Andre Jolivet: Acsèses

These beautiful little pieces for solo flute have been on my radar for a long time, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to learn them for a performance. I’m playing 3 of them in a concert in Paris with the American composer Daniel Kessner; Dan is a long standing friend of mine, and these pieces have had a big influence on his solo flute compositions (especially evident to me in Microimages and the new low flute Preludes). Jolivet’s music has always been fascinating to me; I love the way he combines the expressivity of the composers of the French flute school with a more contemporary language. His rhythmic writing is particularly appealing, with solo works often written without bar lines and irregular groupings often a feature of his music.

The Acsèses are deceptively difficult, especially when played on alto flute (the player can choose between alto and C flute). In the slower movements, choosing where to breathe is an important consideration which becomes integral to the interpretation of the music, and long phrases can often pose additional challenges on the alto flute. My favourite is the third movement, with its repeated septuplet rhythms, but this is also something of a technical challenge, especially when attempting to play it on the alto, with his metronome markings and all the grace notes. Big interval leaps are never the most easy thing on the alto flute, and the response time of the instrument can slow things down a bit. This is particularly challenging in places where he increases the use of grace notes in order to build intensity; creating clarity here is hard to achieve. High register problems also occur – especially in the last movement. The alto flute lacks the brightness and intensity of the C flute here, and although it gives a different kind of intensity, the tone colour of the high register alto flute is harder to project and to control in terms of intonation.

These are the kinds of challenges I enjoy, and, when coupled with the numerous musical and interpretational questions that arise in these pieces, I have no doubt that my ideas and approach will develop and mature over the next few years of revisiting this wonderful music.

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