Who would have known that this winter day in January 2008 would turn out to be a milestone in an already overwhelming life?
Well, first a few words about the project itself. Recording several new orchestral works within a strict time limit with the acclaimed pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London was thrilling and, for me, unpredictable. I had never heard any of the works performed beforehand, except one, nor had I in fact even tested the sheet music with an orchestra. Having said this I should add that I have never to this day been surprised by how the music sounds live, after writing down the notes in saunas, nature or wherever appropriate. So this in itself was not really a big issue for these two days when we were planning to record a full-length album with five FJB works for large symphony orchestra.
The only one of these works that I had previously heard live was «Flute Mystery» Op.66a, the alto flute version, which is dedicated to flautist Sir James Galway, who gave the first performance, playing in Washington DC in 2006 with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. On this album it is the version of «Flute Mystery» for C flute, Op.66b, that is performed.
It is one of life's many mysteries that some people don't seem to need frequent communication in order to reach an artistic understanding. Soon after my very first contact with Ashkenazy back when I was 17, he became a kind of musical father figure to me, supporting me with his integrity. I was, and still feel I am, very connected to his "third eye", which adds a unique charisma to his performances. So I felt honoured being able to collaborate with such a pre-eminent musician.
Catherine Beynon and Flint Juventino Beppe. Photo: Morten Lindberg.
The first day, the sessions went very well, laying down recordings of «Flute Mystery» Op.66b and «Flute Concerto No.1» Op.70, which I would sincerely describe as authentic, being made in the presence of the composer, and by a conductor who knows the composer very well, top-level musicians and the multi award-winning record label 2L, who are merciless on the subject of sound quality, but at the same time innovative when it comes to how we experience 3- dimensional sound.
The orchestra was placed in a full circle surrounding the conductor, prepared by producer Morten Lindberg in order to ensure that the balance in the sheet music could meet the audience in a specified, tailor-made audio landscape. All of these details were based on 2L's production experience, and both orchestra and conductor took the unusual instrument placement as a positive challenge. The master idea was that instead of hearing an orchestra playing in front of you, the music would now "embrace" the listener.
The flautist Emily Beynon, principal flautist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and her sister, harpist Catherine Beynon, were soloists. The Philharmonia Orchestra — an incredible ensemble with its own distinctive sound, which I have enjoyed on several albums the last decades — were the other human resources involved in the project. All together, the first day became a solemn moment for me as composer, being present at the recording sessions with such superlative forces.
However, at the end of day 1, I received a totally unexpected message. On my way back to my hotel, Ashkenazy's wife called me and told me that the maestro had suddenly been taken ill with fever, and that he therefore could not attend the second and last day of the recording sessions. The first thing I thought of was, of course, Ashkenazy´s condition. I was terrified that the illness might be serious. Then my thoughts turned to our project, which now faced a crisis. In such situations the brain works intensely to find a way out. We didn't have much time — neither did we have a backup solution. No other conductor was ready to step in. We only had the next day to finish the recording sessions. We were, it seemed, trapped.
Vladimir Ashkenazy told me, via his wife, that he saw me as the first option to conduct on day 2. I almost lost my senses. Me? I had never conducted so much as a small symphony orchestra before — or any sized orchestra, for that matter. What was worse, in social matters I am not particularly outgoing; I am not good at doing things on the fly. And in this project, we had available the Philharmonia Orchestra one of the world's greatest orchestras, one of my personal treasures since my childhood. A lot was at stake here.
Immediately, I felt horrified about the responsibility, but gradually this feeling changed into euphoria. Producer Morten Lindberg backed up Ashkenazy's suggestion. We sat in the taxi late at night. The producer and I made the decision together: I had to do the conducting myself. Not only because no one else could take over, but also because deep inside of me there is a perfectionist and, moreover, I had an intimate knowledge of the works we were to perform. Furthermore, the fact that Ashkenazy personally suggested me meant a lot. But, moving my body and arms is not part of my natural physical way of expressing myself. How should I even conduct 3/4 time — a waltz?