Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oberlin Conservatory, Professor Michel Debost and Lessons Learned

Oberlin Conservatory of Music, established in 1865 is the oldest conservatory in continuous operation in the United States. For more than 100 years it has had a close association with the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the Steinway Company—the conservatory was their original customer and now has more than 200 Steinway pianos. It could be said to be a liberal place in terms of ideas and music. The Conservatory is located in what appears to my eyes to be a Soviet-style building, designed in the 1960s by Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki.

In preparing his U. S. tour itinerary, Maxim told me he had a deep desire to connect with Oberlin’s revered flute professor Michel Debost, who had known Maxim’s flute professor Yuri Dolzhikov. During the 1970s Dolzhikov had the unique distinction of being the only Russian flutist to be allowed to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jean-Pierre Rampal. Dolzhikov therefore became an important link between Russian students and the great French masters of the flute and the extensive French flute repertoire. Following his recital and master class, Maxim got a quick master class in what Debost called the "simplicity" of French flute music. Debost said, “Americans especially think French flute music is complicated.” First Maxim played the opening phrase of Debussy's Afternoon of the Faun. Then Debost played illustrate his point about utter simplicity.  Max wished I had taken a video to capture this lesson for all time. 

The atmosphere of the recital and master class was highly professional, and especially satisfying due to the superb accompaniment of pianist Alicja Basinska of the Cleveland Institute of Music.  Afterward informality set in with a group of students posing for a photo in the student lounge.  At Debost's invitation we all went round the corner (he rode his bicycle) to a campus spot for a beer and burger.  We ended the night much later, playing music, dancing and talking with students in the gazebo at the center of campus.

The next morning as we departed we returned to leave a coin at the gazebo.  It is a gesture many Russians believe will bring good luck and the chance to return one day to the same spot.  Along with the lesson from Professor Debost, Oberlin is forever emblazoned in memory.

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