Meet the Musician: Prudence Davis

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Prudence Davis has been a member of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra since 1980. This November, she performs the world premiere performance of Ian Munro’s Flute Concerto, a work that has been dedicated to her.

Who or what inspired you to pick up a flute?

My Father is responsible for my flute playing. My first flute was a Christmas present under the tree one year along with a copy of ‘A Tune a Day for Flute’. I found out not that long ago that he had owned a flute as a boy, but he had put it down on a chair and had accidentally sat on it and broken it!

He went on to play other instruments including recorders, so naturally he had made sure that I played them too. It’s a fairly natural progression from recorder to flute, the fingerings are very similar but that’s probably where the similarities stop. I loved the sound of the flute as soon as I played it. There is something about the immediacy of the sound, the beauty of it being right from your breath and embouchure that makes it feel as if it is a natural extension of yourself and your musical voice.

Where did you first hear the MSO and how old were you?

My first memories of hearing the MSO would have been from around 8 or 9, at the Melbourne Town Hall when the Orchestra used to present free Sunday afternoon concerts.

We used to go to all the Myer Bowl concerts, the old Master Series, and we’d sit on the floor of the Melbourne Town Hall for the Prom Concerts introduced here by John Hopkins. I managed to hear and see Aaron Copland conduct an entire concert of his pieces in this way.

Prudence Davis

Which conductors and musicians do you particularly admire?

When I joined the Orchestra our Chief Conductor was Hiroyuki Iwaki. For me, he is one of the most inspirational conductors. His performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, The Firebird, Petrushka, the Strauss tone poems like An Alpine Symphony, Brahms’ symphonies, Beethoven’s symphonies, as well as all the French repertoire of Debussy and Ravel were all so incredibly memorable. I still recall his facial expressions and hand gestures: they were often very subtle, but also extremely energetic and dynamic and they evoked such emotion and mood from the Orchestra we were never in any doubt what he wanted.

Kurt Sanderling and Charles Dutoit have also been incredibly inspiring, and happily for us our present Chief Conductor, Sir Andrew Davis is inspiring us again with wonderful performances and a wealth of knowledge and wit to enthuse and amuse!

From day to day I am continuously inspired by my colleagues in all the different sections. I look around the Orchestra while I am not playing and can see that the concentration and passion from everyone in rehearsals as well as performances is palpable. There is a collective pride within the MSO that permeates at every level and everybody gives their best all the time.

Ian Munro has dedicated his new Flute Concerto to you. Tell us about the work and what you are looking forward to most about the world premiere performance.

Ian’s Concerto is beautiful. It is not the conventional three movement format as there are more movements, each with its own personality, whilst maintaining a connective thread throughout them all, binding them all into a beautiful, lyrical, sensitive, sometimes tragic but also charming and elegant piece.

I’m looking forward to the premiere very much! Ian and I have collaborated over many years, performing other people’s works, but performing this Flute Concerto will be a new dimension of collaboration, expression and interpretation. I’m very excited to be able to bring Ian’s Concerto to the world. He has a unique style and I can’t wait to make the notes come alive with the MSO.

How do you relax?

When I put music on to listen to at home it will usually be John Williams playing his guitar or various artists playing solo piano. I like to tune in to Classic FM and listen to their offerings as well.

When I am away from the Orchestra I do a bit of teaching but I also play golf, walk the dog, enjoy cups of tea and good company. I love being at the beach, in or out of the water, just enjoying time with my family.

See the world premiere performance of Ian Munro’s Flute Concerto with Prudence Davis during Sibelius and Shostakovich 17, 18 and 19 November.