Interview with Enrico Sartori

by Yulia Berry

Enrico Sartori is a great Italian conductor and wonderful flautist. For the past few years, he has been a flute professor, conductor and vocal teacher at the Northeast Normal University (China). He is also Principal Conductor of the Jilin Youth Baroque Orchestra and Artistic Director of Bella Culture Media, ltd.

Enrico Sartori has been an active contributor to The Babel Flute and his articles “Il Pastore Svizzero (The Swiss Shepherd) by Pietro Morlacchi” and “Flute Methods for Intermediate Students” quickly became very popular and gained thousands of readers.

Finally, I had the opportunity to ask Enrico all the burning questions for the readers of The Babel Flute.

Yulia: Enrico, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your career as well as your experience in China. I admire this country and your decision to move there and would like to know more.

When do you decide to go to China?

Enrico: In 2016. 

Yulia: Why did you make this decision? 

Enrico: I was always interested in Chinese history, and I remember that when I was in primary school in Italy, I really liked to read the book “Il Milione” by Marco Polo where he tells about his adventures in China in the XIII century.

In 2014, I was in Hong Kong giving flute master classes. During my week-long trip, I really enjoyed spending time there and many people suggested that I look for opportunities in China. Back in 2014, many concert halls were being built and many Chinese universities wanted to expand their music departments.

I started searching for jobs online, I found an interested position on a website, I think it was Chronicles of Higher Education but not 100% sure, and I applied. 

Coincidentally, in 2016, the Calabria Symphony Orchestra, where I played as principal flute, was invited to a concert tour of China, and on a free day I took a train, had an interview and signed a contract on the same day.

Yulia: Are you nostalgic for Italy?

Enrico: Of course! I think that every Italian misses his homeland when he is away. Our country is so beautiful, the weather is nice and the food is so delicious. My parents also still live there and I like to visit them often.

Yulia: What differences did you find between Italy and China? 

Enrico: There are many differences between Italy and China: lifestyle, food, habits, people’s mentality and culture. Also, here in China, everything is new, all buildings, roads and many technologies are more advanced and present in everyday life. For example, I can’t remember the last time I paid with cash or a credit card. For everything you use your mobile phone, to pay in a store or restaurant, to buy train and plane tickets (you get a qr code on your phone, which is your ticket), you can call a taxi and order home delivery of food anytime from the same application on the phone. Also, you don’t need a ticket to take the bus or subway, but again the qr code from your phone is your public transport card.

If we talk about music, then Chinese music is completely different, with different scales and instruments.

Classical music is still relatively new to most people. Audiences seem to prefer music with words (as does the singer) because they feel that by following the lyrics, one can better understand the meaning of the music. Pure instrumental music is not yet so popular, with the exception of the music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Strauss waltzes for New Year’s concerts in many Chinese cities.

Yulia: How is your life and work there? 

Enrico: Life here is easy and calm compared to the East Coast of the USA, where I lived for almost 7 years.

I live in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province with a population of about 10 million, and teach at Northeast Normal University. Life is not expensive compared to Shanghai. I can eat well, live in a nice apartment, travel, go to the movies, and it’s quite affordable. Plus, I’m only a 6-hour train ride from Beijing, and I can fly to Seoul or Tokyo in about two hours.

The work schedule is not as intense as in the US and I have a lot of free time for my own research or work on my own projects. The university itself encourages me to publish more articles, including those I have published on The Babel flute, attend conferences abroad, and engage in other musical activities.

Yulia: How has the pandemic affected your life and work there? How is the situation with it now?

Enrico: Well, yes, the pandemic has greatly affected my life and work here. I remember that the entire spring semester from March to July 2020, the university was closed. All training was done online, all flights were canceled and I didn’t have the opportunity to return home to Italy.

This year, 2022, there was a second quarantine, from March to early June, but this time we were more prepared. Now the situation seems normal, and we start the semester in person.

My work was very much affected. Teaching online is different, plus many students only use their phone, so the sound quality isn’t great. Instead of live lessons, I suggest they make a recording and then we discuss online how to improve it. As for the concerts, many of them have been cancelled. As a general rule, you need to plan a performance 4-6 months in advance, but days or even hours before a performance, it can be canceled or postponed if there is any positive case of coronavirus infection in the area. Organizing anything is very difficult, especially with a full orchestra.

As for life in general, everything is open now, but I have to take a covid test every 48 hours (we have free in China), and there are still some travel restrictions. There are several international flights and this summer I wanted to return to Italy, but all the seats were booked, plus the price has increased 5 times. Since the beginning of the pandemic, March 2020, I have not been able to visit my parents in Italy.

Yulia: Tell us about the school system in China.

Enrico: The school system is very similar to that in the United States, with one big exception – gaokao. At the end of 12th grade, each student must take this national exam. The result you get will largely determine your future. All universities have entrance exams, but without a high score on the gaokao exam, you cannot even apply to the best universities. So that’s it.

Most universities offer a 4-year bachelor’s degree and a 3-year master’s degree. Generally, conservatories are for those who want to pursue a career as a performer, while music departments at universities are for those who would like to become a teacher. Some universities, like the one where I teach, have both programs.

Yulia: Tell us more about your students and what you teach.

Enrico: I teach flute and conduct wind ensembles. In my flute studio there are now 6 undergraduate students and 2 master students. Every undergraduate student has a 45 minute lesson every week and every graduate student has a 90 minute lesson every week. We also have a flute workshop once a week, and each lesson has a different theme. For example, one seminar may be devoted to flute methods, another to Telemann’s fantasies, in the third we can play pieces for flute ensemble, and so on. There are two exams each semester: an intermediate exam in which scale and etude (mostly from Kohler op.33 or op.75) are played, and a final exam: a 10-minute performance with piano accompaniment. In the year of graduation, they must also prepare and perform a full concert with piano, and one piece must be with a chamber group (at least 3 performers).

Every week I also conduct a wind ensemble, or a brass band, and every semester I teach either music history or a theory class. I also help the symphony orchestra with some rehearsals and programs throughout the year.

Yulia: What differences do you feel between Chinese, American and Italian students? 

Enrico: I don’t see much difference between them. I see undergraduate students doing little practice. When they enter university, they actually live alone for the first time away from their parents, and they enjoy having parties and hanging out with their friends. I got my master’s and PhD in America, so I’m not familiar with the undergraduate situation in the US, but I think it’s about the same. Of course, some students are very diligent, but there are not many of them.

On the other end, the master program is very competitive to get in, there are few spots, and generally they study very hard. 

When I was a student in Italy, the system was completely different from what it is today. At the conservatory, you only study music, especially your instrument. Every week we had two flute lessons and we practiced for 4 hours a day. It was a completely different system. Today, the conservatories in Italy are copying the Anglo-American model, there are many classes to attend and they are all important, and therefore you don’t have a whole day to practice the flute.

Yulia: How popular flute as an instrument in China? What kind of flute music and composers are favorite there? 

Enrico: There are a few flute players in China, though not as many as in Japan or South Korea. Piano and string instruments are more popular than wind instruments in China, but things are changing. Everyone in China is familiar with James Galway, and now, thanks to the WeChat channel recently launched by the Berlin Philharmonic, Emmanuel Pahud is also popular here.

In terms of music, both students and audiences enjoy the virtuosic repertoire of the 19th century, such as Demersseman 6th solo (also called Concerto Italiano), Fantasy on Carmen by Borne, The Swiss Shepherd by Morlacchi, and Fantasy on La Traviata by Genin.

Mozart’s two flute concertos are very well known in China, although they are rarely performed in public. But they are compulsory subjects in the entrance exams to many universities.

Yulia: Tell us more about your work as a conductor.

Enrico: I have always loved conducting. I had my own orchestra in the USA and worked as a guest conductor in several orchestras and opera houses in Europe, Russia and Asia. Since I moved to China in 2017, I have had many opportunities. For example, in 2018, the orchestra of the city where I lived, the Changchun Theater Orchestra, invited me to a concert that included only Chinese movie soundtracks. The concert was so successful (one YouTube video currently has more than half a million views) that other orchestras began to invite me. I have held concerts in major cities in China such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Changsha

Every year I also hold the so-called New Year’s concert, tours of different cities with the participation of different orchestras. It’s very tiring because every evening we play in a different city and travel during the day, but it’s a very pleasant experience. This year it will be my third New Year’s tour and I will also be collaborating with some singers.

Yulia: You worked with many professional orchestras around the world. Do you like to work with youth orchestras? 

Enrico: I also enjoyed working with youth orchestras. In China, I regularly work with several elementary and high schools that have an orchestral program.

In Changchun, I am co-founder of the Youth Orchestra (we call it the Baroque Youth Orchestra, but we play any kind of music). We rehearse every weekend, give several concerts throughout the year, and we have won first prize in the youth orchestra competition both at the regional and national level. On weekends, each student also has an individual lesson with teachers who have joined the program. The age of students is from 12 to 18 years; they have a lot of enthusiasm and they are full of energy. We have just finished playing the Mozart program for the Summer Festival in July. For my contribution to the field of youth music education, I received an award from the State Department of Education.

Yulia: How do orchestras react to your work? 

Enrico: Well, I studied conducting for many years, two years in Milan and enrolled in several classes in the USA. My gesture is clear, and in general orchestras respond very well when I am on the podium. Since I also play the flute, I understand that wind instruments need to breathe. Although it may seem rather obvious, some conductors, former pianists or composers, do not fully realize this and make the brass band feel uncomfortable with their gesture.

Yulia: I’ve seen the incredible pictures of your tour of the New Year 2021 celebration. Please, tell us about this experience. 

Enrico: It was a wonderful experience. This concert tour took place during the covid pandemic and the audience saw this concert as an opportunity to finally get out and start a new life. Emotions were felt, and in every performance the audience was very enthusiastic.

The concerts were repeated in 18 different cities in China and ran from December 20 to January 7. The program included the most famous polkas and walzers of the Strauss family, as well as several Chinese pieces. Usually, for this kind of tour, managers invite orchestras from Europe, but since the border was closed, a local musician had to be involved. The orchestra was called the Global Symphony Orchestra and included most of China’s foreign musicians at the time. I have also released a full album with some of my performances, which I decided to stream for free. You can listen to the full album on Spotify, Youtube, QQMusic and Yandex.

Yulia: What is your favorite experience as a conductor? 

Enrico: My favorite experience in China as a conductor was probably the one in April 2021 when I opened the concert season in Xi’An with the orchestra and choir with an all Italian program. We performed the most famous choral pieces from operas of Bellini, Verdi, Mascagni and Puccini. It was so great working with singers on Italian diction and style, as well as a great way to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s 120th Anniversary of his departure.

G.Verdi. “Va pensiero” Xi’an Orchestra and Choir

Yulia: What are your plans for the future?

Enrico: After 6 years in China, it’s time to return to Europe. I will return in February 2023 and spend some time with my parents in Italy.

I have a flute recording project planned for spring 2023 (more on that later) and several invitations as a guest conductor in Europe. I would like to live in Vienna as it is a great classical music city and I am planning to move there in the near future.

Yulia: What do you think about The Babel Flute project? Do you think Chinese flutists would like to contribute articles to The Babel Flute magazine?

Enrico: I think The Babel Flute magazine is a fantastic project. Both you and Onorio Zaralli have made the magazine truly international, so many interesting articles come from all over the world. I also like the idea that you can write in the language you prefer and have the articles translated into the language of your choice.

I think some flute players in China would like to contribute by publishing some articles in a magazine. Maybe we should test it to see how effective the Mandarin to English translation is.

Yulia: We hope to have articles on The Babel Flute from Chinese flute players in the future and invite them to contribute.

Enrico, thank you very much for such an interesting conversation!

Enrico: Thank you, Yulia!

C.P.E. Bach, Hamburger sonata.
S.Prokofiev, Sonata, 1st mov.

Enrico Sartori | YouTube | Spotify | Apple Music

Enrico Sartori is professor of flute, conducting and vocal coach at the Northeast Normal University in Changchun (China). Since 2019 he is also the main conductor at the International School in Changchun as well as the Jilin Baroque Youth Orchestra. 

He played as a soloist with numerous orchestras in Europe, Russia, Asia and America and collaborated as principal flute with many orchestras such as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (2015), the Opera National de Lyon (2014), the Turin Philharmonic Orchestra (2013-2014), the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra (2013 – 2017) and the Harbin Symphony Orchestra (2018 – 2019). P

Enrico Sartori graduated with full honors at the Conservatorio G. Verdi of Turin, earned his Master degree from Yale University in 2005 and Doctorate from SUNY, Stony Brook in 2011. In 2003 he studied at the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala of Milan under conductor Riccardo Muti. (Italy). His main flute teachers include Carol Wincenc, Ransom Wilson, Antonmario Semolini, Bruno Cavallo and Patrick Gallois. 

Winner of many international competitions, in 2009 maestro Satori made his solo Carnegie Hall debut (New York) as a winner of the Artist International Competition. His stunning performance at Weill Recital Hall received an unanimous standing ovation. 

Also an accomplished conductor, Enrico Sartori has been invited as a guest conductor of many professional orchestras around the world including the Xi’An Symphony Orchestra, (China), the Changchun Theatre Orchestra (China) and the Kaliningrad Philharmonic (Russia).

Yulia Berry

Yulia Berry is founder of Web Flute Academy, The Babel Flute, The Babel Flute Courses and New England Flute Institute, creator and developer of the popular “All about Flute” Mobile app and the First Global Game for Flutists, highly experienced flutist and mentor teaching at all levels, with a Doctor of Music Arts degree focused in Flute Performance, Pedagogy and Music Education from the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory named after N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov (Russia).

She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in prestigious venues around the world, and has been praised for her virtuosity, musicality, and expressive playing.

Yulia Berry is known for her expertise in flute pedagogy, innovative and effective teaching methods, which emphasize technique, musicality, and artistry, and her dedication to helping students achieve their full potential as flutists.

She wrote many articles on the connection of the flute with art and the role of the flute in the arts and cultures of different eras and cultures.