Sara Andon Artist Interview

SARA ANDON is an international soloist, recording artist and teacher based in Los Angeles and performs regularly in many music genres including solo, chamber, symphonic, opera, ballet, new music, jazz and Broadway. She has performed all over the world in major concert venues, TV and radio broadcasts, as well as on motion picture, TV and video game soundtracks, as well as for Disney Theme Parks. A few of her feature film and television and video game credits include Lady and The Tramp (Disney+), "IT" and  "IT: Chapter 2", Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks, The Orville, Animaniacs 2020, Family Guy, Crazy Rich Asians, The Biggest Little Farm, The Greatest Showman,  Fast & Furious 7 & 8, The Wolverine, Tron, The Conjuring 1,2 and 3, The Good Dinosaur, Straight Outta Compton, Rush Hour 3, X-Men: Apocalypse, World of Warcraft, Fortnite and Leagues of Legends.

Can you give us some special career highlights?

Looking back, I have some very special musical memories that I cherish and would consider career highlights.   One that comes to mind - just after graduating from Yale School of Music and moving back home to Los Angeles, it was my first time getting to play in the phenomenal flute section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. We were performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 – “Symphony of A Thousand”.  The sound and the electricity in the air were so magical and powerful – very hard to put into words.

Next on the list, I must say it is my newest recording.  Early in 2018, producer Robert Townson came up with the idea of a recording project for flute and piano, to celebrate the 90th birthday of the legendary Ennio Morricone.  The pianist was Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist Simone Pedroni, from Italy.  Robert asked Simone to arrange fifteen of Morricone’s film scores (Cinema Paradiso, The Mission, Once Upon A Time In America, The Untouchables, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) for the two of us to play as a duet.  I have loved some of these melodies my whole life.  So many people all over the world have.  We recorded the album called Cinema Morricone: An Intimate Celebration and it was released by Sony Classical in 2019. The response has been overwhelming.  It immediately reached #8 on Amazon’s Classical Best Sellers list.  We had just started to play some live recitals of this program when the pandemic put a stop to that.  We played Los Angeles, Italy and The Canary Islands, but I really can’t wait to bring the show with all of this timeless music to more audiences.

I’ve been so lucky to have been part of so many amazing concerts.  I guess a few I would highlight would be soloing with Diego Navarro and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in both Glasgow and Edinburgh for two concerts in November of 2018. Patrick Doyle, Rachel Portman and David Arnold were also all part of this show.

In 2017 I was soloist performing with an all-star big band at the Alex Theatre in Los Angeles for a special concert celebrating Lalo Schifrin’s 85th birthday.  I played music from Lalo’s score from Bullitt, but I also played a bass flute movement from Lalo’s Jazz Mass. Lalo came up to me after the concert and told me that was the piece from the show that made him cry. And then that made me cry!    

In 2014 I was a soloist at the ASCAP 100th Anniversary Gala in Krakow, Poland.  This concert also featured Hans Zimmer, Elliot Goldenthal, Patrick Doyle, Dario Marianelli and the Polish pianist Leszek Możdżer.

In 2013 I was part of an international series of concerts that celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Varèse Sarabande Records.  One of these was the first concert of American film music in China, with Lü Jia and the Macau Orchestra.  Another was with Diego Navarro and the Tenerife Symphony.  But the biggest was in Los Angeles where I was soloist on three classic pieces (Alex North’s Spartacus Love Theme, Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Georges Delerue’s Oscar-winning A Little Romance).  An interesting and challenging aspect of many of these solo pieces that are arranged for me is that I am often asked to compose an original cadenza.  I’ve done this for pieces like Moon River, Spartacus, Mockingbird and also in the Beauty and the Beast suite linked below. It’s such a special and fun opportunity to contribute creatively, in this context, to some of the greatest melodies ever written.

This show featured so many of the biggest composers in Hollywood, all there in person and performing!  There was Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Brian Tyler, John Powell, Mark Isham, John Debney and so many more!  The final bow with everyone at the end of the show was one of the most amazing things ever!

What did you focus on to combat the challenges brought forward by the pandemic?

Last year when we all saw all of our plans affected by the pandemic, I dove immediately into some major flute housekeeping.  First, I took the opportunity of putting together a top-of-the-line home studio rig, under the guidance of some of the best engineers in L.A.!  This was a life-saver.  It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but finally I did it, and it was integral to keeping me busy recording all of last year.  Remote recording was the only way anything was getting done until well into 2021 and we all started getting vaccinated and live sessions started coming back the way they are now.

After the studio was up and running, I focused on another long-overdue project.  I had needed to do a major re-build of my website from the last 10 years!  Finally, I did it.  It turned into a much bigger project that I ever imagined, but I really wanted to take it to the next level and far beyond what I had previously.  Anyway, I am so grateful for how it turned out, including specific pages devoted to concerts, film/tv, remote recording from my home studio, teaching philosophy, and gallery of photos and videos and more: http://sara-andon.com/

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

I am so grateful to have had parents that were wonderful, kind people who loved music so much and thought it was absolutely essential for everyone to have it their lives in some form or another. They were not musicians themselves but were extremely moved by music and felt their lives were greatly enhanced by listening to all kinds of music. In the house I do not remember a time that there wasn’t some kind of music being played. Eclectic collections of music from all kinds of classical music to jazz to Broadway to pop, to new music, to world music and everything in between.

My dad would blast from his portable radio “Live from the Met” every Saturday morning as he did the lawn work outside.  For me, hearing those magnificent singers on a weekly basis as a young child had a huge influence on me. It was powerful. Also, my parents also took my older sister, my older brother and me to see and hear live concerts of the local symphonies, chamber music, and the local theaters that had touring Broadway shows. They made sure all of us began piano lessons at age 5 which for me made all the difference in how I listen to music, hearing the bass line and harmonies as well as the melodies. I also sang in a local children’s choir which continued to train my ear as well as voice and lungs – all preparing me very soon to start learning the flute.  Two other things come to mind from childhood, my parents also valued the idea of every child having swimming lessons as a life-saving skill.  That again was paramount in training my lungs and being in good physical health for an instrument that takes so much air to play!

Another influence, just after I started playing the flute in elementary school, my father got us tickets to go see both Rampal and Galway separately in two different live solo recital concerts - it was beyond comprehension what I was seeing and hearing!

And, quite pivotal, just as I started to play flute at age nine, my dad bought me my first flute recording and it was Ransom Wilson’s debut album performing the Telemann - Suite in A Minor and the J.S. Bach - Orchestral Suite in B Minor with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I listened to that every day and night and it had a profound influence on me and my love for the flute.  And it was beyond the feeling of joy and awe, to finally meet Ransom years later while I was in college and a student participant in the amazing Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in CT. That led to the life-changing opportunity to be invited by Ransom to study with him at the Yale School of Music in the post-graduate Artist Diploma program there. One of the greatest times of my life so far.    

What do you like best about performing?

Connecting and communicating with people through music from all walks of life and cultures, no matter where we are from or what language we speak.  I love that we experience a very special bond and vulnerability together and what truly can become an emotional and spiritual transformation because of the power of the music. It is a unique moment in time - never to be duplicated again in the exact same way.

CD releases?

As a follow-up to our Cinema Morricone album Simone Pedroni and I recorded a special piece of Morricone’s which we released in the maestro’s memory following his passing in 2020 at the age of 91.  For this piece called Return To Life, Simone and I recorded remotely, due to the pandemic. Simone recorded from his home in Novara, Italy, just outside of Milan, and I recorded from my home studio in Los Angeles.  Sony Classical released this piece as a digital single in November of 2020.

Another brilliant musician I record with is the great French composer and pianist Jean-Michel Bernard.  Jean-Michel and I recorded James Horner’s beautiful theme from Legends of the Fall for the Krakow Film Music Festival 2017 CD.  Jean-Michel and I also recorded music from Lalo Schifrin’s scores Cool Hand Luke, Che! and The Four Musketeers for an album that celebrated Lalo’s 85th birthday.

Another very special album project to me was one called 1985 At The Movies, released in 2015 on Varèse Sarabande Records. David Newman conducted the Varèse Sarabande Symphony Orchestra (made up of so many of my brilliant L.A. colleagues) on the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox.  I was the principal flutist for the album and also the soloist on three very special pieces …Georges Delerue’s ravishingly beautiful Academy Award-nominated Agnes of God, for flute, orchestra and choir; a really beautiful and thrilling suite from John Barry’s James Bond score A View To A Kill, (which included writing an original rock flute cadenza imitating an electric guitar!), and a very poignant and powerful piece called The Children’s Song by John Corigliano which he sent me from his score for Revolution. The solo lines in this included doubling on penny whistle as well. It was such a great honor. (Special side-note: Sir James Galway was the original flute soloist when the movie came out in 1985).

I was also featured on a number of pieces with Big Band de Canarias for an album called Elmer Bernstein: The Wide Side.  This album featured an amazing selection of Elmer Bernstein’s classic jazz film scores.  I love jazz and improvising! It’s always a blast when I get to go into that very special world.

A few of my earlier recordings include a delightful as well as virtuosic piece called California Concertino which composer Bevan Manson wrote for me, recorded with the Hollywood Studio Symphony.  I also recorded three CDs of flute duos by the invitation of wonderful flutist Laurel Zucker - Mozart: Flute Duos I- 6, op. 76, W.F. Bach: The Complete Sonatas for Two Flutes, and J.S. Bach: The Complete Trio Sonatas for Two Flutes, Cello and Harpsichord.

Two brand new recording projects in the works right now! One is with the Brightwork New Music Ensemble – a contemporary music ensemble where I am the solo flutist. The instrumentation of this group is flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. We commission and perform all kinds of new music and are currently recording an album of fantastic music of Los Angeles composers - incredibly exciting and challenging works!

And the second brand new album in the works is another project with pianist Simone Pedroni. Like the Cinema Morricone we did for Sony Classical, this is also a very unique, life-long dream that I cannot talk about yet, but can’t wait to when it is time! 

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

I am continuing my position as Artist Teacher of Flute on the beautiful campus of the University of Redlands School of Music here in southern California and recently began our 2021/2022 semester. And I am very grateful to say I have a record enrollment of 16 extraordinary students in my flute studio this year! We also include a weekly Flute Studio Class and Flute Choir Ensemble. I am also continuing my Flute Instructor position at the Idyllwild Arts Academy – a wonderful international high school of the performing arts nestled in the gorgeous mountain community of Idyllwild, CA.  I currently have two phenomenal college-bound students there from China.

I am hoping in the spring to present the University of Redlands 3rd Annual Flute Festival. Last year because of Covid, we had to cancel only 3 weeks before it was to happen. It is such an exciting event getting to invite phenomenal guest artists from far and near to enrich and to inspire students and music lovers from our campus and surrounding communities. We present many different master classes and seminars with specialty topics of solo and orchestral rep, flute choir readings/ensemble etiquette, seminars on daily warm-ups, body mapping, jazz improvisation, extended techniques, time-management and maintaining balance, inside the studio world, etc., and a special lunch time Q and A with our guest artists, and closing the evening with live performances by the guest artists.  Participants also have the opportunity to peruse flute and piccolo exhibits sponsored by one of the highlighted flute companies presented by the Los Angeles-based “Flutacious”. We are hoping in the spring we can do it again.

Also, as live concerts and presentation come back, Brightwork New Music Ensemble has various concerts of new music planned in Los Angeles, as well as continuing our work with young composers from high school and universities. We record their projects as part of our in-person and online master classes series. It is something so inspiring to do, getting to be a part of the incredible vision and creativity of the next generation. 

And, as a freelance artist in Los Angeles, I will continue to perform with my great colleagues in many of the southern California orchestras here, including my tenured principal flute position with the Redlands Symphony with Conductor and Artistic Director Maestro Ransom Wilson (another “coming full circle” experience for me!).  We were so fortunate to receive his expressed interest in being the new conductor when we had a conductor search 5 years ago, and wow, he absolutely blew us away!  He brings such a tremendous level of artistry, expertise, experience, and vision, inspiring us all, orchestra and audience, to great heights.     

I’m also continuing my remote recording from my home studio in Los Angeles as well as several live recording sessions with my colleagues in the iconic studios of Los Angeles, recording at  Disney/20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Ocean Way and, Capitol Records, for various upcoming  movies, documentaries, album projects and video games, such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Fortnight, as well as new seasons of scores for the TV shows such as Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard, Star Trek: Lover Decks, Only Murders In The Building, Family Guy, American Dad, Animatics, Green Eggs and Ham, The Orville and Looney Tunes.  One of my latest new shows to be recording for is Bridgerton, as well as many upcoming feature films that I can never talk about until after the movie opens.

What are your goals professionally? Personally?

The two can be quite intertwined! I have always dreamed that I would have a life that is full of musical and artistic experiences, and I am very grateful that seems to be the case currently!  I want to keep manifesting that life and keep doing things that help that on-going goal. Being a freelance artist, the opportunities that come, continue to surprise me at every turn, which I love. It also constantly reminds me to never give up and that patience is a virtue especially in developing and maintaining a music career.  There is something new and exciting around every corner. I just want to continue to give it my all with passion, with gratitude and respect for this world, my mentors and colleagues and for all who have come before me. I hope to keep expanding what I am currently doing, with new and different solo recordings, as well as to continue to be a part of all kinds of live performances, solo, chamber, symphonic, theater, opera and ballet, new music and recording in the Hollywood studios. I hope to also keep a mix of traveling for special solo performances all over the world, in addition to my cherished work here as a musician in Los Angeles.      

What inspires you the most in life?

My family and friends, and knowing we are all on a journey of learning every day to be a better human being and artist. As we question the meaning of life as we go, it is inspiring and comforting to me to know, it is always a good thing to be open-minded, curious, to listen and do one’s best to help others. And it is inspiring to realize we all can learn from each other in all walks of life, as well as learn so much from nature -- it is all around us every day. We have a new chance each day to make new choices and be one step closer to realizing our best selves on our life-long journey. And very importantly, being grateful daily for what we have right at this very moment, and for what we may normally take for granted, and for what we can learn from every experience we have, as we grow.

Who were your music mentors and what master classes have you participated in?   

My main mentors that I am forever grateful for in my life are Candice Palmberg, Janet Ferguson, Roger Stevens, Jim Walker and Ransom Wilson. It truly would take all of the pages on earth to write about the incredible things I learned from each of these other worldly artists and teachers individually.  And the incredible teachers I had in various master classes were crucial to my musical growth in every way as well: Emily Beynon, Mindy Kaufman, Julia Bogorad-Kogan, Julius Baker, Marina Piccinini, Jeffrey Khaner, Mark Sparks, Judy Mendenhall, David Shostac, Louise DiTullio, Paula Robison, Walfrid Kujala, Jeanne Baxtresser, Paul Edmund-Davies and William Bennett.     

I also had an amazing opportunity to really pay tribute to so many of Los Angeles’ flute royalty in 2019 by being one of the producers of an evening called A Night In Hollywood: A Celebration of Sheridon Stokes. I reached out to the legends to come together and honor Sheridon. Sheridon has, of course, been playing with everyone, for everyone, on almost everything, for so many decades, past and present.  So, I called Louise DiTullio, Jim Walker, David Shostac, Geri Rotella, Paul Fried, Larry Kaplan, Robert Shulgold and Stephanie McNab.  (Also, Steve Kujala and Susan Greenberg, who would have been there, but sadly had previous engagements.) Everyone else came and was part of the show! I got to play in the Hollywood All-Star Flute Quintet with Flute 1 – Jim Walker, Flute 2 – Stephanie McNab, Alto Flute 1 – David Shostac, Alto Flute 2 Larry Kaplan and me on Bass Flute to premiere Fantasy for Five Flutes, composed and arranged by Jürgen Kramlofsky.  For a special encore Sheridon joined us, along with Paul Fried and Robert Shulgold and we played an eight-flute version (with a percussionist on bongos!) of Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme!  Sheridon Stokes was the original flute soloist on that iconic theme from the 1966 TV show! There was a lot of flute history on that stage!

It was a moment of coming full circle regarding Sheridon because my very first opportunity to play on an A-list blockbuster movie was in 2007 for “Rush Hour 3” – a phenomenal score composed by Lalo Schifrin, and Sheridon Stokes was the principal flutist on those session dates at the historic Sony Pictures Scoring Stage.  It was a surreal experience that inspired me beyond words, making me feel there was some hope to have that kind of work as part of my career here in Los Angeles. I am so grateful that has come true for over a decade now. And as we all know, the business and musical land scape can change every day in the freelance recording session world, so one must be extremely grateful for anything and everything that comes, not taking one note for granted. Every moment and opportunity are true gifts.     

Can you give a quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobby or passion? 

For one, from a very young age, I continue to be an absolute astronomy geek! One of the biggest passions of mine. I am very fortunate that one of my best friends is a rocket scientist for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) in Pasadena, CA, and through him I have gotten to be an insider on “all-things” JPL and NASA, including the Cassini mission to Saturn and Mars Rover missions and everything else that is going on in the universe.

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

Be open-minded, be respectful to others, be observant, a good listener, diligent and responsible and know that good relationships with friends and colleagues are paramount. Be grateful for every opportunity and take every opportunity you can – you will find some of the most unexpected things and connections can happen when you put yourself out there, getting out of one’s comfort zone.          

Secondly, do your best to seek out a great teacher that can share beneficial tips and methods for developing a strong foundation in your musicianship and flute playing, getting good advice about practicing habits, such as the benefits of slow and consistent, but varied practice, gaining skills for the all-important, all-purpose “toolbox”. The “toolbox” contains crucial skills from a solid foundation of warm-ups and exercises that can be applied to every situation we come across as flutists and musicians. And with that, practice consistently and with good habits – always, but especially as a young student, because life only gets busier, and the more time you spent practicing well while younger can really help get one through the times when life gets hectic and less time to practice from time to time. It is like putting money in a secure savings account that you can draw from when need be.

Also, listen to all kinds of music, not just one style all of time. Appreciating, and hopefully understanding, the essential elements of different styles can truly enrich your musicianship and creative approach to any music you are currently working on. Colors, rhythm, articulations, interpretation are all so unique from style to style, but there are parallels to be drawn to bring out unique elements of one style by being inspired by another style. This is its own mega topic and not enough space here to go into every detail, but now-a-days with You Tube and such, truly the world is at our fingertips for curiosity, research and discovery.

Also, as much as one can, observe in-person and online master classes of teachers of different   instruments as well as vocal.  Draw the parallels to the flute and invite into your musical psyche an expanding color palette and the approach from other great instrumentalists on violin, cello, piano, horn, voice, etc.

Basically, immerse all the senses in excellence of all kinds.  Go to art museums – look at images, shapes and colors, go to plays to watch actors and how they create their character and inflections in their voices. Read books and poetry, and the rhythm of the poetry, go to the ballet and modern dance programs – see how the dance moves illustrate the music so effortlessly. Go to movies, or stream classic films with great scores!  Take walks in nature and observe the sounds, rhythms, shapes, colors, and creations all around you.  If one can, take a dance or movement class, a drawing class, poetry reading/story-telling class, drama class, join a choir and/or take singing lessons. Draw from all these multiple sources to continue to enrich your own “musical voice”, using the skills, observation, and experiences in these parallel worlds to enhance one’s own music-making. This is to be able to connect and communicate beyond the “flute specific” approach only. It will lead to more colorful, emotional, and engaging musical “story-telling” and discoveries about the music and yourself, and bring a new depth, understanding, confidence and passion to your performances. This will help connect you and your performance directly to the hearts and minds of others through the universal language of music. Connection, passion and compassion are things we want to continue to strive for our whole lives as human beings and as artists.    

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