About Marlene

First Musical Steps

My musical beginnings on a farm in the Kalahari region of South Africa are a long way from the place where I am now. I fondly remember, as a four-year-old, attending my mother’s music lessons at the local church in Sannieshof, where I would listen to the pieces being played. When I got home, I couldn’t wait to play the pieces on our piano, with one finger. Apparently I even did it in the correct key.

I started piano lessons with Leonora Visser when we moved to Pretoria.  I loved every moment of it but refused to play in my first concert unless my mother joined me on stage and sat right next to me. Having a wonderful first piano teacher, as well as my parents’ enthusiasm and support, firmly established my love for music.


We moved to Klerksdorp, where I continued my piano lessons. At the age of fourteen, on a trip to Pretoria for a weekend, I saw a flute sparkling in a shop window and was captivated by the way that it looked, even though I hardly knew how a flute sounded. I begged my mother to buy it for me, but instead she gave me R20 and I went home with a recorder and a tutorial book. At the end of the 3-hour journey back home everyone in the car was more familiar with the recorder repertoire in that book than they necessarily wanted to be, and my mother probably realised she should have got the flute instead.

Soon after that trip I began flute lessons, but also continued my piano lessons.  I joined a local wind orchestra called Zephyros and sang in the North West Province’s regional choir, which took me on my first international trip to Europe. These experiences made a lasting impact on my musical and social development. My always-encouraging flute teacher at the time, George Fazakas, introduced me to James Galway’s flawless flute technique and often played his recordings to me.


At high school, my favourite subjects were biology and languages, and from a young age I had always wanted to study medicine. However, I couldn’t imagine a life without music. My mother and father were very supportive of my decision to pursue a career in music, and I enrolled at the University of Pretoria. Piano performance was still a passion, and so it took two years before I decided to solely focus on the flute. Under the tutelage of John Hinch, my skills improved and I was awarded various musical and academic scholarships. I was chosen as the principal flute of the South African National Youth Orchestra and played as an ad hoc flutist with various orchestras, including the National Chamber Orchestra in Mmabatho and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra. I taught the flute at Pretoria Girls’ High School as well as at the former State Theatre’s music school.

During my studies at the University of Pretoria, I had the privilege of having masterclasses with various flutists. I travelled to Europe where I attended inspiring summer courses by William Bennett and Susan Milan. In my third year of studies, the Italian Virtuoso, Raffaele Trevisani, travelled to South Africa and gave classes in Pretoria. Raffi was an inspiration to me and after a successful application to the Italian Consulate in South Africa I received a cultural scholarship to continue my studies with him in Milan, Italy. During my fourth year at university, I also travelled to the Julliard School in New York, where I had masterclasses with the former principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic, Jeanne Baxtresser. This was yet another encouraging experience, which later motivated me to apply to study in the USA.

My time in Italy was significant for many reasons, but Raffaele’s deep understanding of the French Flute Schools’ tradition of pursuing and nurturing a beautiful flute tone had an everlasting impact on my flute playing. I had the privilege of living in Milan in the house of the composer, Guiseppe Verdi, alongside retired musicians and fellow music students.

After a year of studying in Italy I moved to Pittsburgh, USA to study a Master’s degree under Jeanne Baxtresser and Alberto Almarza at the Carnegie Mellon University. I was generously supported by Carnegie Mellon University, the Vira Heinz Scholarship and the Ernest Oppenheimer Trust. During my studies at CMU, I also had the privilege of learning from the Baroque Performance Practice expert, Stephen Schultz. Our chamber music class was expertly coached by David Carroll, former Bassoonist with the New York Philharmonic orchestra.

During my CMU studies I successfully auditioned to be a member of the World Youth Orchestra, based in Rome, Italy. I joined this orchestra on various trips to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Italy, and the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Further Studies, Performance and Awards

After my studies in the USA concluded, I applied for the SAMRO (South African Music Rights Organisation) International Scholarship competition, having to prepare for it during a WYO trip to the Middle East. Hendrik Hofmeyr’s Marimba had to be performed from memory and practising this in the green room of our concert hall in Palestine, with a view over the sandy neighbourhoods of Ramallah, was an experience that will remain in my memory forever.

After being declared the overall winner of the SAMRO competition, held in Johannesburg, I moved to London, where I studied at the Royal College of Music with Paul Edmund Davies, principal flutist of the London Symphony Orchestra at the time, and Graham Mayger. I obtained my Artist Diploma in Music Performance, the highest performance qualification awarded at RCM.

After a successful audition I joined the Southbank Sinfonia (SbS) under the leadership of Simon Over. This gave me a lot of experience for my professional life, performing with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Edward Gardner and Michael Collins. Working alongside musicians from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, and the British Youth Opera was true confirmation that I had chosen the career I was meant to follow. I was part of a recording project with SbS, recording Russian masterpieces with the cellist, Raphael Wallfisch and composer, Rodion Schedrin. The experience I gained through the Southbank Sinfonia helped me to grow more confident as an orchestral flutist, and I worked as a freelance orchestral player in London with various orchestras such as the Brandenburg Sinfonia, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and the Arensky Chamber Orchestra.

During my time in London, I was offered an ambassadorship with the Universal Peace Federation and performed at their annual meeting in Central London. On this occasion, I met various delegates from countries all over the world, and as a result a photograph of me was displayed in a museum in Uzbekistan.

During my orchestral and teaching work in London, I continued to pursue a career as a concert flutist and was a prize winner at the International de Lorenzo flute competition held in Viggiano, Italy. In 2007 I commissioned with my fellow RCM graduate and South African friend, Salome van der Walt, two flute works for flute and piano by the South African composers Hendrik Hofmeyr and Stefans Grove, which I hope to record soon. I also presented flute masterclasses at a number of universities in South Africa. It was in London where I also met another RCM graduate and fellow South African, pianist Anne Marshall with whom I collaborate extensively.

I became a regular attendee at the Sir James Galway’s Annual Flute Festival and Masterclass in Weggis, Switzerland, having not forgotten my first introduction to his artistry many years before. In 2008 I was awarded a Rainer Lafin handmade headjoint prize, and in 2012 I was made the Sir James Galway Rising Star, the highest recognition that this grand master gives, and an achievement that very few flutists have attained.

A Continuous Flute Affair

Winning this extraordinary award opened the doors to record my first solo album, A Flute Affair, shortly after. This recording was well received and led to interviews by various radio stations and magazines in the UK and South Africa.

My wedding to Richard Cooper in 2011 led to the birth of my three wonderful children. During this period of motherhood, I kept my performing career active by playing at various charity events around and near London. This included performing at the annual Homes in Zimbabwe/ZANE fundraising event held at the notorious Temple Church in central London, and at my local village church, All Saints in Witley. I also presented a classical music programme, Choice Classics, for a number of years on Marlow FM.

Our lives are now continuing in Christchurch, New Zealand where I am currently a Doctor of Musical Arts student, specializing in the Romantic, German, 19th century flute under the supervision of Uwe Grodd and Francis Yapp. I am generously sponsored by the University of Canterbury’s doctoral scholarship. I recently became an ad hoc flutist with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and have returned to being an active flute instructor.

%d bloggers like this: