On Sunday 5 November LSO Principal Flute Adam Walker performs Bernstein's hauting work Halil. Ahead of the concert, we caught up with him to talk about the piece, what it's like playing in the LSO and how he got into music.
You were appointed LSO Principal Flute in 2009, aged just 21. What was it like to take up this position in such an established orchestra?
Taking up my position in the LSO was both highly rewarding and exhausting! Discovering the orchestral repertoire at such a high level and at a very quick pace was very exciting, if a little daunting at times. Obviously you feel a big responsibility to play and prepare as best you can when you are surrounded by people who have been playing a lot of this music for years and know it inside out.
Can you tell us a little about where you grew up and how you got into music?
I’m originally from a village outside of Retford, Nottinghamshire. Like so many kids, I started to play the recorder at primary school, but was lucky in that my classroom teacher was really passionate about classical music. She started to give me piano lessons when I was seven. My parents would go to a car boot sale every week, and on one occasion when I was eight, they brought me home a mini plastic flute, blown into like a recorder. I was hooked and desperate for a real flute! It turned out that the mum of a school friend had a flute in storage which she hadn't played for years, and she offered to lend it to me. Things then happened very quickly – after some dubious self-teaching, my primary school teacher heard me play and got in touch with a local ABRSM examiner, who suggested I audition for Chetham’s Music School. A few months later, I had left home and was studying music full-time.
Can you tell us about a piece of music that made you fall in love with your instrument?
I remember listening over and over again to a cassette of Mozart’s Piano Concertos. As well as being totally in awe of the piano playing, my ear was also drawn in by the flute solos. Nowadays, I think some of Mozart’s loveliest wind writing can be found in those concertos. Another strong memory is of watching the Nielsen Flute Concerto being played on the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition when I was ten. Every week for a long time I nagged my teacher Gitte Sorensen to let me learn it, much to her amusement. I finally got there six years later, funnily enough playing the same piece in the same competition.
Do you have any special memories of your time with the Orchestra?
Of course, I have many nice memories from my time in the LSO; playing wonderful music with great musicians, all over the world. My first ever patch of work with the orchestra stands out, a coast-to-coast tour of the US, which was also my first ever trip to the states.
What do you think makes the LSO stand out among other orchestras?
I think like all great orchestras, the LSO has its own unique sound and style of playing that seems to have been passed down over the years, and which continues to develop and adapt. It takes a certain type of musician to record a film score one day and perform a Mahler symphony in an international venue the next. Collectively, that kind of flexibility shows how exciting a place the LSO can be to work in.
You have given world premieres of new flute concertos with Marin Alsop and with Daniel Harding and the LSO in 2014. How does premiering new pieces compare with performing standard repertoire?
The flautist’s repertoire is nowhere near as well-known as, say, the core violin repertoire. So often when one plays in concert, a lot of the audience aren't necessarily familiar with the music. In that sense, playing a new piece of music doesn’t always feel too different.
I have been lucky to have really nice relationships with composers and have always enjoyed the process of taking the first copy and bringing it to the platform. The composers I’ve worked with have often welcomed input and ideas after the piece has been composed, and this process has informed, to an extent, the way in which I prepare more standard repertoire too. While details in the score are of crucial importance, I’ve learnt to trust my own instinct and that everybody is welcome to their own interpretation of a work.
On Sunday 5 November, you will be performing Bernstein’s Halil in one of the LSO’s concerts celebrating his centenary. Can you tell us a bit about the piece and what it is like to play?
Halil is a very reflective work. Bernstein dedicated it to the memory of a young Israeli flautist who was killed in the Yom Kippur war. The whole piece seems to be searching for an answer – the tonality is almost never allowed to rest; only at the very end of the piece does one feel a final sense of peace. There are some beautiful, consolatory moments, as well as aggressive dialogues between the flute and percussion in which gun shots can be heard. Playing the piece feels a little bit like reciting a schizophrenic soliloquy.
Marin Alsop will be conducting three Bernstein concerts with the LSO this November. You have worked with Marin on a number of occasions in the past. What do you think she brings as a conductor?
I have always enjoyed working with Marin, who I met right at the beginning of my orchestral career and have worked with many times since. She always brings a great energy and rhythmic vitality to music, and she has a wicked sense of humour.
What other concerts are you looking forward to over 2017/18? Are there any pieces you are excited to perform or conductors/soloists you enjoy working with?
I am looking forward to doing Mahler with Sir Simon Rattle. We did a great Mahler 6 with him earlier in the year.
You can hear Adam Walker perform Bernstein's Halil with the LSO and Marin Alsop on Sunday 5 November at the Barbican. Click here to find out more and book tickets