Prema Kesselman Artist Interview
Can you tell us about your musical background prior to your position in the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra?
I began my musical training in Valencia, California and announced to my parents at the age of seven that I wanted to be a musician when I grow up. I had a voracious appetite to learn new music and improve as a flutist and pianist. My parents would often beg me to stop playing to come for meals. Playing music was a deeply profound experience for me and I was a passionate young performer, who loved sharing music with others.
I ended up leaving public school in seventh grade to homeschool and attend the Colburn School of Performing Arts on both flute and piano. The local community college also allowed me to take both academic and music courses. It was a surreal experience studying alongside college age students and surrounding myself with the best young musicians in the country at Colburn. I performed in recitals at least once a week and played in orchestra and chamber music on both flute and piano, as well as giving numerous outreach concerts.
I gave my concerto debut at the age of fifteen and at the age of seventeen, I got accepted as a piano performance major at Peabody Conservatory and Indiana University on scholarship as a double flute/piano major, as well as numerous other colleges and conservatories. I ended up pursuing a flute performance degree, while also seriously studying piano because I won third place in the National Flute Association High School Soloist competition, when I was eighteen. I realized that my career as a performing artist on flute was more viable than on piano and received a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance, summa cum laude at Temple University-Boyer College of Music, where I studied flute with David Cramer. All the while I accompanied on piano extensively for both college students and professionals and gave a final full length solo piano recital a few weeks before my flute degree recital. David Cramer attended my solo piano recital and he asked me to accompany him for his upcoming solo flute recital on short notice, which was definitely a piano career highlight.
While I was a student at Temple, in my second year, one of the flute students at the Curtis Institute of Music had an arm injury and could not play for that entire academic year. I was fortunate to be asked to play flute in the Curtis Orchestra that season and learned a great deal playing alongside fantastic young musicians and working with numerous conductors that were guest conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was common then for the guest conductor of the week with the Philadelphia Orchestra, to conduct the Curtis Orchestra for their Saturday morning rehearsals which thankfully never conflicted with my Temple obligations.
After my studies in Philadelphia and giving my New York solo recital debut in Carnegie Hall, I went on to complete a Postgraduate Advanced Diploma (PGA) with distinction, sponsored by the Derek Butler Trust, and a Master of Music (MMus) in Flute Performance Studies, sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, studying flute with the awe-inspiring Wissam Boustany! My MMus dissertation and my final recital received a distinction from their respective juries, which included the late William Bennett.
What career successes are you most proud of having accomplished?
As first prize winner of the Malcolm Arnold Concerto Prize, which was a national woodwind competition in the U.K., I made my professional concerto debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This was absolutely a career highlight for me thus far. I was also fortunate to present a New York solo recital debut at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall.
My appointment as Principal Flute with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Santiago, Chile (Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra), where I performed symphonic, ballet, opera and chamber music concerts with the orchestra, was absolutely glorious. I spent nine seasons with the orchestra! My childhood dream of playing Principal Flute in a professional orchestra was indeed fulfilled. It was in Chile that I had the honor of giving the South American premiere performance of the Flute Concerto by Christopher Rouse with my husband, conductor, José Luis Domínguez. I was the first flutist in the world to perform the Rouse Flute Concerto from memory and was deeply grateful to have had guidance from the composer when preparing the Concerto, who recently passed sadly.
When David Cramer retired as flute professor at Temple University-Boyer College of Music, I was honored to be hired to take over his flute studio. It has been truly amazing to "give back" to the next generation of flute players teaching at Temple, where I was once a student!
In the 2021-2022 season, I was Principal Flute with Opera Philadelphia, which was an incredibly special experience for me to play opera again, though this time in my home country, with familiar faces from my studies in Philadelphia.
Whom would you like to give thanks to?
There are so many musicians who have guided me on my journey! Most prominently they have included, Dr. Louise Lepley, Judy Goldwater, Karen Lundgren, Anne Diener Zentner, Cathy Ransom-Karoly, David Cramer, Wissam Boustany and Peter Lloyd. There are countless musicians that I have collaborated with, who have inspired me as well. How I wish I could name each and every one of them!
At the residence hall at Trinity Laban, I lived across from Stjepan Hauser's room and I will never forget hearing him practice all day, including beginning at 7am on Sundays, with the most beautiful slow scales that went on for hours, before I had even played a note on the flute! We subsequently played in a trio together at St. Martin in the Fields, London, with another incredible violinist, Lana Trotovšek. Stjepan and Lana inspired me with their passion and focus for music!
If you weren't a professional flutist, what would you be?
I would have to say, that this sense of confidence arose surprisingly from working with incredibly demanding teachers/conductors as a very young child. I was also very ambitious and hard working from when I started piano at six and a half. I held myself to a high standard and had a voracious appetite to learn new music. It wasn't about comparing myself to others, it was about challenging myself to be the best I could be.
I believe if we tap into our divine power, the possibilities are limitless in what we can achieve and express. One must be selfless when sharing music with others though and not concentrate that we are the doer. This is especially important because practicing alone is quite solitary and it can be easy to fall into the egoistic trap and think "I'm great!". The greatest musicians I am absolutely convinced are the least egoistic. One of my former flute professors said I was the "most ambitious/spiritually driven" individual he'd ever met. There must be balance in the pursuit of excellency.
What type of community engagement have you been involved in?
I have been privileged to perform music for special children centers, nursing homes, senior centers and interfaith programs. While living in California, I was active in the community outreach program, Musical Encounters, which introduced the performing arts to inner-city public elementary school students through concerts. I performed flute and piano for the school children at special assembles that were held during school hours when I was in high school. It was a joy for her to share music with the underprivileged children and introduce them to the technical aspects of how the flute and piano produce music. I also developed & performed chamber music concerts for the residents at various health care centers.
I performed in South India at the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanthi Nilayam, in the ashram (spiritual headquarters) of the revered world spiritual teacher, Sathya Sai Baba. I performed in a free concert for around 10,000 people from all over the world who came together in a spirit of unity and love.
Due to the pandemic, in May 2020, I began a weekly "Musical Mashup" (outdoor porch/lawn concert for our neighbors and friend, socially distanced), performing flute, piano and singing. My daughter, Ananda, also collaborated on flute and piano, as well as sang. In addition my mother has been a driving force in organizing the concerts, which has brought joy to everyone, especially our elderly neighbors who have felt quite isolated these past couple of years.
What creative ways have you focused on to combat the challenges brought forward by the pandemic?
AS A MUSICIAN, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF TO SOMEONE/AUDIENCE THAT HAS NEVER HEARD OR SEEN YOU BEFORE?
I am motivated to perform because music has the capability to promote peace and unity, and express the depths of emotion dear to my heart. It has the power to unify all people regardless of their language, race, or religion. Values such as truth, peace, love, honesty, non-violence, and integrity are innate in all of us, but they have been masked by negativity, envy, greed, a desire to succeed, and the need to impress. Instead of promoting compassion, education is making people stonehearted. True education is that which touches the heart and releases a torrent of selfless love. I resolve to bring light to the world with my music, by continuing to teach, doing community outreach concerts, and performing as a soloist and recitalist. I want to live in the current moment, the now, and spread joy to others. This moment is all we really have.
What is one thing you wish you knew at 19?
I would tell myself to "let go" in the moment more because my dreams would come true, and not be so concerned to take a risk!
What is your Spirit Animal?