A flute in full blow draws me to a Taisho-period building behind the Catholic church in Hayama. A window is open, and whoever is playing sounds pretty good to this amateur.
William Bennett, whose career over four decades as a flutist requires two Web sites, is more critical, but proactively. A very good amateur, yes, but neurosurgeon Akira Onuki from Saitama needs to work at improving the tone of his playing. With patience but insistently, Wibb (as he is known to those in the know) spends some 45 minutes drawing the best out of musician and his instrument.
“Akira is the fifth student I’ve mentored today,” Wibb explains afterward. “We have six more days ahead in this workshop,” organized by Danish flutist Marie Okabe, who lives locally. “It’s a little disappointing that we have less than 20 signed up, but Marie has done a fine job. We attract up to 60 at our U.K. summer school, with many distinguished names.”
Born, raised and still based in London, Wibb recalls how wind instruments came into his life. “At school, a boy spent half his term’s pocket money on a Bakelite whistle. I thought it so wonderful that I did the same and, by the end of the first day, could play ‘Clementine.’ “
His grandmother had owned a piano, and when she died, she left it to the grandchild she thought showed the most interest and promise: Wibb, age 7. Sadly, when things were tight postwar, his mother sold it. “A tragedy, but life moves on.”
When Wibb began listening to records of orchestral works, he picked out the flute as sounding sexier than the recorder, and in doing so found the love of his life. “My playing has always been in pursuit of a voice. I’m still developing, listening, learning. Will I never stop playing? Absolutely.”
In 1995, he was presented with an OBE by the queen for services to British music. “The Scots Guards played at my investiture, which was ironic, because when I was in the Scots Guards many years ago, I played at other people’s investitures.”
In the early days of his musical training, he studied in France as well as in London. And has been principal flute for many orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and the English Chamber Orchestra. He also guests with the Kanazawa Symphony Orchestra, with whom he has a special relationship. “I was there before I came here.”
Wibb and his wife, Michie (“also a flute player — she heard one of my recordings, decided she wanted to study with me and stayed”), arrived in Hong Kong on Aug. 30 on a six-week tour. After 10 days they moved on to Japan and Matsumoto, where they visited a flute factory, and then Kanazawa. Arriving in Hayama last week, they’ve been swimming. “I love it here. It’s like Italy!”
The only difficulty in working with Japanese students is language. But assisted by his interpreter, Jun Sasai, another flutist, “we more than manage.” (An unofficial discography by Jun pleases Wibb very much: a “surprisingly thick” booklet listing his musical achievements and many hundreds of his recordings.)
Among the five students mentored throughout Monday, Wibb found the main requirements to be focusing, and the musical principles of stress and flexibility. Visiting Japan to teach for over 20 years, Wibb is used to handling differing levels of skill (“you find different levels everywhere”) and says that Japanese students suffer only from a lack of tradition.
“Flute is a relatively new instrument in Japan, so there is less background in stressing and shaping the music,” he explains.
No sooner does the intensive master class end on Saturday than William must switch his mind set for performing the following day. The “William Bennett Flute Recital” is slated for Sunday, Oct. 9, at The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama, in Hayama, starting at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5:45.
Asked how he created the concert program, Wibb runs his finger down the list. “The recital I gave three days ago in Kagoshima was very different. The hall in Hayama is smallish, with no piano. So we are having to use an electric piano, which will be played by Noriko Sato, our course accompanist. But such a restriction is fine if you are careful about what you choose to play.”
The electric piano, he elaborates, is touch sensitive for Bach — such as the aria from the “St. Matthew’s Passion,” with the flute obbligato and soprano parts played on harpsichord.
Poulenc’s composition “Villanelle” was written for a tiny Chinese pipe that is just wonderful for naive melodies. The other piece Wibb will be playing by this composer is in “chanson” style, conjuring up the night club music of Poulenc’s friend Edith Piaf.
Wibb will play “Bordello,” the first movement of Astor Piazolla’s “Histoire de Tango,” with the piano set to guitar mode. It’s the thing he really appreciates about the electric piano: its amazing versatility. “It’s useful for playing romantic music, as well as harpsichord and lute parts in Baroque music, and the most contemporary pieces.”
Wibb will conclude with “Airs Valaques” by Doplar. “It’s for my grandmother, who was ‘Wallich.’ Her family was kicked out Wallachia, a district of Romania, then migrated first to Denmark and then England. It’s a wonderful melody in Transylvanian style that would normally be accompanied by cymbalon, a Hungarian instrument played with hammers.”
Returning to London within days, he can see no further than his first musical appointment: playing at a friend’s 70th birthday celebration at the Wigmore Hall — Trevor Wye, who in Wibb’s eyes, has written the definitive flute book, and whom he quotes often during teaching and master classes.
Nothing before that?
“I have to go to the dentist.”