The Flute Academy

Fluterview with Lisa Osmialowski

Apr 05, 2016

Lisa Osmialowski is a professional freelance flautist based in Sydney. She regularly works for the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and has played Guest Principal Flute with Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Lisa enjoys chamber music and plays for Kammer Ensemble and Omega Ensemble. She teaches at St Mary’s Cathedral College in Sydney and from her Sydney studio. Before moving to Australia, Lisa lived in London and freelanced with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.

What do you think are your greatest achievements as a flute player?

Probably being able to sustain a career as a professional flute player - I feel it’s an achievement in itself. Also, being able to work professionally with orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. During my time in London I worked with a lot of the major orchestras - the Royal Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic, the BBC Orchestras and London Symphony. Now I’m working with the AOBO, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and most recently the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. The Opera companies that I’ve worked with are English National Opera, Opera North and currently Opera Australia. The chamber orchestras I’ve worked with are the Australian Chamber Orchestra, London Mozart Players, and the Northern Sinfonia. And I’ve played on movie soundtracks including “Australia”, the Lego Movie and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I did the most recent revised soundtrack for that, while I worked in London.
I have a real interest in Chamber music - I play with Kammer Ensemble, which is something that my husband and I formed when we first arrived here in Sydney about 10 years ago. Since then we’ve constantly played with them. I regularly play now with the Omega Ensemble as well. And in fact when we were in London, we were part of an ensemble called Bennelong Ensemble and we would present programs of Australian and British contemporary music. We toured Italy and regional England, and had a lot of fun doing so. I really think however that one of my greatest achievements is working for a UK charity called Music in Hospitals. This charity exists to take chamber music concerts to venues which wouldn’t ordinarily be considered a concert venue. We would go to old peoples’ homes, hospital wards and hospices - places where residents can’t get out to hear live music. We would be sent in, generally in a trio format (flute, clarinet and piano), take lots of different repertoire, and see what style of music they responded to. We’d really just improvise a concert by selecting pieces from our huge repertoire depending on different people’s responses. So we’d have a jazzy piece, a classical piece, songs from musicals, and we’d be guided by what they enjoyed. Seeing the transformative effect that live music has on people was just amazing. It was incredible to see the power of live music and the difference it can make in people’s lives - people who would be just lying in a chair, who couldn’t move, and then they’d suddenly just start to move a little bit or I’d see them react to the music somehow. We did one particular concert where it didn’t seem as if we were having any response from the residents. The condition they were all suffering from was extremely debilitating. Then suddenly one lady in the corner stuck her hand in the air when she heard a particular piece of music that the pianist was playing - she really responded to it. The nurses later said to us “you know that lady used to be a concert pianist?” Seeing that kind of response was amazing.
Being part of the Music in Hospitals charity was such an amazing thing to do as a young professional - just being able to directly see the effects of music. The charity had lots of different styles of musicians and singers on their books and anybody who wanted a concert, anywhere, could have one, for not very much money as it was subsidised. The charity paid all of their musicians, we did regional tours all over the UK and we worked with some great musicians. My husband and I were able to do this together - he’s a clarinettist. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists in Australia. I thought at one stage it would be really, really worth looking into setting something up here, but then I realised that I’d possibly not be able to continue as a performing musician because of the administrative time which would be involved. So it would be wonderful if that kind of thing were one day set up here. I know the Hush Foundation has being doing great work and recording their lovely CDs. I don’t know if there is any off-shoot of that, which would be wonderful, especially as there are a lot of students who come out of tertiary education, they’re on the track to regular professional engagements, but there is bit of a void to fill when they first graduate, even after post graduate study. In my own experience of this, all the gaps in my diary were really filled thanks to this kind of organisation. I’d have two or three tours each year - I’d clear the diary to make room for these tours because it was so worthwhile. We weren’t on tour the whole time - we generally played in regional London because we were based in London.
There were a lot of times where we appreciated that kind of work coming up - you could spend a morning doing one or two concerts in Greater London and then make it back to London for another engagement in the evening. So a lot of the musicians could play and teach combined with these chamber music performances. It was a career that could involve so many different things all in one day. We were all professionally trained and auditioned musicians working for the charity. A lot of very good singers worked for the charity too as singers have a number of years after graduation from university when their voice hasn’t reached maturity yet. It wasn't just a "stop gap" while waiting for things to happen in their careers, it was doing things that they enjoyed because it was so rewarding and fulfilling. So they had a lot musicians on their books and continue to do so. In fact I think there are three regional bases for Music in Hospitals - one in Scotland, one in Manchester and one in London. They probably deliver thousands of concerts a year, and the musicians are all properly paid.

What do you think are the most important attributes in a student who you believe could be successful as a professional flute player?

Well, besides having a well established technique, I think an openness of approach is important; a willingness to take feedback; and attitude as well as respect and courtesy to colleagues. And tenacity! Be prepared for hard work. It's just par for the course. Also, developing flexibility to be able to play in any chair. I have never forgotten the words of Paul Edmund-Davies when I turned up to work with him on a recording session in London one time. There was a principal flute who had been booked to play and I had just assumed that I would be playing down the line somewhere. There were three chairs in the flute section and so I sat at the end. And then another principal flute came in and sat on the first flute chair. Then Paul Edmund-Davies came at the last minute. He ended up playing second flute in the session and I was sitting on the third and I remember the organiser of the session apologising to him for having made an error and booking these two amazing principal flutes together in the same session because they both really should have been playing in the principal chair. His response to that was "it’s fine - my bum goes on any seat". He just was really, really professional. So be prepared to play in any chair, swallow your pride and just sit anywhere. Often in the sessions in London, the violin sections would be full of all of the leaders of other orchestras. They would all sit at the back of the section because nobody had the gumption to sit in and assume the front desk. I think that behaviour is particularly a London attitude because there is such a history of recordings there. There’s also so many orchestras there and and so many superstar players. It’s a big, big pond. The last important attribute is teamwork. I think it is really important for us to work as a team and to respect everybody's part in the team.

Who are the flute players you find inspirational and why?

Besides all my current colleagues in Australia, and in no particular order, here are my biggest inspirations. I have to start with Emmanuel Pahud. He gives well thought-out, concise explanations, he’s great on breathing, and just generally inspiring as a player and as a mentor. I haven’t played with Emmanuel Pahud although I’ve played in the European Union Youth Orchestra which was amazing and with a lot of European musicians. I suppose that would be the nearest thing I got to playing with him since many of the players from that orchestra now play in orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic. Michael Cox who is principal flute of BBC Symphony Orchestra. I worked a lot with Michael when I was in London - he is an amazing player, teacher, mentor and an amazingly generous person as well. He's a lovely, lovely player. James Galway because of his huge career. You’ve got to respect and admire that! My post graduate teacher Robert Winn, who I studied with in Weimar, Germany. He’s former principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and he’s now professor of flute in Cologne. When he taught me he was professor of flute in Weimar. I went to study with him because no one had explained technique to me quite like he did. Especially breathing. He broke things down into almost engineering terms. That was really useful and he was just great at explaining it very clearly and could also demonstrate it. Jaime Martin who is former principal flute of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He became principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra after Robert Winn left. Jaime is a player with so much expression - it's oozing out of him. I played next to him for quite a few years working in both the RPO and the Orchestra of English National Opera. He then actually went to the LPO after he left ENO and he’s now a conductor. So he took this amazing side step and he’s carving out a really successful career as a conductor now. Two flute players of my generation - Emer McDonough - she is current principal flute of the RPO. We were studying together at the Royal Northern College of Music and she’s a lovely musician with a gorgeous sound and just an incredible flautist. She’s having a superstar career and just continues to be amazing. She’s a great name to watch out for and I’m sure she’ll develop an international career. And my dear friend Rebecca Larsen who is one of my flute friends from London days. She holds the flute chair with the musical Wicked in London's West End. She regularly plays with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta. She plays with them on piccolo often and even played piccolo at Last Night of the Proms a few years ago. So Rebecca can be described as fast, flexible, plays any instrument, fun and freelance - I like to have a representative of the freelance community in here!

When you’ve had some time off, how do you quickly get your playing back up to standard?

I guess breathing exercises, long notes, more long notes, scales, studies and I like to throw in some Baroque music like Telemann Fantasias. I often just do a little bit, keep chipping away at it, and try not to do it all in one go. I like to get the stamina back gradually.

What is the best advice you’ve ever had from a teacher?

Except of course for his statement of "my bum goes on any seat", Paul Edmund-Davies found out that I was married to an Australian and started talking to me about Australia. Then he said "you know you should move to Australia!". That was the best piece of advice I've ever had. After doing all my years in London, it's been a really good move - for my Australian husband too. We're very fortunate - we've both got lovely colleagues, lovely weather, a great lifestyle and a community which is just so warm and welcoming. We've lived in Australia about 10 years now. I’ve noticed that Australians tend to do very well overseas. I think it’s their relaxed and easy going personalities plus their normally very open approach to things. And that’s generally what people love.

If you were to give a beginner flute student one piece of advice, what would it be?

Do a little, often.

If you were to give an advanced flute student one piece of advice, what would it be?

Do a lot, often!

Do you have any advice that has helped you to prevent repetitive strain injury?

Stretching. I wish someone had really reinforced that for me more.

What sort of daily exercise do you practice on the flute?

Sonorité by Moyse. I like the Geoffrey Gilbert exercises. And the Taffanel et Gaubert.

What's the funniest or weirdest thing that has ever happened to you as a professional player?

In one particular Music in Hospitals tour, we were performing a piece and there was a little old lady who got so excited she leapt up to dance. My husband John was wearing a long tail coat, and she got hold of his tails and started to dance whilst holding them. She was having an absolutely brilliant time and laughing her head off. Her false teeth then fell out. She picked them up and dropped them into the glass of water that was sitting on the piano for the pianist. She just rinsed her false teeth in this glass of water and then put them back in her mouth and carried on dancing. The pianist, in her broad Scottish accent, just turned to us and said “don’t drink the water!”. And another funny story from when we were in a nursing home in the North of London. We were playing a concert of classical chamber music which we thought everybody was really enjoying and getting into. When we asked for any requests somebody shouted out “Do you know Agadoo?!” And so we played it! We gave them the song they wanted. We found pineapples to shake, and we formed a conga line and they danced around us. It was great, great fun to do that kind of gig.

Is there anything else you wish to share?

This is an extraordinary story from when I was a 16 year old, aspiring flute player. I had just won an audition to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. I’d been told by my flute teacher that I really needed a better flute - a professional standard flute. At the time James Galway was visiting the North of England, where I’m from, and he was working with a Guitarist in Concert at The Sunderland Empire, so I went. I loved his playing and because I was seeking sponsorship to raise money for a professional flute, I thought “James Galway’s got loads of flutes, maybe he’s got a spare old one lying around”! Well I know that I was a bit naive, but I left a letter for him at the stage door at the theatre where he was performing. It was just a little letter about what I was doing, that I was 16 and that I didn’t have enough money for a new flute and does he ever sponsor anybody. I didn’t really expect that he would. Later on, after the concert, I got a phone call to my home phone and it was James Galway. I thought it was a hoax call as it was a really crackly line. Hearing an Irish voice though actually convinced me it was really him. He had a lovely chat with me on the phone - I was pretty much lost of words. He was so lovely to give me the phone call and to spend the time asked what I was doing and taking such an interest. He said “Well I’m not in a position where I can sponsor people because if I did it for one I would have to do it for everybody. But I wish you all the very best with your career”. That was just so encouraging that he took the time to inspire me like that. And I did get a professional flute in the end!

Photos courtesy Gliss Flute and Harp. Hospital photos courtesy Music In Hospitals


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