Boston Conservatory student and flutist Keren Satkin (B.M. '18, flute) recently took first prize at The James Pappoutsakis Flute Competition and has been awarded the opportunity to perform a full recital at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall for the Fenwick Smith Tribute Concert in September 2017. Satkin shares her experience from the competition and what it was like to win.
How did you find out about this competition and what made you decide to participate?
This competition is one of the largest student flute competitions in the country. I remember growing up hearing about this competition and the winners. I had always aspired to win it someday. This is my second year entering the competition. While I did not expect to be a finalist, I decided to enter the competition with the intention of treating it as a learning experience. Any chance to get experience playing and auditioning behind a screen (a key aspect of future professional auditions, where musicians perform behind a screen that divides the performer from the judging panel) and learning new repertoire is always exciting for me. I try to enter in as many competitions and perform as often as I can. Practicing performance is just as important as any other practice.
What was the process like? Were there multiple rounds?
The competition has two rounds. The first is a blind audition where every contestant learns the same two contrasting solo pieces. You receive a designated time slot and everyone in that time slot draws a number from the hat. We are invited to wait in a warm-up room until our number is called. As someone who suffers from performance anxiety, I find the anonymity of the screen comforting. I played both of the pieces in their entirety and left the stage. After all of the contestants audition, the panel deliberates and calls the four finalists the same evening. I remember feeling more anxious waiting for the call than actually auditioning. After the preliminary round, the finalists are given completely new repertoire to prepare for the final round. The last round is open to the public and is treated like a performance. The contestants play all of their pieces with a short break in between each flutist. After the final performance, there is a short reception while the judges compare notes and decide the winner. The results are then publicly announced after the reception.
What were the repertoire requirements?
Everyone must learn the same pieces for the competition. The repertoire for the first round is always for solo flute, while the second round is generally a combination of solo and accompanied pieces. Each piece is meant to be very different, usually from different eras, or showcasing different aspects of flute playing that are challenging. This year, the judges called for Les Oiseaux tenders by Jean Rivier, and Etude no. 17 from Leonardo de Lorenzo’s “Non plus ultra" del Flautista, op. 34 for the first round. The final round called for Telemann Fantasie No. 2 in A Minor, In a Living Memory by Toshi Ichiyanagi, and the third movement of Bernhard Molique's Flute Concerto.
Which piece did you feel most comfortable performing and why?
For the preliminary round, I felt the most comfortable with the etude. While it was very technically and musically challenging, I gravitated toward the piece immediately and really enjoyed playing it. I found it to be challenging, and learning it was not only rewarding, but the demands of the piece made me a better musician. For the final round, I went back and forth between the pieces I felt most comfortable with. Each piece was challenging in very different ways. While the hardest piece to execute was the Ichiyanagi, I felt like the musical possibilities were endless despite the technical difficulties, and the piece was exciting to perform. While the Molique wasn’t particularly difficult to play, the character of the piece was challenging to convey to the audience. My favorite of the three was the Telemann. While preparing for the competition, I actually didn’t care for the piece. It wasn’t until a few days before the competition, when a friend told me that she could tell that I didn’t love the music, did I actually start to appreciate the beauty, charm, and simplicity of the piece on a whole new level. I was lucky enough to share my love for this music with the audience.
How did your studio teacher help you to prepare for the competition?
I am most fortunate to be studying under Linda Toote at the Conservatory. She has been the single best asset to my education, and I am incredibly privileged to have such an incredibly talented and knowledgeable performer, artist, teacher, and person as my private instructor. Linda has had many students not only be named finalists in the competition, but also win. She guided me throughout the entire process. She gave me many lessons throughout my winter break, provided invaluable insight, and gave me the support that I needed to get through months of stressful preparation. I would not be the artist I am today without her influence.
Besides practicing your repertoire, are there any other key strategies you use to prepare (mentally or physically) for performance scenarios like this one?
When preparing for this competition, I adhered to a strict practice schedule. I am a very detail-oriented person, and as a planning addict, found this approach to be the most beneficial. I played for as many people as I possibly could—colleagues, friends, family, conductors, other teachers—until they were all sick of hearing me play. These “mock auditions” helped me to combat my performance anxiety and gave me a chance to make music for an audience with the chance to receive feedback. All musical things aside, what got me through this stressful time was thoughtful self-care. I got a massage, I meditated daily, I spent enough time with the people I care about, and I reminded myself that winning wasn’t everything. While I wanted to win, what I wanted more was to represent myself through my performance and to give the audience the gift of music.
Winning this competition presents many opportunities for professional growth; which opportunity are you most looking forward to taking advantage of?
In the short term, I am most excited for my winner’s recital in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in September 2017. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to share the music I love with the world. To me, there is no greater gift than sharing my passion. In the long term, winning this competition has opened up many doors for me. The day after the competition, my inbox was flooded with congratulatory emails from musicians I didn’t know who wanted to connect with me. I have gotten many freelance jobs since then, and it has helped me to make connections right away that I might not have found otherwise. It has helped me get my name and my music out into the world, something that is immensely valuable.
Is there anything you learned as a musician/performing artist from this experience that you didn’t realize before?
I entered this competition with the mindset of treating it as a learning experience. While it ended better than I expected, learning the repertoire (and preparing for the final round especially) has highlighted both my strong points and my weaknesses. It gave me the opportunity to work on these weaknesses as a performer and as a person. The most valuable lesson I learned is not music-related, but rather about treating yourself with kindness, especially in a time of high stress.