EX CATHEDRA | Rachel Brown - flute

From our ‘Bach, Mass in B Minor’ programme, November 2016

A leading exponent of historical flutes, Rachel Brown is in great demand worldwide, as a soloist, orchestral player and teacher. As principal flute and recorder player with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Hanover Band, the Brandenburg Consort, Collegium Musicum 90, Ex Cathedra and, more recently, Arcangelo, she has recorded extensively and performed throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan, China and Australia.

Her acclaimed solo recordings include the Telemann Fantasias, sonatas and concertos by JS, CPE and JC Bach, Handel, Quantz, and Leclair.

1. How long have you been a member of Ex Cathedra and why did you join?

I can’t remember when my first Ex Cathedra date was, but my arrival was memorable. I had allowed lots of time to drive from London, as a previous journey to Birmingham had been horribly delayed. As I reached in ring road with over an hour to spare, I heaved a sigh of relief, but suddenly the oil light on my car started flashing. I panicked and missed the turning to our rehearsal venue, continued far off route, eventually managed to stop at a garage, but had immense trouble removing the oil cap. After half an hour of battling with this, some kind man came to my rescue, I filled up with oil but then I couldn’t replace the cap. So I arrived at the rehearsal very late, flute tucked under my arm, both hands covered in thick black grime. I expected an angry conductor…maybe the sack… but Jeffrey stopped the rehearsal and greeted me with open arms: “Ah! You must be Rachel!”. I couldn’t even shake his hand! The church only had cold water and no soap, so I had to scrape the oil off with my nails, and play with numb hands which bore traces of the black oil for a long time!

2. What does a typical day look like for you?

I have absolutely no routine, but try to juggle many things at the same time. As Frederick the Great once said – every day is twenty-four hours too short! I set great store by even just a few minutes of yoga and my daily warm-up to maintain the embouchure, fingers, tongue and breath! I try to practise at least one month ahead, but swapping instruments all the time is a constant challenge as they each benefit from care and attention! My teaching is a big part of my life, both at the Royal College of Music, privately and on courses at home and abroad. There is something immensely rewarding in seeing my students progress. I am often away from home but all the ‘spare’ time travelling is devoted to various writing projects and I love coming home to my family and my time in the garden or the kitchen. Keeping up with admin is difficult, and every email begins with an apology for its lateness…

3. If you could choose to perform again any piece you have performed before with Ex Cathedra, what would it be, and & why?

That’s a difficult question! One of the things I love about Ex Cathedra is Jeffrey’s innovative programmes. Many years ago he put on a programme with massed children’s choirs, all singing from memory, the whole programme in Swedish and Latin, accompanied by groups as diverse as a trombone quartet and the baroque orchestra. I was pregnant at the time and went home so inspired, I would have happily moved to Birmingham to give my child that experience. There have been so many special concerts with Ex Cathedra – the ‘Marie Fel’ project was truly wonderful, but the Passion performances leave a deep impression. Jeffrey has such a wonderful sense of pacing and phrasing even the simplest chorales. Last year’s St John Passion was the best I’ve ever heard.

4. What’s your musical “guilty secret”?

It was at an Ex Cathedra rehearsal when cellist/ gamba player Richard Campbell jumped up to demonstrate the minuet that I felt this craving for more knowledge! For several years now I’ve been working and researching baroque dance with Birmingham’s own baroque dancer, Mary Collins. It has transformed my way of playing. We’re about to produce a film recreating original 17th and 18th century choreographies and a book for musicians. Wish I had done this thirty years ago!