Flauguissimo Flourishes: An interview
Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
We are a flute and guitar/theorbo duo performing mainly on historical instruments although occasionally on modern instruments as well.
What are the challenges and advantages of being a duo?
As a duo, each person is obviously very exposed just like a soloist. Although there is always a give-and-take dimension to all chamber music making, with duo playing it feels like one can never rely on the other to ‘drive the music for you’ - we both have to be equally alert and sensitive ALL the time. Then of course, the advantage musically is that we can enjoy both the exposure of a soloist and the joy of a chamber musician at the same time! In practical terms, it also sometimes help to have a small group in a time when the arts sector and concert promoters often struggle with economical resources and so a duo can become quite attractive in this case.....
For us personally, the greatest challenge and advantage is probably that we are married! Fundamentally wonderful of course, but obviously not always as romantic as it seems to both live together and to be each others closest colleagues and sometimes harshest critics!
As an ensemble that plays on period instruments, it is impressive how versatile you are and how many different instruments you are able to use in your performances. Can you tell us a little about your approach to different repertoires?
The grandeur of the baroque and the operatic charm of the classical very often inspire different approaches in a musical and technical sense as the step from Hotteterre to Schubert at times can seem quite big!
To play on period instruments is in itself a great inspiration to us as the instruments very often encourage the music in a certain direction. We are both very interested in history in general and it gives us great pleasure to study and imagine the past.
However, we don't believe in recreating the 'exact' sounds of the past in a puritan sense, that goes against the very nature of music. One can never exclude the instinctive emotional dimension when interpreting any repertoire, but we hope that the combination of our personalities and the instruments can create a truly alive and contemporary musical result which at the same time breathes the air of history throughout.
To study historical evidence for playing techniques in treatises and so on is fascinating, but we are always more interested in the actual meaning of the music, cultural or spiritual if you like, and how to communicate our understanding of that to the listeners of today. At the heart of this is the inherent contradiction of the HIP movement: we are seeking the sounds of the past with great passion, while that is exactly what the musicians of the time DID NOT do! They were more than anything living and creating in the present, which we must never forget to do today.
What is your relationship to contemporary music?
In many ways, we haven’t investigated new repertoire yet as much as we would like to do, especially if we could encourage composers to write for period instruments, which is something that has become very popular. We did a contemporary project earlier this year at Bristol University which was very exciting, although we performed on modern instruments, with the exception of Sam Cave’s solo theorbo piece which was featured in an earlier edition of Revoice.
To date, what has been your biggest highlights as a duo?
We are very happy to have performed at the Brighton Early Music Festival two years in a row following our participation in the young artist scheme. Another highlight was when we shared a recital with legendary guitarist David Russell at Kings Place. Also, as we have recently recorded our first CD, we can say that despite still being on the editing stage, the whole process has been invaluable for our development.
What do you think is most difficult about being a young ensemble that specialises in historical performance today?
It depends on what sort of profile you are aiming at, but for us, it has often been that we seem to fall in between established categories, especially when we perform the classical/early romantic repertoire that we recorded on the CD. For the early music enthusiasts it’s too late, for the standard audience members too obscure, and for the guitarists too little guitar!
On the other hand, this is also a strength, and if presented right it always helps to be by nature different from other ensembles. In fairness, most audiences are overwhelmingly positive also when confronted with the unfamiliar as long as you guide them in a way they can understand.
It’s an obvious cliche that you nowadays 'have to be different, exciting and unique' to succeed, but it does seem to very much be that way as there are simply too many classically trained musicians compared to the sizes of the audiences. We can’t possibly all do the same things!
What kind of music do you both listen to in your free time?
Except the obvious answer of classical music (!), Yu-Wei enjoys Argentinian tango and jazz while Johan listens to a peculiar Swedish form of dance band music very similar to American country/early rock!
You recently won a place on the Live Music Now! Scheme- congratulations! Can you tell us a little about the scheme and what you hope to get out of it?
We are really excited about this as it is a wonderful chance for us to bring music to places where live music is rare, as well as an opportunity to experience the music with audiences we wouldn’t otherwise have met. It is a very exciting scheme with a clear mission to take music out of familiar settings and to give many young ensembles throughout UK and beyond the chance to do this. The locations are mainly schools, care homes and hospitals.
Which flute and guitar duos should we be listening to?
Haha, honestly I suppose we seldom listen to our own combination as it gets to intensely similar. We try not to restrict our musical imagination as merely a duo but more often listen to flute, violin, or singers with harpsichord and bigger combinations. Both of us generally find it easier to learn and get inspired for our own work that way.
Describe your dream gig to us in no more than 50 words.
An intimate venue, maybe only 60 people or so but it feels completely packed, and we are really close to one other. They can hear every single sound we make and we can feel their reaction in an instant. That sort of feeling when music is experienced so intensely that we become one with the audience.
Flauguissimo was founded by flautist Yu-Wei Hu and guitarist Johan Löfving in 2008. They have performed at many prestigious venues including Kings Place and Cadogan Hall in London as well as St. George’s Bristol and Sage Gateshead in Newcastle. Flauguissimo was invited to perform in the Stratford-on-Avon Festival, Honiton Festival and Kings Lynn Festival; abroad they have performed in the Swedish Guitar and Lute Festival and the Bach Hall in Taiwan. Recently they were also invited to give a workshop at Bristol University. Flauguissimo Duo was selected for Brighton Early Music Festival Live! Scheme 2012 and International Guitar Foundation Young Artist Platform 2015, and their performances have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Radio France, Austrian Radio Ö1 and Swedish Radio P2.