FBA Focus
     "Throw your dreams into space like a kite," wrote Anais Nin, "and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country."  So it transpired for young Isabelle Chapuis.
     While a student at the Paris Conservatory, Isabelle met a fascinating, young conductor at a nearby musical event. "I thought he was Italian," she recounts. "Even physically, he talked with the hands." In fact, Mark Starr was from New York.  Awarded a Fulbright, he had moved to Rome, where he studied conducting at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory. "He came to conduct in Besancon. And I was nineteen...and it was the 'coup de foudre,' as they say."  (Or, as we say, love at first sight.)
     We ask Isabelle's advice for young flutists considering a life in music. She explains that becoming a professional flutist has always been a challenge. Even when Rampal and Debost were young, she says,"it was a big deal to become a professional...the families did not want them to go into this kind of career. Already, they thought there is no future or no money." She adds that, thankfully, flutists like Debost forged ahead despite these kinds of concerns and carved out very successful careers.
     By the time Isabelle was a student, the thinking was still that a flute career was easier for women, since they could marry and be supported by their husbands. "We were more sexist in those days,"  she notes. "People used to say these things!"
     As for young flutists today, she tells us:  "It was always difficult to convince the parents that this was what their children were going to do, but now, I think...it's much harder. There are so many good musicians and good flutists everywhere."  At the same time, she acknowledges that, among her own students, the most committed ones have been able to make significant, career progress in the U.S. and abroad.
     We also ask Isabelle how she views the current generation of aspiring, professional flutists, relative to herself and former classmates at the Paris Conservatory. She replies thoughtfully:
    "They are all technicians...they make no mistakes.  It's absolutely fabulous.  But to find the ones who have the soul and the sound that you relentlessly search for, until the day you can't play anymore, is a different school.  That's what we were trained to.  We were trained to play concertos at the Conservatory, but we were trained to play with so much imagination and risk taking! The risk was a big part. You take risks, because you let go at the time you play."
     When she listens to others play, she says, "I am not looking for the flute -- I am looking for the music, at my age."
Part II:  Love Leads To America
      Isabelle married Mark in 1973 and relocated to Milwaukee, where Mark had joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin three years earlier. In 1974, when Mark became a conductor and professor at Stanford, the Starrs moved to the Bay Area, settling in Los Altos. "I thought, this is terrific!  We're going to have orange trees!" Isabelle recalls.  And now, she says of their garden, "I have orange trees, lemons, clementines -- I have everything, and I absolutely adore it!" 
     In 1998, San Jose State University honored Isabelle with two awards, one for excellence in teaching, and the other for distinguished professional attainment.  She was honored with another teaching award in 2000.  In 2007, she retired from her faculty position to devote more time to performing.  Isabelle has since recorded with Robert Stallman, for an album that will be released in 2009.  She also continues to teach selected students privately and conducts periodic master classes for advanced flutists.
     During these busy years, Isabelle and Mark also raised a daughter, Jessica, a talented violinist.  Now in her twenties, she is traveling and performing in Europe, echoing her parents' own, youthful sojourns abroad.
     While Isabelle loved life in America, it presented new challenges to building a career. "I was 23," says Isabelle.  "I [had] my prizes, and I was ready for the world.  And I arrived, and nobody knew me...It doesn't matter if you have prizes in your pocket, you have to prove who you are." The young flutist also faced language barriers.
    Mark stepped in to help, with invitations to perform with the University of Wisconsin and Stanford orchestras.  Her concerts received glowing reviews, which helped Isabelle to secure students. Another important turning point came when, a few months after moving to the Bay Area, Isabelle was invited to play in a master class at San Jose State University: 
     "I went to play for Andras Adorjan, [the] very, very great Hungarian flutist who studied with Rampal...I heard that he was coming in the Bay Area, and I thought, 'Oh, somebody from my source!' And I went to play for him with [pianist] Helene Wickett.  So, I came to San Jose State for the first time in my life...I played the Schubert variations....And he looked at me in front of the audience -- there were lots of people there -- and he said, 'Where are you FROM?' "
     Adorjan was delighted to learn that Isabelle, too, had studied with Rampal in Paris.  The high praise he lavished on her that day was noticed by SJSU faculty member Charlene Archibeque, who reported it to the department chair.  Soon, Isabelle received an invitation to talk to the chair and a hiring committee about joining the music department.  At the meeting, "I played, and then the chairman said, 'I want to show you your office.' "  The precipitous job offer took Isabelle completely by surprise.  It was May, and classes would begin in late August.  "I remember being totally panicked, because, I thought, first I have to learn how to drive, and then I have to really work on my English!" 
Mark and Isabelle Starr
     With more help from Mark, Isabelle met both hurdles.  And, from 1975 until 2007, she taught graduate and undergraduate students at San Jose State, including classes in flute, chamber music, and woodwind quintet . She also directed the university's flute choir.  
San Jose State University Flute Choir
(Photo: Collection of Isabelle and Mark Starr)
It's About The Music, Not The Flute
"Where Are You FROM?"
The Power Of Shared Legacy
More to Explore...
Isabelle's Website
features a wealth of photos and stories about French School flutists and traditions -- visit her site here.
Enjoy a short video about 
Michel Debost
on the
Oberlin Conservatory
Website here.
See more of flutist
Lars Johannesson's photos of Isabelle's master classes here.
See more of Chris Leck's photos of Michel Debost and other flutists here.
View a timeline of
flute faculty at the
Paris Conservatory here.

      Isabelle speaks with tremendous enthusiasm about her recent experience recording with Stallman on an upcoming album of works by Mozart. "We recorded it in Prague, with the Czech Chamber Orchestra...it's the Sinfonia Concertante for Two Flutes and Orchestra....also on this recording he has the Flute and Harp and the Haffner Serenade that he has transcribed. It's a fantastic recording!"  The CD, on the Bogner's Cafe label, will be released in 2009. A project is underway to bring Stallman to the Bay Area for a joint performance with Isabelle, in connection with the album launch.


    Finally, coming full circle, Michel Debost has resided in the U.S. for nearly two decades.  In 1989, Debost and his wife, flutist Kathleen Chastain, came to Ohio to spend a year teaching at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Impressed with the resources they found, they decided to stay.  "When Isabelle married and moved to the States, our lives got separated until my own appointment here," says Debost. "Because of American distances our encounters are infrequent, but affectionate nonetheless." 


    As a French teenager, Isabelle already realized that the flutists with whom she was privileged to study were musical giants. "And I hope, in my career," she adds, "that I have touched enough people with the stories I can pass on of this lineage, that I thought was the most exceptional time in France -- in the world, really -- of what was happening with the flute."   Isabelle's many students and fans attest that she has passed on this rich heritage as she has hoped -- not only through her fascinating insights, but also through her brilliant, lyrical and imaginative playing; her exceptional talent for teaching; and her lively, creative spirit.  This French Starr is, most definitely, a sensation!



      Due to the efforts of Isabelle and a number of her fellow alumni, the legacy of the French School has grown very strong across America. Teachers and classmates who once gathered at the Paris Conservatory have relocated and now reconnect in the U.S.  Isabelle takes great pleasure in uniting with these friends and former mentors, with whom she shares a common, musical understanding.


      Isabelle has also remained good friends with another, notable Paris Conservatory graduate, who lives in New England: "One of the flutists that always, always, with no exception, triggers the pleasure of listening to the flute -- but really the music -- is Robert Stallman," she says. "He has, for me, put music first, and then that sound is very unique -- and buttery."  


     Stallman is broadly recognized not only as one of America's top flutists, but also for his success in expanding the flute repertoire, through his exceptional transcriptions of works by Mozart and Schubert.  In the late 1960's, he was finishing at the Conservatory just as Isabelle was entering. "We had all the same teachers," she notes, "even Alain Marion."  Now, performing with him is "such a revelation...[we] speak the same language. It's amazing!"


Robert Stallman 

    Isabelle counts among her Bay Area friends, for example, fellow Rampal student Alexandra Hawley and her mother, the legendary Frances Blaisdell.  Both are longtime Stanford faculty members, for whom Isabelle expresses great respect and warmest regards.  "When I moved here," Isabelle recalls, "I called Frances immediately. I called Alexandra, because I knew we had ties with Jean-Pierre.  Those two were always genuine and wonderful."


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