BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Organ champion James Flores set himself a challenge: 12 gigs in 12 months. Now, having passed the half-way mark, he reflects on his journey so far.
James first hit the keys as a four-year-old piano student, and won the Albury-Wodonga Eisteddfod, was a Junior Champion in the Bernstein Piano Competition in Shepparton and a finalist in its Ringwood event. He’s also skilled in violin, with a 2009 AMusA under his belt.
It wasn’t until 2011 that James started to explore sacred music on the organ, and after performing in a series of concerts and albums he started studying as Organ Scholar of the St Matthew’s Music Association. This year, James won second place in the Ringwood Classical Organ Competition, and holds more qualifications on this instrument than you could count.
And to throw in a fun fact for you, he also has an IT degree and works at Fairfax Media. Go figure – he’s just that talented. Let’s learn more about his work.
So, 12 recitals in 12 months. A huge challenge! Tell us why you wanted to embark on this sort of musical journey.
The major cities of Australia – and I assume around the world – have lunchtime recitals and it is a standard cultural occurrence. The city of Albury, where I live, is a thriving regional centre and it only seemed fitting to place it on the map as a place of musical interest.
Last year, Albury hosted its inaugural Albury Chamber Music Festival, a three-day musical oasis of concerts featuring professional artists. However, the musical supporters of Albury thought that there should be something else to fill in the year leading up to the ACMF. With the support of the ACMF committee and the St Matthew’s Music Foundation, a Tunes on Tuesday lunchtime recital series was established this year – a fortnightly recital for local musicians.
However, there was a problem. How on earth would we fill each fortnight with 40 minutes of music? This was where this musical journey began! To get things established, I committed to doing a recital each month and we managed to seek out other local emerging musicians to fill in the other spots.
How did you go about planning this concert series?
To be honest, I don’t know how it all just magically came together! But of course, there was plenty of administrative work behind the scenes. In the beginning, there were many TBAs – ‘to be advised’ – on the back of the recital program. It wasn’t until a few months in where we managed to convince local musicians to showcase their abilities, talents and hard work by performing in a lunchtime recital. Aside from my organ recitals, we’ve had a school perform selections from their musical, a couple of pianists, a pair of siblings on violins, and upcoming is a cello recital by Caleb Murray, who CutCommon has previously interviewed.
What were your expectations going into this new project before you had your first concert?
My greatest fear was how I was going to come up with a unique program of music each month, and how would I find the time to learn new repertoire and bring back repertoire I’ve learnt previously. In some ways, this is different to how a travelling concert organist would plan a series of recitals. He or she would more or less have to prepare a single program – with a few extra works, depending on the style of organ – and perform this to a different audience each time. Of course, I am in no way discounting how ‘easy’ this may appear to be. Their program would be comprised of major organ works and the stress of giving a recital on a different organ each time!
You’ve just passed your half-way point. How have you evolved as a player through your experiences?
As with anything, the more you do something, the easier it seems to become. I have become a little more familiar and comfortable performing in public. Of course, I will always get the pre-recital nervousness, but I think that is just about normal with every performer. For me, it now seems less about ‘just playing notes’ and ‘just getting through a piece’. It has manifested into providing the audience with a satisfying musical experience on the King of Instruments.
What has been the most memorable recital so far, and why?
That’s a hard one to answer. I have great memories of each recital I do. But if I had to pick the most memorable recital, it would have to be the one I had just recently given! An audience has an intuitive way of knowing if you are enjoying what you are playing. To end the last recital I gave, I played William Walton’s Crown Imperial. It is such a jolly ceremonial piece and pleasing to the ear. The audience was receptive by its level of applauds and smiles afterwards. Whilst they may not all understand the complexities and hours of practice you put into preparing a major work, they do know if you are making music and enjoying yourself.
Most of your concerts have taken place in Albury. How has your audience changed – are you finding regulars are appearing, or fresh faces experiencing your music each time?
It has been reassuring that the numbers have been increasing after each recital! There are also several regulars which we appreciate tremendously. I understand that a 1.10pm start on a Tuesday won’t suit everybody, so we can’t expect huge numbers. However, as the Tunes on Tuesday recital series is held at St Matthew’s in the heart of the Albury CBD, we hoped that people working in the area could take their lunch and enjoy music at the same time. Whilst these are bona fide concerts, there is still a casual atmosphere to the event. If you come in late or have to leave early, that is no problem at all.
We would like to think that the recitals are approachable by the general public. The recitals are advertised on the St Matthew’s website and because of this, we’ve had visitors from interstate pop in whilst passing through.
What are your biggest goals for the remainder of the recitals?
Probably getting through them, hah! But in seriousness, my main goal is to please my audience and present it with a varied and approachable organ recital each time I perform. The organ is capable of a variety of sounds, tonal colours, and dynamics, but I can’t be blasting the audience with pieces that showcase the ‘full organ’ all the time – as exciting as it may be. A varied program educates the listener to the full capabilities of the mighty instrument.
How are you planning to celebrate when it’s all over?
I don’t think it will ever be over! I’m sure many musicians complete a project, celebrate and feel relieved, only to start looking for the next adventure they can put their hands on. But for this project, I will celebrate with a bottle of Moscato and then anxiously await the next adventure that comes my way.
Any parting words?
Musicians work more hours behind the scenes than most people probably realise. Countless hours are poured and invested into practice, professional development, and administrative work. Our music libraries and instruments – along with maintenance – are an ongoing investment. I wish people were more aware of this. Respect your musicians!
Follow James’ career and check out his organ recital schedule on his website.