Yeoman of the Month April 2016 – Alena Lugovkina

The phrase “it was meant to be” sums up how I started flute and came to the UK. According to my parents, whenever I heard music, I would start singing, so I’ve been singing ever since I was a few months old. Because of my singing and love of music, my parents thought this would be something I would like to do when I grow up.

One day my mum was on the tube and heard a young girl quietly singing (she was just sitting preparing solfeggio homework). She was singing so beautifully that my mum approached the mother of the girl to ask where she studied. She gave us the school address and a few days later my mum and I went there. Apparently, as soon as I entered the door to the school I said “I will be studying here”. It turned out to be one of the three finest music schools in the whole of Russia – Gnesins Special Music School.

Even though I was six years old and it was a three hours commute to school each day, I was determined to study there. I started on piano, but as the school was a special music school (similar to The Purcell School or Chetham’s School of Music in the UK), my piano teacher demanded that we bought a piano so that I could practice at home. As we didn’t have any money for a piano, I was transferred to the recorder which was the cheapest instrument at the time. The system in that school was that you play the recorder first and then when you are 10-12 years old you transfer to another woodwind instrument. When the time came for me to choose which instrument I wanted to play, I couldn’t make up my mind.

One day I got a CD from a friend. The person who gave it to me didn’t know who was playing or what they were playing as they had got a copy of it from someone else who also didn’t know who was playing on the CD. I put the mysterious disc into the CD player and almost stopped breathing when I heard the deep, mesmerising and enchanting sound of a flute so different to any flute I’d heard before. It was just a simple, charming French suite, but the musicianship and amazing deep flute sound it played had a great impact on me. I remember saying then “if a flute can sound like this, I would like to play the flute”.

A couple of years later, I went to a competition in Romania where I became especially good friends with two flute players – one from Israel, the other from South Korea. One day I received a letter from my Korean friend with a list of summer schools that she recommended I attend. My English wasn’t that great then, so looking at the websites of the summer schools, I chose the one where the professor looked kind and where the place was beautiful.

William Bennett’s Summer School changed my life and opened my eyes to a whole new world of flute playing. The level of flute playing was so high and William Bennett’s teaching so musical and inspiring, that the whole experience of summer school made me suddenly want to practice rather than have to practice. I realised straight away that William Bennett (also known as Wibb) was THE teacher that I wanted to study with and I was very happy to hear that he liked my playing and suggested I audition for the Royal Academy of Music. I was very lucky to get a full scholarship from the Royal Academy of Music and to be able to come to London and study.

One day (I think it was my 2nd year at RAM), I brought the Godard Suite to Wibb for a lesson. He said: “before we start the lesson, listen to this recording”. He put the recording on his gramophone. It was the very same recording I’d heard when I was 11 that made me take up the flute. I asked: “WHO is playing?!” And Wibb replied: “Me. Why?” I felt it was meant to be. Wibb continues to be my endless source of inspiration and I couldn’t ever wish for a better teacher.

I feel so fortunate to have such amazing parents that support me so much in everything. Even though they knew they would miss me (my whole family are in Russia), they knew I should go to the UK to study with Wibb when they saw how inspired I was. I also met two wonderful people when I came to the UK – John and Gillian Rayworth – and they are like a second family to me.

After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, I went on to do an orchestral course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama studying with Philippa Davies, Ian Clarke, Sarah Newbold, Sharon Williams and Christopher Green. After two years of freelancing, I’ve come back to GSMD as an Artist Fellow. I’ve had a great time there – learning a lot from each of the teachers.

I feel extremely lucky and grateful to have received full scholarships for the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I also have deep gratitude to organisations such as Martin Musical Scholarship Fund, Hattori Foundation, NEVA foundation, Wolfson Foundation, Worshipful Company of Musicians, KHS, Altus Flutes and other wonderful charitable organisations for helping me fund my music career.

As a musician, I constantly strive to try new things such as play music of living composers, do collaborative projects with dancers and singers, do workshops and play new repertoire. And London is one of the very best places in the world for that – there are just so many inspiring musicians here, it’s just absolutely fantastic.

At the moment I’m doing a variety of activities and I’m loving it – playing solo and chamber music, teaching, coaching ensembles and playing in orchestras. I’ve also been doing a few Outreach sessions as part of the WCOM Yeomen Programme and it’s been amazing. It really is up to us young musicians to build ‘the tomorrow’ for classical music. When I see how performance makes a real difference and inspires children to take up an instrument and go to classical concerts, it is so rewarding.

This year has also been filled with concert tours with some of my favourite musicians in the world. In January I had a trio tour with the Danish violinist Niklas Walentin and Russian-British pianist Pavel Timofeyevsky, in February I was touring in Scotland with my wind quintet Atéa as part of the Tunnell Trust award and I spent the whole of March in the United States giving masterclasses and recitals with the American harpist Katherine Ventura.

I am already looking forward to the next tour which will be in August-September in Hong-Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. But the next super exciting event will be a Wigmore Hall recital in April as part of Worshipful Company of Musician’s series. Can’t wait!

You can find out more about Alena at alenaflute.wix.com.