Lisa is a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. Regularly working with the Opera Australia Orchestra and currently, as Acting Associate Principal Flute at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Lisa has also worked as guest principal flute with many of Australia’s orchestras and is a session musician on film soundtracks.
During her time in the UK, Lisa enjoyed a busy freelance career working with some of Europe’s finest musicians. She played with the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic and the English National Opera, with a record-breaking performance of Wagner’s opera ‘The Valkyrie’ at Glastonbury Music Festival. As a recitalist and chamber musician, Lisa has performed at the Purcell Room on London’s South Bank and at the Cheltenham and Aldeburgh Festivals.
Lisa enjoys chamber music, particularly interested in contemporary Australian music and is a founding member of the KAMMER ensemble. In 2019, she will be a Guest Artist with the Australia Ensemble.
Mark Xiao: When did you start playing the flute and what made you choose it?
Lisa Osmialowski: When I was 10. I think it was the sound of the flute. I had already been taught the recorder at school by the classroom teacher. The whole class learnt the recorder and I thought I was pretty good at it, but then I wasn’t the best at it! There was someone better at it than me! I was really competitive, and I thought, gosh, I have to be the best at that instrument! But then the recorder wasn’t really satisfying. I thought there must be another instrument, but I didn’t think too deeply about it.
Then when I was 10, I heard the flute at my church music group and thought to myself, “That is the instrument for me, I’ve got to play that instrument!”. I must have been really keen because my mum and dad got me a flute for Christmas that year, so I didn’t have long to wait. I already knew the basic fingering system, and I followed the chart from A Tune A Day and just taught myself. I could blow quite easily without any problem, I remember getting quite dizzy when I first started but I think everyone does but I adjusted quite quickly.
My dad then started looking for a music teacher for me. I was about to leave primary school and go to secondary school and he luckily found Angie Robley who was teaching at the secondary school that I was about to start. So, in my last year of primary school, I just walked around the corner and had lessons with her after school every Friday afternoon. Before our first lesson, I had already learnt the whole book by myself. Not knowing that, she just asked me to show her what I can do, thinking I wouldn’t have any clue. But then I played the whole book to her which of course, took her by surprise! We then pretty much just went straight into grades and got on with it and it was really good, I enjoyed those lessons very much.
MX: Have you had formal training on the flute i.e. Conservatorium or University?
LO: Yes, when I’d been studying flute for a few years and I had gone through all the grades, Angie told me that I need to go off to learn with a professional flute player and teacher who can guide me. The nearest place was Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. So that meant being away from home and it was quite hard to get into the school. There are only two hundred kids in the whole school so I really didn’t think I’d get in. And in fact, my school music teacher told me I’d never get in! So I thought to myself, “I’ll show you” and I got in! But I didn’t get do it to prove her wrong, I also loved the atmosphere of the school. It was a bit like going to Hogwarts because it was a really old building in the centre of Manchester. Famously, the library in Chetham’s is where Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels first met. It was also used in some of the filming for the Harry Potter movies.
There was a real sense of history, being there and also being surrounded by so many young musicians who were really dedicated, putting in hours and hours practice. I auditioned there when I was fifteen and got accepted. They told me that I got to work very hard and I’m going to have to catch up to all these other flute players who are trying for places in music colleges. They expected upwards of six hours of practice each day. The good thing about their system was that it was possible to do my A-Level studies and my academic work, and also have enough time built into my day to practice. We didn’t have any distractions really, so I did lots of practice in that year particularly, and at the end of that year, I got into the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). I also went on to do a post-graduate degree for one year in Franz Liszt Academy Weimar with Robert Winn, who at the time was also the principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His flute class was really fantastic with a lot of great people and we all helped each other. It was a good year.
MX: Who were some of your most inspirational teachers?
LO: My teachers were all very formative. At Chetham’s, I had Clare Southworth, who was herself a student of Trevor Wye. Then I went on to the RNCM with Richard Davis, who was the principal flute of the BBC Philharmonic at the time and was so important to me as a teacher. He was also assisted by Linda Verrier, his wife with whom we all took technique classes with. They were both brilliant and quite inspirational.
Richard is a musician who is also really interested in conducting so he would conduct us in the lessons and help fire up the imagination! I did the William Alwyn Concerto in my first year with him conducting, and I think that was his first adventure into conducting. Back then, he was just getting interested in conducting and of course, he is now a conducting professor! It’s funny because I’ve now turned a little to conducting as well with a choir, so maybe there’s a theme going on!
I often think back to the earliest times, like when I had my interview for Chetham’s and they asked me, “Do you consider yourself a musician that played the flute or a flute player.” And I wanted to be a musician. I’m much more interested in making music and obviously using the flute to do it because I love the flute and I love the expression that gives me, but I think it’s far more important to put it in context.
MX: How important has the teaching of others been for you?
LO: I think it definitely helps you when you teach other people because you have to filter a lot of information in order to direct somebody in a specific way. As a student, you were given a lot of information for you to absorb, and through practice, you discover other things but then knowing what to give to a student at a particular stage in their development, it helps to crystallise your own method of playing.
MX: What are some highlights in your career so far?
LO: After my tours with the EUYO, I went on a tour in America with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was intense and brilliant! The principal flute at the time was Jaime Martín…who is now a conductor! How funny! He is brilliant because he used to always conduct right from the flute chair and it was an inspiration to play alongside him.
I had another experience where I worked with Daniel Harding at Chetham’s and we did a performance of Pierrot Lunaire. We played it at the Manchester International Festival of Expressionism as a student group. He was a trumpeter at the time, but he was really keen to become a conductor, even though he was told at the time that he shouldn’t follow a career in conducting. He was so determined though that he actually wrote to Sir Simon Rattle. As a result of that, he sent a recording of our group to Sir Rattle of our performance of Pierrot Lunaire. Years later, I got to work with Simon Rattle at the Royal Albert Hall where did a performance of the Enigma Variations. I chatted with him back stage and told him that it was me playing in that recording of Pierrot Lunaire and he said it was really good. It was so lovely to get that endorsement and I remember being so embarrassed and humbled that I never even said thank you!
More recently, working with the SSO this year, I did a lovely concert where I had to step in on quite short notice to perform with Anne Sophie Mutter. She was being interviewed on the ABC and she actually said she really enjoyed working with the wind section, particularly the flute player! That was just so lovely to get her enthusiasm and she obviously have a real generosity of spirit and really enjoyed working with the orchestra. To have been complimented by somebody like that would definitely be one of my career highlights.
MX: What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career in music?
LO: During my time at the RNCM, I was always encouraged to do as much as I could inside and outside of the college. Try to get as many different experiences as possible. Work with and make music with other people. Be open to new music, that really helps to extend you. Practicing efficiently is always something to aim for. I remember having a masterclass with Trevor Wye when I was quite young. He said, “Why spend hours and hours in the practice room, mindlessly repeating things when you could be at the beach?” It’s good to have a bigger picture! Make the most of your practice time and practice with clarity and focus. And be supportive of your colleagues!
Lastly, don’t give up! I once did an audition for the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO), which is a very difficult orchestra to get into. It involved going down to London and playing all these set pieces and excerpts. I remember being quite put off and intimidated by the amount of other flute players who were sitting in the warm up room playing through their excerpts! I think I did the audition two years in a row and didn’t get through. I got fed up in the third year and thought to myself, “why am I bothering?”, so I didn’t do it. And then the following year, I had another crack at it and I got a place! They then asked me what happened to me last year? Why didn’t I do it? And I had no good answers. I should have done it and it taught me to not give up, don’t get disappointed if you don’t succeed straight away. Just keep trying. If you feel that’s your direction, if you’re getting enough encouragement the right kind of vibes from those around you then just keep going for it. Because who knows what’s around the corner?