Professor of Flute Michel Debost served Oberlin for 22 years, and his retirement will be talked about in flute circles around the world. His innumerable accomplishments and accolades speak for themselves: he has won major competitions, served as principal flutist in the Opéra national de Paris and the Orchestre de Paris, and served as professor at the Conservatoire de Paris before his appointment to Oberlin in 1989. In 2001, the National Flute Association honored him with its lifetime achievement award for his significant, lasting contributions to the flute world.
Through his performances, teaching, and writing, Debost has enriched the lives of generations of young flutists, many of whom have gone on to be successful performers and teachers themselves. A monthly columnist and consulting editor for Flute Talk magazine, he also authored the book Une Simple Flute (1996), which met with great success and has been translated into English, Spanish, and German. His album and CD recordings have garnered many awards, including a Grammy nomination for his Telemann duets with James Galway. Until recently, Debost continued to perform recital tours annually.
Debost studied at the Conservatoire de Paris with Jan Merry, Gaston Crunelle, and Marcel Moyse. Reflecting on the educational systems in France and the United States, Debost says he sees many differences, although they’ve tempered over time. Each system, he believes, has its benefits.
“Attending the Gymnasium (high school) in post-war France,” he says, “there was no music, no art, no social activities; academic excellence was expected. In the states, however, high school is a time to discover yourself and make friends. Ironically, in college, the situation is reversed. American students become very serious, whereas in France, all the barriers were off and you could do whatever you want.”
Debost’s career soared as he won every major flute competition—Moscow, Prague, Geneva, Munich, and Turin. During his 30-year tenure as principal flute with the Orchestre de Paris, he worked with music directors Charles Munch, Herbert von Karajan, George Solti, and Daniel Barenboim. In 1989, Debost and his American-born wife, Kathleen Chastain (also on the flute faculty at Oberlin), moved to Oberlin. Although they maintain close ties to family, friends, and politics in France, they have never looked back. As Debost puts it now, “we have been married for 44 years. Kathleen gave me 22 years in France, and now we have been 22 years in the USA.”
Debost and Chastain (who will continue to teach at the conservatory), intend to stay in Oberlin but will make frequent visits to France to see family and friends.
Debost admires Oberlin students: “They are serious, with a sincere respect for knowledge and books.” He adds that they have always been that way, and that the culture of the school, with its fabulous libraries and intellectual rigor, encourages such traits. Debost himself loves to read, especially French and American history, and he is passionate about art and the study of art. He plans to continue to pursue these interests in retirement.