William Bennett

A Wealth of Musical Stories from Wibb

When William Bennett agreed to give the next Premier Flautist recital at the Royal Academy of Music, Karen Jones, organiser of this exceptional series, was very excited. “The one person I always listen to when I’m struggling with my own playing is Wibb,” Karen said, “so for me, the opportunity to hear him play and to ask him the questions that I know will help me continue to develop as a player is really exciting. I can honestly say that for me this recital will be the pinnacle of the Premier Flautist series.”

Wibb’s programme, with his accomplice Helen Crayford on piano, is full of unusual and interesting pieces. All but one of them are arrangements (some by Wibb himself) and cover a dazzling range of repertoire. These will, of course, be presented in Wibb’s usual amusing anecdotal style and the hidden stories of these pieces will no doubt be a treat in themselves.

The only item of mainstream flute repertoire in the concert is the Sonata by the French Romantic woman composer, Mel Bonis. Of this piece, Wibb will only reveal that “it is, of course, in the usual French way, all about sex” but promises, tantalizingly, that we can look forward to a more detailed elucidation on the day!

As something of a closet guitarist himself, Wibb’s arrangements often call on this instrument, and in the recital he will play two re-workings for flute and piano of arrangements originally made for flute and guitar. Poulenc’s Homage à Piaf, which started life as Improvisation No. 15  for Piano, was first brilliantly transcribed by the guitarist Jonathan Leathwood and subsequently recorded and performed by Jonathan and Wibb. The piece was later transcribed by Wibb for flute and piano and performed by him at last year’s William Bennett Summer School.  Wibb says, “it went down like a bomb and a lot of the participants at the summer school asked me for the music. So I decided that it was definitely worth doing again.”

Equally unusual, is the arrangement for flute and piano of Villa Lobos’ 1930 piece The Jet Whistle (Assobio a játo) which was originally written for flute and cello. “I started to make an arrangement of this for flute and guitar,” Wibb says, “because really Villa Lobos is the guitar, but while working on it I tried some bits out with Clifford Benson and decided I liked it even better for flute and piano. Clifford and I had great fun with this, and I feel that the piano arrangement leads one into understanding the harmonies a bit more.”

In fact, the hand of Wibb’s great accompanist Clifford Benson is upon a number of the pieces in the programme. The Mozart Sonata in A major (K.305), originally for violin, evolved when the pair performed together in Tokyo. “Clifford suggested this would be good for flute and when we tried it, with a bit of swapping around of parts in places, it worked perfectly.”

Wibb is also performing a work by Clifford Benson himself, the Tango Variations, which was first conceived as an oboe piece. In fact, the pair played the first variation as an encore in a Wigmore Hall concert before the manuscript was even seen by its commissioning oboist, and it wasn’t long before it was reworked in its entirety for flute. The work is now published for flute and piano.

Wibb, who says he is a great “tinkerer” with his flutes, will be playing on two different instruments in this concert. The first, a Louis Lot, dating from 1858, has been retuned by Wibb, who has moved all the tone holes and replaced the keywork with a modern Altus mechanism. The other flute which will make an appearance is Wibb’s favourite, another Louis Lot, this time from 1878 with thirty year-old Cooper keywork.

With this varied repertoire and such an engaging artist, we can be sure of an unforgettable concert in April.

First published in FLUTE, March 2012. A pdf of the published version of this article is available hereInterview with William Bennett

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