Questions, and answers, from a flutist

Flute is one of those instruments that attracts many adherents.

Flute is one of those instruments that attracts many adherents. At professional orchestra auditions, there can be hundreds of applicants for one job. Teaching posts are no different. Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, however, has beaten the odds.

Besides having taught flute for 15 years at The College of Saint Rose, where five years ago she became an associate professor and the director of the Saint Rose Camerata, a faculty chamber music group, Chavez Hansbrough was hired in 2003 as the principal flutist for the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra.

And local audiences have increasingly enjoyed hearing her play on baroque flute at recitals, chamber music concerts and with baroque ensembles that support choruses.

Trained at New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona and Florida State University, where she earned her doctorate in flute performance, she has taught at her alma mater and Middle Tennessee State University, where she hosted several flute festivals that attracted hundreds of flutists.

The orchestras that she has performed with include the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Glimmerglass Opera, Huntsville (Ala.) Symphony, El Paso Pro-Musica Chamber Orchestra and the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1997, she recorded a solo disc, “American Flute Music: Leaving the Twentieth Century” (Fanfare).


The concerts:

Oct. 5: 8 p.m. Zankel Hall at Skidmore College. Baroque trios and solos: Bach, Blavet, Telemann, Michele delaBarre, Quantz. $8, $5, free for students. 580-5321;

Oct. 14: 4 p.m. Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra with violinist Sarah Chang. Barber, Brahms. $50. 793-1348;

Oct. 28: 3 p.m. Jewish Community Center, 2565 Balltown Road, Niskayuna. Music of Jewish/Israeli composers including Max Stern, Gary Schocker, David Leisner, George Gershwin. $13, $8, $5. 377-8803;


As a baroque flutist, she has performed locally at the Festival of Baroque Music in Greenfield Center, the Empire Baroque at the Cathedral of All Saints, and with Albany Pro Musica.

Chavez Hansbrough has also premiered several works by American composers, including those by Robert Baksa, Bruce Roter, Philip Sparke, Alfred Reed and the U.S. premiere of a work by Frigyes Hidas.

Recently, she took some time from her busy schedule to talk about the three concerts that she’ll perform in October (which don’t include her concerts at Saint Rose): Oct. 5: Baroque trio concert; Oct. 14: Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra; Oct. 28: Flute and guitar.

Q: How difficult is it to play in three different formats on two different instruments?

A: Orchestra is so different with so many people to listen to and with a conductor — to get the right ensemble and intonation — and there must be a cohesive woodwind section with the right blending and pitch. In chamber, it’s so exposed. There’s no conductor but it’s nice. You can collaborate and make decisions as to how you want to go with phrasing and tempo.

I try to play baroque flute as much as I can. When I have a lot of modern flute, I won’t pick it up for a month. I have learned to go back and forth. At first the tendency was to do the same things on baroque flute as the modern flute — the amount of air, the articulations, the fingerings. But it doesn’t work. In baroque flute there are no keys, so you have crossed or forked fingerings. The sound is softer and often sharp in pitch, so you hear a variety of tone colors from note to note. In modern flute, you play a uniform scale. The tone concept is so different for both. Baroque flute has a rounder sound; modern flute is more direct. And you don’t use breath vibrato on baroque flute. You use finger vibrato by wiggling your finger on the edge of the hole (there are six holes and one key on the baroque flute).

I also don’t believe in mixing baroque instruments with a modern ensemble. I’d have been killed if I tried to play my baroque flute in an orchestra — modern instruments are too loud.

Q: Modern flute has tons of technique studies, what do you practice for baroque flute?

A: Frederick the Great (King of Prussia, one of Mozart’s benefactors and a capable amateur flutist — 1740-1786) wrote 100 studies that are terrific. I can practice fingerings in awkward keys or focus on harder music. Lately, I’ve been working on a variety of articulations. Johann Joachim Quantz’s book, “On Playing the Flute,” (originally published in 1752) recommends certain syllables that you don’t use on modern flute.

I’m also really into ornamentation (filigreeing a melody with scales, trills, grace notes). I took master classes in college and got a sense of what’s tasteful. Quantz also gives patterns of what’s possible. It can be scary at first when you’re asked to do something that’s not on the page. Now, I’m comfortable.

Q: What got you into playing baroque flute?

A: When I was a doctoral student at Florida State, my teacher, Charles DeLaney, made every flutist take a class in baroque flute and recorder. I think I started playing them in 1988. I wasn’t so thrilled with recorder but I fell in love with the baroque flute with its sound and capabilities. (Although both instruments are made of wood, usually boxwood, the recorder is an instrument played vertically, while the baroque flute or transverse flute is played as a modern flute.) I joined a baroque ensemble at school and I’ve been playing ever since.

The school supplied the flutes then, and when I got my first job, I bought my own. I’ve bought and sold several since, but the one I have now made by Simon Palak of the Netherlands, I bought almost 10 years ago for $2,500 compared to a modern flute, which costs upwards of $12,000. The Palak is tuned at 415, which will have to match the harpsichord’s tuning (440 is generally what American orchestras tune to).

Q: For your two chamber music concerts, what are some of the things you’ll have to watch out for?

A: In the baroque concert, it will be balances. I’ll have to wait until we get into Zankel Hall to see what the acoustics are. Usually, it’s not a problem with viola da gamba and a harpsichord. Gamba players, like André O’Neil, can always come down and the harpsichordist could thin out his accompaniment. Their job is to fill out the harmonies with the flute line, but I’m not concerned since Andrew Appel is so skilled and knowledgeable.

With guitarist Micah Scoville, a colleague from school, it will be the quality of sound. I’ll be playing modern flute. If I were playing baroque flute, balances would work better with a lute or theorbo.

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