Isabelle Chapuis, flutist



Born in Dijon, Isabelle Chapuis Starr studied with several of France's best-known flutists, including Jean-Pierre Rampal, Michel Debost, Gaston Crunelle, Christian Lardé, Alain Marion and Marcel Moyse.

She attended the Conservatoire national supérieure de musique in Paris.  In her first year, she was placed in the flute class of Gaston Crunelle, professor at the Conservatorie for 30 years, with an equally long career as Principal Flute at the Opéra comique de Paris.  Here is Crunelle's flute classe at the Conservatoire in 1968.  Isabelle stands behind Crunelle:

The following year, she joined the flute class of Jean-Pierre Rampal.  Here is a photo of Isabelle (in a 1969 miniskirt) in the class of Jean-Pierre Rampal at the Conservatoire de Paris:   

Isabelle served as Principal Flute of the Orchestra symphonique du Conservatoire mational de Paris, under the direction of the distinguished French conductor and composer Manuel Rosenthal.  It was in this orchestra that Isabelle was introduced to the typical pranks of French (male) orchestral musicians -- such as the time she found a centerfold from Playboy taped into her part, just above her solo in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe.


Here is a photo of the Classe d'orchestre.  The conductor then was Robert Blot, Chef d'Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris.  With him are two student conductors.  Isabelle sits on the far left of the first row of woodwinds.  That day, she played Piccolo and Flute 2  in a ballet by Roussel.  If you look closely, there is a blue X next to Isabelle marked in blue ink.  Isabelle sent the photo home to her parents marked thus, so they could find her.  Missing in action that day was the Principal Cellist, Frédéric l'Odéon -- who later became one of France's most celebrated cello soloists.  The Orchestre symphonique du Conservatoire de Paris was the beneficiary of incredible guest conductors -- who just dropped in for rehearsals when they happened to visit Paris for professional engagements.  These included Seiji Ozawa, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jean Martinon -- and composers such as Gilbert Amy, and Marius Constant.  It should be noted that the hall in this photo (in the old Conservatoire on Rue Madrid) was formerly occupied by the likes of Berlioz, Toulou, Gounod, Demersseman, Alkan, Fauré, Massenet, Ravel, Debussy, Boulez, et al.



In 1970, Isabelle won the Premier prix de flûte at the Conservatoire de Paris.  The Guest President of the jury for this competition was James Galway.  Isabelle then had no idea who Galway was.  She thought he must have been a French flutist named Gaulle-Ouai.   [The Paris Conservatory's Premier Prix in Flute is an award that goes back continuously for almost two centuries to early winners such as Toulou and Demersseman.  The historical list of winners includes virtually every famous French flutist.]  Here is a photo of Isabelle examining the official results of the competition posted by the Conservatory's Flute Jury, at the precise moment she learned she had just won the Premier Prix de flûte:  

In 1971, Isabelle won the Conservatory's Premier prix de musique de chambre.  Here is a photo of the Classe de musique de chambre.  Isabelle stands in the center together with the professor, the great French oboist Pierre Pierlot. 

While a student at the Conservatorie de Paris, Isabelle was selected by composer Olivier Messaien to perform Messaien's Oiseux exotiques, for French National Television.  The performance featured pianist Yvonne Loriod, Messaien's wife and his foremost interpreter.  Here are photographs of Isabelle with Olivier Messaien, Yvonne Loriod, and conductor Alain Louvier.



Isabelle began her solo career in a flute-harp duo with French harpist Sylvie Beltrando.  The two performed concerts on the Mermoz, a luxury cruise ship that sailed numerous ports in the Mediterranean.   

On the voyage, Isabelle also appeared in shipboard shows as a magician's assistant, mysteriously floating in mid-air while hypnotized, suspended only by her neck resting on top of a chair.


Upon her return home, she performed as soloist in flute concerti by Vivaldi and Pergolesi with the Orchestre philharmonique de Dijon.

Her concert career on cruise ships resumed.  She and her new husband, Mark Starr, performed flute/piano recitals on the final transatlantic voyage of the France -- on which they were wined and dined in 3-star restaurants and resided in a first-class stateroom (for 7 days!)  The most memorable moment in these recitals was the beginning -- when a trap door in the center of the stage opened and a mirror-covered grand piano rose out of the ship's hull attached to a hydraulic lift.   


In 1975 at the age of 25, Isabelle relocated in California, where she was appointed Lecturer-in-Flute in the Department of Music (now the School of Music & Dance) at San Jose State University (SJSU).  She was offered the position on the spot after she performed Schubert's Variations on Die Trockne Blumen in a master class at the university given by touring Roumanian flutist Andras Adjorian (who, astonished, said to her when she had stopped playing: "Where did you come from?")

One of Isabelle's first duties an San Jose State University was to organize and direct a SJSU Flute Choir.  Below is a photo of a flute choir concert in San Jose Cathedral. (Great acoustics for a flute choir!)

At San Jose State University, Isabelle taught both undergraduate and graduate flute students for 33 years, until her retirement in 2008 -- having achieved the rank of Senior Lecturer in Flute.   

In 1998, Prof. Chapuis Starr was honored with two awards from SJSU—one for “excellence in teaching,” and the other for “distinguished professional attainment.”  In 2000, SJSU honored her again with an award for "25 years of teaching excellence."  And in 2001, SJSU appointed her Senior Lecturer.   Here is a photo of the President of San Jose State University in 2005 bestowing upon Isabelle an award for 30 years of "outstanding teaching" (but no gold watch.)


In addition to teaching flute, Isabelle has pursued an active career as a flute soloist on both sides of the Atlantic.  In Europe, she has appeared often as soloist—performing flute concerti with the Orchestre de chambre de Radio France in Paris, the Orchestre de chambre Jean-François Paillard in Valence,  La Philharmonique de Dijon, l'Ensemble instrumental de Paris, l'Orchestre de chambre du Festival Estival de Paris, and L’Orchestre symphonique de la Jeunesse Musicale de Belgique in Brussels.  In the early photos below, Isabelle performs outdoors two Vivaldi concertos (one with piccolo, the other with flute) with the Orchestre de chambre du Festival Estival de Paris, under the direction of Greek conductor Alexander Myrat. 


Isabelle has performed chamber music with the Quatuor Ludwig II and with members of L’Orchestre de Paris.  She has performed recitals at various major festivals in France—for example, the festivals of Valence and Grenôble. 

Below is a photo of her recital years later in the Grande Salle des Ducs de la Bourgogne in Dijon with Russian pianist Dmitri Novak: 

Isabelle gave flute/piano recitals with the late pianist Sheldon Shkolnik on the Dame Myra Hess Concert Series in Chicago and at the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

She recorded several recitals for Radio-France in Paris, one with the American pianist Hélène Wickett, and another with the late French pianist Catherine Collard. 

She performed a recital in the historic Salle des Ducs de la Bourgogne in her native Dijon with American pianist Jane Hesselgesser.   

And she performed several recitals with the pianist Ellen Silverman for the Concert Series of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Isabelle has given flute master classes at the Academie d'été in Valence (France), and at the Northern California Flute Camp in Carmel.  She also gave several flute master classes at the School of Music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and at Douglas College in Wellington (Canada,)  There her accompanist was pianist Ellen Silverman.



photo: Lori Rose 1991

In the U. S., Isabelle has appeared as soloist with many orchestras—performing flute concerti with the Greensboro Symphony (NC), the Stockton Symphony (CA), the LaCrosse Symphony (WI), the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the California Bach Society, the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra (CA), the Montalvo Arts Center Chamber Orchestra in Saratoga (CA,) the Berkeley Symphony (CA), the Oakland/East Bay Symphony (CA), the San José  Chamber Orchestra (CA) and the Livermore Symphony Orchestra (CA).  

Here she takes a bow after performing the Mozart D Major Concerto with the Pal Alto Chamber Orchestra, conducted by its founder William Whitson.


Among the conductors with whom Isabelle has performed (both as soloist and as Principal Flute) are Manuel Rosenthal, Paul Capolongo, Jean Martinon, Jean-François Paillard, Alexandre Myrat, Alain Durel, Claire Gibault, Peter Paul Fuchs, William McGlaughlin, Edgar Braun, Mark Starr, William Whitson, George Barati, Kyung-Soo Won, Charles Ansbacher, Barbara Day Turner, David Rorhbaugh, Arthur Barnes, Robert Sayres, George Cleve, Joyce Hamilton Johnson, Jun Nakabayashi and David Robertson.


In l987, she was invited by the National Flute Association to perform a program of French music before an audience of more than 1000 flutists at the association's three-day national convention in St. Louis.  On that occasion, the critic of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Ms. Chapuis Starr's performance as “one of the highlights of the convention."


From 1985-2005, Isabelle organized a flute festival at san Jose State University's School of Music and Dance entitled TUTTIFLUTTI! --in which the SJSU flute students and the SJSU Flute Choir were joined by guest flute soloists, professional flute ensembles, former SJSU flute students, guest conductors, and Bay Area high school flute choirs.


Long an orchestral player as well as a soloist, Isabelle serves as Principal Flute of the Orchestra of Opera San José.  (She has occupied that chair since Opera San José was founded in 1983 by General Director Irene Dalis.  During that time, Isabelle has given innumerable performances of  about 65 operas covering virtually the entire standard operatic repertoire -- and several premieres, as well.  As Principal Flute, she is responsible for all the famous flute solos in operas such as Lucia di Lamermoor, Carmen, The Magic Flute, Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly, Eugene Onegin, etc.)  She also performed the extended on-stage flute solo in George Roumanis' opera Phaedra.


From 1975-1985, Ms. Chapuis Starr served as Principal Flute in numerous chamber orchestra concerts with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, under Music Director Edgar Braun. 

And since 1992, she serves as Principal Flute of the San José Chamber Orchestra under Music Director Barbara Day Turner.

For 10 years in the 80s & 90s, Isabelle was a performing artist on the rosters of Young Audiences of San Francisco, and Young Audiences of San Jose. She and her husband Mark Starr performed recitals for flute and piano at schools throughout the Bay Area.  Their program was entitled "Isabelle and the Family of Flutes."  Isabelle performed not only on flute and piccolo, but also on water bottles, the ocarina, the alto flute, the bass flute, the recorder, Chinese bamboo flutes, the Shakahachi, African flutes and the fife.  Here is one performance for elementary school children:

In many of these concerts, Isabelle saved money on her own baby-sitting expenses by including her then 7-year-old daughter Jessica in the program, playing violin.  (Jessica now plays Klezmer violin in countries round the world.)


Isabelle has introduced a substantial number of new works by contemporary composers.  The Portrait No. 3 by American composer John Downey is dedicated to her.  The work is subtitled Sihouette of Isabelle Chapuis.  Here is a photo of Isabelle performing the premiere with composer John Downey at the piano:

Isabelle introduced John Corigliano's Voyage in a new version for flute and piano to Canadian audiences.  Here is Isabelle with John Corigliano and James Galway after Galway's premiere of Corigliano's Pied Piper Fantasy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (John Corigliano's mother, Rose, is on the right.)

In 1989, Isabelle gave the first American performance of Antiphysis, for flute/piccolo and orchestra by the French avant-garde composer Hugues Dufour with the Berkeley Symphony.  This challenging work employs new modern techniques (including multiphonics, percussive sounds, false fingerings for new trills, etc.) for the flute and the piccolo, developed by French flutist Pierre-Yves Artaud (Isabelle's former classmate and now Professor of Flute at the Conservatoire de Paris.) 

In 1993, Isabelle performed new works at SJSU by American composer Mario Davidowsky of Harvard University in a concert marking Davidowsky's appointment to the Harvard faculty. 

And in 1994, she performed several chamber works by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina in the presence of the composer in a concert at SJSU.  Here is a photo of Isabelle with Sofia Gubaidulina after that concert: 

For his 80th birthday, Isabelle performed several works for flute and piano by the visionary composer and mystic Dane Rudhyar.  Here is a photo of Isabelle with the composer:

Many critics have hailed Isabelle's concerts.  After Isabelle's San Francisco debut concert in 1975, music critic Marilyn Tucker wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Isabelle Chapuis is a flute soloist new to San Francisco who caused a sensation.  A former pupil of Jean-Pierre Rampal, she is French to her fingertips.  She lit up the hall with a vivacious version of Mozart's Flute Concerto in D Major, performing with a surety and technical mastery that recalled the virtues of her famous teacher."  Some years later, the critic of the Palo Alto Times described her playing as "phenomenal."  And more recently, the critic of the San Francisco Examiner  wrote: “Chapuis provided phenomenal breath control, tonal variety and bravura to spare."

In 1991, Isabelle was honored in her hometown of Dijon.  After performing a flute/piano recital with American pianist Jane Hesselgesser in the historic Salle des États of the Palais des Ducs--a recital which the music critic of the newspaper Les Depêches de Dijon described as "an extraordinary artistic event that brings back vivid memories of several great French flutists of past generations," the Conservatoire national de musique de Dijon renamed its competitive scholarship in flute in her honor: le Prix d'Isabelle Chapuis. 

In 1999, she saw Jean-Pierre Rampal, her teacher and life-long inspiration, for the last time.  He died less than a year later. 

Today, Isabelle teaches a series of flute master classes in Los Altos, California, in chamber music featuring the flute.  This master class series is now in its fifth year and includes several dozen flutists each year. 

On her 90th birthday, Frances Blaisdell (former Principal Flute of the New York City Opera & Ballet and first woman to graduate in flute from the Julliard School) visited Isabelle's master class.

Isabelle serves as Moderator of TUTTIFLUTTI! on YahooGroups, an email flute forum open any and all flutists (but especially those in in Northern California.)  You can join TUTTIFLUTTI! -- where you can discuss any matters pertaining to the flute, flute music, flute concerts, flute CDs, flute competitions, flute teachers and famous flutists.  You can also toot your own horn about your own flute activities.  To join TUTTIFLUTTI!, go to:

Isabelle continues performing in the Orchestra of Opera San Jose; as a concert soloist; and as a recording artist. 

Recently, she recorded together with American flute soloist Robert Stallman and the Czech Chamber Orchestra under Andrej Kukal.  They recorded a Sinfonia concertante by Mozart for two flutes and chamber orchestra -- that is, an arrangement by Robert Stallman, orchestrated by British composer Stephen Hodgson, of Mozart's Sonata in D Major for two pianos.  The recording is scheduled to be released on Bogner's Café CDs in late 2011.   Here is a photo of Stallman and Chapuis recording with the Czech Chamber Orchestra in  Prague:

Next year, she and Stallman are scheduled to perform in San Jose the premiere of Stallman's transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for 2 harpsichords and orchestra -- now for 2 solo flutes and string orchestra with harpsichord continuo.

Isabelle now performs flute/piano recitals regularly with American concert pianist Mark Anderson. 


Isabelle Chapuis, flute, and Mark Anderson, piano, in recital.