Lara Deutsch: Eyes on the Prize

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The timing was not perfect. Lara Deutsch had strep throat. But the flutist was instructed in no uncertain terms to appear as requested for a meeting at such-and-such an hour and in such-and-such place in Montreal.

“I was told that it couldn’t be at any other time,” Deutsch said from her home in Ottawa. “And I was told that I really had to be there.”

The appointment was worth keeping. On her arrival Deutsch learned that she was the 2019–20 winner of the Mécénat Musica Prix Goyer, a prize valued at $125,000 that includes $50,000 in cash, a series of music videos, a commissioned work and coaching in career management.

“Flabbergasted” is the word she selects to describe her reaction.

The Ottawa native could not have seen it coming. The six judges representing the Mécénat Musica philanthropic organization do not hold formal auditions. Rather they shadow candidates in live performances, in the manner established by the Gilmore Prize. Like the Gilmore judges, they remain nameless. Deutsch even declines to specify where in Montreal she heard the news, out of respect for their privacy.

The only formal requirement for consideration for the Prix Goyer (named after Jean-Pierre Goyer, 1932–2011, the federal cabinet minister and chairman of the Orchestre Métropolitain) is prior recognition by other established entities. As a former winner of the Canadian Music Competition (2010), the OSM Manulife Competition (2014), the National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition (2014) — and as one of the CBC’s Hot 30 Under 30 Canadian Classical Musicians — this Schulich School graduate certainly qualified.

A musician of many parts

But what happens post-prize? Probably several things. Deutsch is a flutist of many parts. She plays as a sub with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and OSM and last March joined the latter as third flute/piccolo in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on a tour of Europe under Kent Nagano. On Oct. 20 she plays with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir under David Fallis in Koerner Hall.

“For a wind player, it’s hard to have a full-time career as a soloist,” Deutsch explains. “You’re always going to be doing a little bit of everything. And that’s what I enjoy. I love to play in orchestras, I love to play chamber music, I love to play as a solo as well. It’s nice that I can do all three.”

Her orchestra résumé is substantial. In 2016–17 she joined the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as guest assistant principal flute and piccolo for a player taking a sabbatical, a situation that placed her mostly in the first chair but sometimes further down the line.

“As second flute, you find a way to blend and internalize the principal flute’s playing,” she says. “As first you have more voice and creative control. But it’s all teamwork, and that’s what I love.”

A former student at the Schulich School of Music of Tim Hutchins and Denis Bluteau — both OSM veterans — Deutsch has a natural affinity for their light, colourful and French-friendly style of playing. Also their dedication.

“The first word that comes to mind is passion,” Deutsch says when asked to reflect on the culture she has inherited at Schulich. One treasured memory is the McGill Symphony Orchestra’s performance in 2012 of Mahler’s Third Symphony under Alexis Hauser.

“He poured every ounce of his passion into that music,” she recalls. “He got you to express yourself. There are schools of thought that are more about the technique and the accuracy. But in the final analysis, music is about communication.”

Online and in concert

Deutsch brings similar conviction on a smaller scale to the Duo Kalysta, the pairing she has formed with her fellow Schulich alumna, harpist Emily Belvedere. The latest evidence is Origins, a recording headlined by an arrangement of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and including music by the Canadians Jocelyn Morlock and R. Murray Schafer and the French composer André Jolivet (1905–74). Both Apple (“The A-list: Classical”) and Spotify (“Classical New Releases: Spotify Picks”) have singled out tracks as highlights. In September Origins was also declared Record of the Week on the CBC Radio 2 show In Concert.

Coordinating schedules is not always easy: Belvedere lives in Toronto. A harp, unlike a flute, is not carry-on baggage. Still, the pair managed a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2016. Last August they undertook a tour of small-town Ontario — in two cars, to accommodate the harp. Next summer they expect to tour Europe. Part of the planning is finding classical harps in the various locales.

If the harp introduces transportation challenges, it also widens the scope of where concerts can happen. “Not needing a piano is great,” Deutsch says. The Toronto launch of Origins happened at a downtown brew pub in September. Last year the duo played as part of the Garage Concert series in Montreal. “You could hear birds chirping, which was great, because we were playing [R. Murray Schafer’s] Wild Bird.”

The cash award of the Prix Goyer comes with no restrictions. “It’s given with the understanding that the artist knows what is best for his or her career,” Deutsch says. As it happened, the money came handy. Deutsch had just bought a new piccolo.

The composition element of the prize is provided, as always, by Mécénat composer-in-residence Matthias Maute. Noncerto RR9 Montgolfières is a work in three movements with a title inspired by the annual International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Belvedere and former Prix Goyer recipient Philip Chiu are the collaborating artists. The evocative final movement for flute and harp can be experienced (complete with video) on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOA-VV6m8_Q.

Deutsch is not averse to established repertoire. This season she is artist-in-residence with the Allegra Chamber Music series Montreal. As well as performing Angels in Flight by Marjan Mozetich, she will be playing in Beethoven’s Serenade Op. 25 for flute, violin and viola. In December she plays Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G Major K. 313 with Pronto Musica under her old podium mentor Hauser.

Achieving mental focus

It sounds like a full load, but Deutsch also finds time to lead workshops on musician psychology, a subject she has pursued to her own advantage.

“There was an OSM audition right after I graduated in 2014,” Deutsch recalls. “I was thinking of how probably 80 people would be there. Any of them could probably do the job.

“But being a good orchestra player is different from being a good ‘auditioner.’ It’s a different skill. Really it comes down to doing exactly what you have to do in the two minutes you have to prove yourself. This has much more to do with your mind than how well prepared you are musically.

“This was a turning point for me. Eighty-five percent of the time, things were going well. I was winning competitions and auditions and was happy with the way I was playing. Then there would this 15 percent of the time where my mind would go elsewhere. I wanted to have more control over that mental aspect.”

Deutsch sought out Jean-François Ménard, a specialist in performance psychology who had worked with members of the Cirque du Soleil as well as Olympic athletes. They hit it off immediately.

“This is one of the things that have most changed my life, not only as a performer but as a person,” Deutsch says. “He changed my way of thinking and helped me reframe thoughts that I did not know were inherently negative.”

The most obvious benefit of the Ménard philosophy was her success in the OSM Manulife Competition. “I felt completely free in a high-stress situation, so ‘in-focus’ and able to do what I wanted to do,” Deutsch recalls. “It was a feeling I had never had before. And I completely credit this to him.

“I feel very passionate about how performance psychology has changed my life, and I do feel that there is a large gap in education. We don’t talk about these things [at school]. We talk to our teachers about how to play music. I’m passionate about sharing that with as many people as I can.”

It sounds as though Deutsch is ready for an audition.

“If the right job opened, I would like to play orchestrally full-time,” she says. “The only thing for me is that I am fairly solid in my belief that I want to stay in Canada. I love living here. People are very important to me. My family, my network of friends: I would rather be around those people and do many different things if that what I have to do.

“I love music, I love playing the flute. But I also love life. I want to have that well-rounded experience.”

www.laradeutsch.ca

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.

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