Interview with the first flute of the Bolshoi Theater
Born in Vladikavkaz, the beautiful, sunny and always smiling Natalia Bereslavtseva is the first flute of one of the most important musical institutions in the world – the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. For us it was a real pleasure to speak with this exceptional musician but also a very nice and humble person. The opportunity to interview her arrived on December 7, 2019 in Venice, in the occasion of her participation in the San Martino a Natale festival.
Natalia, how long have you been playing the flute? Why did you choose this particular instrument? How it attracted you?
I wasn’t thinking about the flute, I was 6 years old when my parents asked me if I want to play an instrument. Of course I wanted!!! Why flute? It was probably an experiment on their part. My brother was already playing the violin and the flute sound was mysteriously beautiful. A nice coincidence was the fact that an excellent flute teacher appeared at school that year. Since then, the flute has been my destiny, my life and I am happy that everything went that way.
And how did you get in the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater?
I entered in the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater in 2004. It was a difficult moment for me, a moment of reflection. I was almost ready, at that moment, to leave the music, for almost two years I didn’t touch the instrument. But life turned out in such a way that it was necessary to work and I discovered by chance that a competition would soon be held for the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra. It was very risky, in one week I had to remember all my professional habits. The time was very short, ask any musician, especially to join such a prestigious orchestra! I think I can be called lucky. They took me. Initially , at the position of piccolo flute and 3 years later I made another internal audition and I was transferred to the solo position. I still consider it a miracle, given the fact that the best russian flutists attended the audition.
The orchestra is a family. How is the life in your big and famous family?
A very difficult question for me. The family is a family, it is difficult to discuss. You just accept it with all its defects and virtues and learn to live with dignity in it. Of course sometimes it’s not easy. For example, we have 3 soloists and 2 soloists-regulators, that makes 5 soloists on the flute.
It is impossible to do without the element of competition, you must always be at the top. I’m lucky, our group of flutes is a real family, ready to support each other in everything.
In general, we have a healthy and friendly atmosphere in the orchestra, perhaps partly because we are very many. There are almost 250 musicians in the orchestra, in the morning a colleague is sitting next to me, in the evening – other, the next day there may be – third. This is interesting, really! Because everyone is so different and the same music sounds differently every time. You have to adapt and change every day and this is an extremely exciting experience.
Does this ambiance allow you to realize fully and successfully your creative potential?
I think so. I have the unique opportunity to play various musical styles on different instruments. Famous conductors of baroque music come to us and we move from our usual repertoire of opera and ballet to the baroque. Colleagues with string instruments put the gut strings, I take out a set of historical flutes and nobody believes that these same people played Puccini or Thcaikovsky yesterday and today Handel, are mastering easily the techniques and style of the Baroque music.
For example, we had productions of Handel’s opera “Rodelinda” with Christopher Moulds, “Alcina” with Andrea Marcon and this year Purcell “Dido and Aeneas” again with Christopher Moulds. They have been an absolute success! It is very interesting and I am always excited to participate in these productions. Of course, we also play a lot of chamber music and this is another part of our life that is necessary for any musician. We constantly have concerts in the Bolshoi Theater chamber hall, often several times a week. Yes, I work a lot with the main orchestra and obviously sometimes I’m tired but I always play with great pleasure in ensemble, as a soloist, I make various interesting programs. Of course, I participate in our beautiful chamber orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater – it seems to me that in the last 7 years I’ve missed only one concert!
I am also often invited to play in other cities in Russia and abroad. It is difficult to find time for everything with such schedule, but I try not to refuse offers because the musician-soloist needs constant growth, needs impressions and new experiences. Solo performances help a lot in this sense!
What motivates you for your activities?
Motivation is difficult to explain. Either there is or there is not. I guess I never thought about. There is something inside me that constantly keeps me going, learning new music, playing, inventing new programs etc. This is probably as natural as breathing. Well, it is impossible to answer the question: what motivates you to breathe? Life, life itself. Music is life, right down to the last breath.
What was the most unusual performance of the flutist Natalia Bereslavtseva?
There were many unusual performances. I sang on stage (as it was written by the composer) and played on a graphic soundtrack, and imagine this almost pure improvisation on stage for about twenty minutes! The music was represented not in the usual way, but in the literal sense by the graphics. For example, a square or a delicate curved line that turns into a curl divided into a dispersion of circles…and from all this, should appear music that reaches the public.
There were many unusual things, I don’t even remember everything. Among the latest is a production of the ballet Winter Fairy with the music by Joby Talbot. The composer included some special instruments in the score, like the Bansuri Indian flutes. They asked me if I wanted to learn how to play them, having only 6 months. Six Bansuri flutes, each in its own system and with its particular fingering, having nothing to do with my ordinary flute.
It was a terrible risk, after having accepted, it was already impossible to refuse because there would be no substitute. I took the opportunity. I admit it, when the instruments arrived from India and I started learning them, I was simply terrified. I didn’t understand how it was possible, it was difficult but also incredibly interesting. For hours at home I was listening to Indian folk music, trying to catch the characteristic tricks. Well, I was studying, studying and at the same time playing the usual flute in the orchestra. My brain was boiling! Now I can say that everything worked. We have already held two series of these performances and the success was exceptional.
When did you first realized that the music is your life?
It happened that my parents have always loved music passionately. At the same time, they are professional electronic engineers. My dad always liked to play the piano and my mother was singing in the vocal ensemble where they met. Music brought them together and accompanied them throughout their lives. First of all, they raised my older brother giving him the opportunity to become an excellent musician, violinist, he is now the first violin of the Moscow Operetta Theater orchestra. When I was born, nobody even thought about what I would do. It was practically decided at my birth. However when I started singing all my brother’s violin exercises I heard, at the age of 4, the fact that I would become a musician was already obvious. I never thought about it, not even imagined that it could be something else. Therefore, it is impossible to answer when I first felt that music is the job of my life. It could not have been otherwise.
How would you describe yourself in two words?
What should a beginner start with if he wants to follow your steps?
He must start with loving music. He should have the feeling that could not live without it …otherwise, it’s not worth it, in my opinion. I think this is the main and indispensable condition for a musician, still – don’t be afraid to take risks and make experiments.
Do you like Venice?
This is love at first sight, at first breath and also at first sound! When we landed and I’ve got off the plane, the first thing I heard at the airport was Vivaldi’s flute concerto. How could I not fall in love with Venice right away? Of course, I will come here again!
*A bansuri is a side blown flute originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is an aerophone produced from bamboo, used in Hindustani classical music. It is referred to as nadi and tunava in the Rigveda and other Vedic texts of Hinduism. Its importance and operation is discussed in the Sanskrit text Natya Shastra. A bansuri is traditionally made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes. Some modern designs come in ivory, fiberglass and various metals.