Daniel Pailthorpe, principal flute in the BBC Symphony Orchestra By Robert Bigio
Daniel Pailthorpe was captivated by the sound of the flute at the age of six when he heard his parents’ recording of Jean-Pierre Rampal. He demanded to learn to play, was taken for a lesson and was told he had to wait for two years because he didn’t yet have enough teeth. It would be an understatement to say he was disappointed. ‘I found it hard to forgive the teacher,’ he said, ‘until last year when I discovered that I am now playing on what was once her flute.’ Teacher or no, he taught himself to play, helped by an older boy at his prep school, using A Tune a Day. He did receive some good early musical training after joining the local church choir, at St. Mary’s, Harrow-on-the- Hill (and in fact was once runner-up in the Choirboy of the Year competition). At the age of eleven Daniel attended the Royal Academy of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner, where he had flute lessons with Derek Honner. He admits to having had sporadic practice habits which did wonders for his sight-reading ability in his lessons (and he says he sincerely hopes Derek Honner isn’t reading this). At the age of twelve Daniel attended Harrow School, which might have had great success in turning out prime ministers but was, as Daniel remembers it at the time, a place where philistinism reigned. Junior Academy was a life- saver for him, as was getting into the National Youth Orchestra the following year. ‘The NYO was a turning point,’ he remembers. ‘I shall never forget the overwhelming thrill of experiencing, from the eighth flute chair, Don Juan at the first rehearsal.’ Nor, as a pupil at a school for boys, will he forget the presence in the NYO of those otherwise most rare creatures in his life: girls. Daniel became principal flute in the NYO at the age of seventeen. Before taking up a place at Cambridge, Daniel spent a year in Paris studying with Gaston Crunelle, who had been professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire. Crunelle was the dedicatee of the Dutilleux Sonatine and of Messiaen’s Le merle noir and was, as Daniel remembers him, an incredible link with the past. He also remembers having to play his Taffanel and Gaubert exercises in a haze of blue smoke from M. le professeur’s never-extinguished Gauloises. Paris was Daniel’s first taste of freedom and self-sufficiency. Busking proved rather lucrative, but his oh-so-exclusive school had failed to explain to him the basics of a balanced diet, and the delights of the particularly fine local patisserie proved so difficult to resist that he managed to contract a mild form of scurvy. He survived and went to Clare College, Cambridge from 1984 to 1987, where he read music. At the end of his first term he joined the college’s very fine choir, where he discovered he could sight-read and could sing very low bass notes, ‘Even without even the aid of a hangover’, as he puts it. The choir was directed by the brilliant and uncompromising Timothy Brown, who reawakened Daniel’s love of English church music, largely abandoned since his voice broke. Daniel strongly recommends any would-be orchestral musician to join a choir, where so much can be learned about blending and voicing (quite apart from the wonderful repertoire). Guest conductors of the Clare College choir included Roger Norrington (who directed some unforgettable performance of the music of Schütz) and John Rutter, whose Cambridge Singers Daniel later joined. A happy consequence of joining that choir was that John Rutter wrote some flute arrangements for Daniel to perform with the choir, and a highlight of his early professional career was performing Rutter’s Skylark in Carnegie Hall, with solo parts for himself and for the pianist Wayne Marshall. During his time at Cambridge, Daniel’s flute playing and his singing were of equal importance to him. His two flute lessons a term with Peter Lloyd kept his technique ticking over, and in addition to his singing he became conductor of the Cambridge University Gilbert & Sullivan Society. In 1986 he joined the European Community Youth Orchestra, and the following year he did post-graduate study at the Royal Academy of Music with William Bennett. During this post-graduate year in London, Daniel accepted the occasional professional singing engagement and at one stage considered singing as a career. However, a Countess of Munster Scholarship awarded in 1988 allowed him to do six months’ further study in America with Geoffrey Gilbert. ‘I was amazed,’ he remembers, ‘not only by his innate teaching ability (like a ‘flute doctor’ who could diagnose and cure any ailment), but also by his dazzling technique. At the age of seventy-four he had the fingers of a twenty- year-old and could outplay any of us on his famous top D scale exercises.’ When Geoffrey Gilbert’s health began to fail (he died later that year), Daniel continued his studies with Thomas Nyfenger, a man described by Daniel as an eccentric genius. In 1990 Daniel joined the orchestra of the English National Opera as co-principal flute. Ten years later he joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a similar position. A couple of years before he had been invited by Richard Hickox to play in the St. Endellion Festival in Cornwall. The oboist in the orchestra was an American named Emily, who arrived at the first rehearsal jetlagged, extremely wet from the British weather and in not the best of temper. Daniel remembers a vision of loveliness arriving in the rehearsal hall. Emily remembers thinking, ‘So who is this man playing a strange wooden flute?’ She clearly decided that her first impression was not the correct one, because Daniel and Emily Pailthorpe have, as the fairy tales say, been living happily ever after and have produced three children. They founded Conchord, a mixed chamber ensemble which Daniel also directs as an ensemble for concertos. Conchord have made many recordings, including one of George Crumb’s The Voice of the Whale (Vox Balaenae) and one of Bach concertos, which was Classic FM’s CD of the Month in 2006. Daniel is currently working on a reconstruction of Mozart’s ‘lost’ flute version of the Sinfonia concertante K.297b. In 2007 he returned to the National Youth Orchestra, this time as coach of the flute section. Daniel is also a frequent guest principal with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Daniel Paithorpe performs on a wooden flute by Rudall Carte with a headjoint by Robert Bigio. www.conchord.co.uk Discography: Bach Suite in B minor. CHRCD014  www.champshillrecords.co.uk Duruflé and Pierné chamber works. CHRCD010 Crumb: Vox Balaenae. BBM1076 www.sanctuaryclassics.com Bach Flute works. CHRCD031 Also: Poulenc Sonata and Sextet ASVCD, to be reissued on CHR
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Daniel Pailthorpe Photograph by Robert Bigio
Daniel Pailthorpe Photograph by S.L. Chai
Bach: Suite in B minor (Polonaise, Menuet and Badinerie) from Bach Flute works. Daniel Pailthorpe, flute; London Conchord Ensemble (Mia Cooper and Maya Koch, violins; Douglas Paterson, viola; Bridget MacRae, cello; Enno Senft, double bass). Champs Hill Records CHRCD031.
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