Jane Rutter is an Australian flautist of international renown, who recently mesmerised the crowd with her tunes at an exclusive concert in Mumbai. Known for her one-woman classical-cabaret-style performances, Rutter has played around the world, and as incorporated into her music varied influences. In a conversation with Taru Bhatia, Rutter talks about her musical journey as a flautist, her debut performance in India and her affinity to Indian culture.

Q. You are known for your solo classical-cabaret-style performances. What attracted you to do this particular style? 

A.  Only some of my performances are described as “classical cabaret”. In my world, all types of fine music belong together. I really enjoy performing classical music not just in a concert hall but also in a cabaret environment.There is accessibility to the audience at this type of venue. Generally, I have no barriers between music styles, and my performances flow effortlessly from a classical piece to world music or cabaret… My commitment is to communicate the music and its spirit.

When I pick up my flute and play, I am totally devoted to the sound and the effect it has on my audience. 

So whether I’m playing Gershwin, or Bach, or an improvised jazz piece, my intellectual and emotional intentions are the same. Some people think that classical music has no humour but this is not true. I have “showbiz flair” in my personality. Nothing thrills me more than being in front of an audience. I like to move my audiences to tears and sometimes even to make them laugh. I like to cross the barrier between performer and audience, so that we’re on the same musical journey together. I believe my audiences come out from my performances with a sense of connection and emotional freedom, and I believe this is why music exists.

Q. With the flute as your weapon, you are conquering the world one performance at a time. What made you choose this instrument?

A. In some ways, the flute chose me because I was obliged to learn it at an early age. Later, I discovered that the flute is the oldest instrument known to man, and that anthropologists believe early man used the flute as a tool of communication. The oldest flute dates back to some 40,000 years. I was intrigued to find that one of the national instruments of our indigenous Aboriginal people in Australia is the didgeridoo, which dates back to the same time, and is also a wind instrument likened to a giant flute. As an Australian-French flute player this pleases me because in France, we believe that the flute is an alternative voice. 

The first flute I played at the age of about four, and I have since then collected over 100 different flutes, and I am happy to say that I play all of them. Whether they be my classical gold and silver instruments or a simple bamboo flute or bansuri. I was privileged to study in Paris on a French government scholarship under the tutelage of great French flute masters, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Alain Marion. These luminaries of the instrument showed me that the flute could be a voice and that my best means of expression was via the sound of my flute.

Q. What is it about French music that you so admire?

A. The thing I love about French music is that there is a narrative in both harmony and melody. To me, French music, like Italian music, is mostly about vocal line and the voice. The reason for this is: after the French Revolution, when Paris was being rebuilt and the Opera Garnier was constructed, the voice ruled supreme in this beautiful city. 

Fine music keeps the emotional portals open. My intention in coming to India was to merge the sound of my different flutes with a love I have had for India since I first visited the country as a child. 

Instrumentalists were inspired to copy the sound of the voice. Frederick Chopin was in Paris and through his music proved that the right hand of the piano could emulate a beautiful soprano. This idea caught on with all French instrumentalists. I believe it had a direct effect on the flourishing of other art forms such as Impressionism and Symbolism.

I find French music enchanting because there is sensuality in the harmonies and the melodies. There is a manicured elegance about French music. There is passion and expression, even in the lighter pieces, their mere frivolity leads to reflection. French music is a music to which the soul has an easy access—it is like a French embrace on each cheek, a delightful musical journey. Even the most contemporary French classical pieces have a special kind of connection for the listener.

Q. You have been an artistic director for many concerts. Where did the idea for production come from and how did it evolve?

A. My need to communicate is paramount. I love to devise different-themed concerts to convey my ideas and the joy that I feel towards my audience. For my solo recitals, of course, but I also like to put my leadership skills to assist my fellow performers. I am a people’s person and I truly enjoy devising a programme, putting various musicians together, curating the musical material in such a way that the performance, the lighting, the program, even the marketing images all come together as a whole, which then resonates with the audience.

Q. You had your debut performance in India recently. Could you tell me about your experiences of being, and playing in India?

A. India has long been a dream destination for me. I adore Indian classical music, as well as many other aspects of Indian culture. India is a land of deep spirituality. As a performer, I believe the flute is a deeply spiritual instrument. There is a great cultural diversity in your country, which appeals to me. I believe Indian people are innately attracted to the voice of the flute—the yearning that the sound of the flute creates. This sound of the flute can provide a sense of deep reconciliation with the divine in all of us. I expect this will resonate with my Indian audiences. Being here, I am mesmerised by your fascinating culture.

Fine music keeps the emotional portals open. My intention in coming to India was to merge the sound of my different flutes with a love I have had for India since I first visited the country as a child. My French flute teacher, Jean-Pierre Rampal, once said that the sound of the flute is the sound of man that flows freely from his body and I hope to convey this to my audience.

Q. For you, what is the best thing about performing live?

A. The best thing about performing is sharing the musical journey with my audience. There is something magical and intangible about the vibrant set up of a live performance. That is a form of alchemy for me.


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