Heavenly Flute Players 26 - George Barrère
'The Monarch of flute players', so wrote the US critics when they heard George Barrère.
Born in 1876 in France, he started in a humble way on the tin whistle, and quickly became a virtuoso sergeant in the fife and drum corps before entering the Paris Conservatoire (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris) at the age of fifteen. There he studied with Henri Altes, and then with the 'Father of the Modern Flute', Paul Taffanel, winning his First Prize in 1895.
While still a student, he played in the premiere of Debussy's famous L'Apres-midi d'un faune in 1894, and later joined orchestras in Paris and Geneva.
Taffanel had started a Society dedicated to performing and commissioning new music for Wind Quintets, and Barrère took over this task, commissioning more than sixty new works for the group.
In 1905, Walter Damrosch offered him the principal chair in the New York Symphony Orchestra which he eagerly accepted and became 'our great aristocrat' as one of his colleagues recalled.
Soon, he organised the orchestral players into the New York Symphony Wind Instruments Club which performed chamber music regularly.
During the orchestras travels, it visited the Chautauqua Summer School where Barrère first taught students, and when the new York Symphony Orchestra folded, he became First Flute and Assistant Conductor of the newly formed Chautauqua Little Symphony.
He began to give flute recitals, something rare in those days, and declared that, 'Each time I play a solo, I try to do something useful to elevate the standard of our instrument or by playing some new worthy compositions which will help furnish an incentive for present day composers to write for our instrument'.
Barrère became highly sought after in New York musical circles, playing in with many of the famous players of the day. He was also a major influence in the adoption of the silver flute in the USA, for up until his arrival, the wooden flute was the normal instrument.
An important legacy was his establishing the teaching principles of the Paris Conservatoire at the famous Julliard School, where he taught. This included the teaching of solfege, and the class system of studying the flute
A man of great charm and love of life, he had a good sense of humour, and was generous to colleagues and students alike.
He died in 1944