BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
“Where would we be without France?” flautist Jane Rutter asks us.
The Australian musician has devoted her life to this European nation. After graduating from the Sydney University, she received a French Government scholarship to study in Paris and is now a specialist in the French Flute School.
This year, she honoured her love of French music in a collaboration with The Flowers of War. Alongside David Pereira (cello), Tamara-Anna Cislowska (piano), and Christopher Latham (violin and director), Jane presented French works from WWI composers Ravel, Boulanger, and Debussy against projections of Monet’s paintings of the era (find out more about how this project was brought to life).
Next, she performs Ravel again – but this time alongside Piaf, Poulenc, and Faure – in Cabaret Parisien at the Camelot Lounge on November 12.
We catch up with Jane to learn about her deep connection to French fine artists and composers alike.
You’re quite possibly Australia’s biggest advocate of French music. What is it you love about the works by composers such as Ravel, Boulanger, and Debussy, which you recently performed?
Contained within French music, there is a vocal line which follows through the harmonies as well as the melodies. By the time Ravel, Boulanger and Debussy and their contemporaries were around, the cross-fertilisation of the visual arts and music was incredibly strong. When you listen to this music, there is an imagery, an immediacy of connection to French culture and all that France represents. I love this!
What, to you, typifies the ‘French’ sound of these wartime composers?
The music evokes a French nostalgia for classical mythology and more. French music of this era fulfils a divine yearning in me – it’s an innate longing that we as humans all have. There is to be found in the music, an insouciance – an elegant, sometimes wistful passion, a sense of nostalgia, a reckless yet manicured sensuality. By this time, the boundaries of Romanticism have been truly pushed to provide us with a more abstract and therefore perhaps deeper sense of connection.
In your Flowers of War concert (the next of which is on this month), you performed French music that was written during Monet’s time. How can you see the music and paintings overlap?
Throughout my life as a French flute player, I have been devoted to telling the story of Paris and its music, the cultural effect that the French capital has had on the world.
Where would we be without France? The Parisian love affair with the human voice – reborn in the opera houses of the 19th Century and the singing melodies of Chopin – is a tradition that is elegant, passionate, communicative, lyrical. This music has a narrative connection which directly impacted the visual arts and particularly paved the way for Impression. Lyricism is everywhere in Paris: not only in music, but in art, food, fashion and the way people live.
When I think about what France represents on the levels of culture, the arts, politics, freedom of expression, democracy, equality, etiquette, manners, language, it’s the greatest honour to have been awarded le Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters: 2016).
Take us into your relationship with Monet. When did you first set eyes on his work and, as a musician, how have you grown to understand his pieces in the years since?
I don’t remember a time when I was not aware of Monet’s beautiful work through art books at home. My mother took me to Paris when I was 11 and we visited many art galleries. I remember the Water Lilies, of course, but was particularly struck by Le Train dans la Neige and Soleil Levant.
A musician all my life, I feel connected to everything in a way that I describe as Neptunian. Everything is more immediately connected when one is underwater. Even though we are creatures of air, we originate from the sea – so music and (especially impressionistic) art resonate with us with the density of water. Monet’s works appear as if viewed through water – with a Neptunian connection.
I have a passion for Paris during the period of Impressionism and Symbolism, La Belle Epoque. I love the effects and implications of light and water within visual art, so Monet is a hero for me.
Tell us what performances like these mean to you.
I have strong personal ties to this music. When I studied flute (on a French Government scholarship) in Paris, many of my musical colleagues were studying composition with Nadia Boulanger, composer Lili Boulanger’s sister. My teacher Jean-Pierre Rampal often performed with the harpist Lily Laskine, who (I’m told) dated Debussy! So the lineage is direct for me via my flute teachers: Rampal, Alain Marion and Raymond Guiot. I love sharing this legacy with my audiences.
The style of my Paris flute teachers has philosophical and musical links to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and to many French composers. Personally linked to Debussy, Ravel, Nijinsky, Poulenc, Bolling, Stravinsky, they treated the flute as a popular voice. The style is emotive, technically brilliant, warm and compelling. It cradles the listener in the vocal line of the music. This wonderful musical and artistic philosophy is kept alive in Christopher Latham brilliant project: Monet’s The Flowers of War concerts.
Image supplied: Jane Rutter at Elydene Gardens, Gordon NSW for ABC CD cover 2014.