out this fall.
  • Getting my job in the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 2017. Since then, playing in this wonderful orchestra has been an endless source of inspiration. I will always keep in mind some of the best concerts we played, with amazing conductors such as Yannick Nezet-Séguin, Lahav Shani and Valery Gergiev, accompanying soloists like Joyce Didonato, Marta Argerich, Janine Jansen... and there is still a lot to look forward to this season! In May, I will be playing for the first time as a soloist with the orchestra and Lahav Shani conducting.  We will perform the world premiere of Thierry Escaich's flute concerto and I am really looking forward to this.

How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?

  • Entering Paris Conservatoire in 2012. My years at conservatory were without doubt when I learned the most about my instrument, and about what it meant to be a professional musician. I have met some incredible people there, starting with my amazing teacher Sophie Cherrier.
  • the 2015-2016 season at the academy of the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam. This academy program allows you to be a student of the flute section of this magnificent orchestra.  For one year, you play in the section, get lessons with whoever you want (I got lessons by the flutists of course, but also from the solo oboist, solo clarinetist and solo tubist, all of them extremely interesting), and attend many workshops about mental training, mock auditions, etc. My first week there was a trial by fire, playing second flute in Daphnis et Chloé on tour, conducted by Andris Nelsons. Kersten McCall was playing the solo amazingly, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to get to sit next to him. Later in that year, I had the same sort of moments playing next to Emily Beynon, and of course the rest of the section is amazing as well. I learned a great deal there about how to play on both the 1st and 2nd flute chairs, and about music in general.
  • Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Summer Tour 2016, playing Mahler 9 with Philippe Jordan. I have very strong memories from the concerts we played, but also from the rehearsals and woodwind sectionals with Bernard Heinrichs, solo oboe in Zurich Philharmonia. I owe him a lot regarding phrasing and how to approach an orchestra part. During this tour I also met some of my closest friends, and I cherish many memories of that summer! Mahler 9 is a very emotional symphony, and the concerts when we didn't end up crying were the exception.

What do you love most about teaching?  Masterclasses? 

I love that moment when you can see in the eyes of the student that what you just said actually helped them. When I give masterclasses, the students are often almost my age. In the beginning it made me a little uncomfortable, and I often thought, "I'm just a few years older than him/her, why would he/she give any credit to what I have to say?" But I soon realized that it was in fact also an advantage.  The challenges they are facing - like auditions, competitions - are  the ones I was facing very recently, and they are still fresh in my mind, so in fact I have quite a lot to say about them. Of course, I hope to become a better teacher with time and experience. I have huge respect for teachers like Sophie Cherrier, who after so many years and so much teaching background, seems to be discovering new ways of teaching every day.

What do you like best about performing?

I like the kind of concentration which can only be achieved on stage and with adrenaline. When you are "in the zone", and it feels like nothing is more important than what is happening on stage. It can be scary sometimes, but also so thrilling! I have to say, I think I'm a bit addicted to adrenaline. I always get nervous during a concert. It doesn't always feel comfortable on the spot, even horrible sometimes. But then you end up fighting for each note, and I think it brings something even more special to the music. And when it's finished, you just want to go back on stage and start again! Some of my favorite concerts are the ones for which I was the most nervous.

I also love it when you play a piece several times, like on tour, and your colleagues or the conductor surprise you with something different every time. I am the kind of player who likes eye contact during an orchestra concert, and I often smile at my colleagues when their eyes meet mine and when I can feel they are having as much fun as I am.

CD releases?

I recorded two CD's this summer, which will be out soon:

  • Flute concertos with the Odense Symphony orchestra, under the direction of Anna Skryleva, with the label Orchid Classics. This is my first concerto CD, and I am very excited! The program is a surprise, but I'll give you a clue, there are three concertos from three different countries on the CD, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark, the three countries where I have the most musical roots. Maybe you venture a guess ... !
  • "Reconnect" is an album which is very close to my heart, with works by Takemitsu, Crumb, Reich, Van der Aa and Debussy, for the label Es-Dur. This project is about environmental protection, and it feels like my most personal project so far. It will be out before Christmas, I hope you will like it!

In between those two sessions, I also recorded two duets with clarinet Martin Adamek's album, Carter's "Esprit Rude, Esprit doux" and Villa-Lobos "Choro n.2". This album will be out in December.

What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months? 

Playing in my orchestra following the new Covid protocol (distance in between musicians, shorter concerts), waiting for my CD's to come out, and playing a few chamber music concerts and solo concerts on the side. I am very happy that concerts are starting again, and I hope the situation will slowly get back to normal.

What are your goals personally? 

I would like to develop an even more eco-friendly life style, to travel (in an eco-friendly way), to discover new things, new music, meet new people, speak dutch better, learn German, learn how to drive a car (I still don't know how to!), and eventually keep learning things...

What are your goals professionally?

Of course I would like to continue developing as an orchestra musician.  There are so many symphonies I haven't played yet, and I still feel like I am learning every day. But I would also like to extend my horizons to different styles, mostly for my own cultural knowledge. I recently bought a traverso and I am enjoying discovering it a lot! By the way, I have so much respect for people who can play in tune with that thing!! I also started to learn a bit of Irish flute during the lockdown, and I have a project involving jazz coming up. I don't necessarily need to be doing these things on stage for now, but I am discovering a lot about classical music when I play these other styles.

What inspires you the most in life?

I get a lot of inspiration from other arts, like cinema, theater, literature, paintings... Musically, I also get very inspired by non classical music genres, like jazz, pop or traditional music... It changes regularly, but lately I have been very much into Irish music, as I just mentioned. I think there is something very true and very touching, immediate about these styles of music that we sometimes tend to forget when we play classical music from the score.

On a more personal level, I also find Nature very inspiring. This is something that has been growing on me, actually. I remember going on walks in beautiful places with my parents as a kid.  They almost had to force me to go and I did not realize what was so incredible about Nature! Only since a few years do I feel really deeply moved by beautiful landscapes. I have NO IDEA why it took so long to have this effect, but I'm glad it finally did!

What has been your greatest challenge?

Preparing for the Nielsen competition while playing in the orchestra almost full time was of course a big challenge.

But my biggest challenge was probably something else, coming back to the work after being literally destroyed by a rude conductor during a rehearsal. He was completely out of line, and the management of my orchestra eventually had to tell him that the way he spoke to me was unacceptable. I also got the full support of all my colleagues. But even so, what he said truly hurt, and it took a lot of professionalism to come back to play the concerts with him the rest of the week, and even for the other projects that followed for a few weeks afterwards. In the end, I am glad I found the strength to come back and to play well, and I am sure if something like that ever happens again, I will be stronger.

Who were your music mentors?  and what did you learn from them?

Sophie Cherrier and Nathalie Rozat, my teachers from the age of 9 until the end of my studies, taught me most of what I know about the flute. They are both very kind and clever teachers. They taught me love of the flute, of music and of sound.

Juliette Hurel invited me to record a CD with her when I was 17 ("Souvenirs de Hongrie - le Maîre et l'Elève", Label Abeille Musique).  I learned a lot musically, but also professionally. With her I played my first professional chamber music concerts, and I learned a lot about how to build a program, how to behave on stage, how to record a CD...

As I mentioned before, The Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw section taught me basically all I know about playing in an orchestra, and introduced me to ways of playing which were different than the french playing I was used to.

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions? 

  • At home, I love to sing with my guitar or ukulele. During lockdown I learned to play bass ukulele, which is so fun. I also bought a traverso and an Irish whistle. I think if we ever have a second lockdown, I will buy bagpipes...
  • My living room looks like a jungle, there are plants everywhere.
  • I like to do yoga and go running.
  • I love cooking! Some of my colleagues and I have an orchestra cake club, which means we bring cake to rehearsals for absolutely no apparent reason.
  • I watch a lot of Netflix (I'm not particularly proud of that one...)

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

  • Have fun! and never forget how lucky you are to have music in your life.
  • Be committed to what you do, and always try your best. You will never regret trying your best.
  • Be a curious and open minded musician, open the general score, analyze harmonies, listen to other pieces than the one you are practicing, go to symphonic concerts, chamber music concerts, go to the opera, to the theater, to museums, read books, travel...

Social Media Links:

facebook : Joséphine Olech - Flutist

instagram : josephineolech

website : www.josephineolech.com


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