August 2011 Convention
Charlotte, NC

From the Stage: Gala Concerto Concert

Belk Theater

One of the highlights of our wonderful annual convention is the Gala Concerto Concert. Each time I attend a convention (which, sadly isn’t every year) I look forward to hearing great flute concerti both old and new performed by today’s brightest stars. I also wonder about the orchestra that is on stage behind the soloists. Who are they? How did they come to perform at the convention?

This year I gained first-hand knowledge about the concerto orchestra. Not only did I perform in Charlotte’s “Unity Through Diversity” Orchestra, but I acted as contractor. The musicians on stage were mostly members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. The CSO takes a summer break during July and August so it was a pleasure to round up my colleagues and put on an exciting and moving tour-de-force flute concert.

When I first approached local musicians about playing for the convention I was surprised at how many people had heard of the NFA. We truly have a reputation in the musical community! Everyone was excited to perform; many were curious about what an evening of flute concerti would entail. When I was given the final repertoire list most had never heard of the pieces to be performed.

When a concerto is programmed during the CSO season, the rehearsal schedule allows for one rehearsal without the soloist. This is for the orchestra to hear its part alone, thus allowing everyone to feel comfortable with their music before adding the final piece of the puzzle. It also saves soloists rehearsal time and allows them to concentrate on nailing down any tricky passages such as tempo changes, interpretive rubato, and cadenzas. With the convention’s tight schedule, we were not afforded such a luxury. Each soloist only had two brief rehearsals to bring all parts into alignment. Thankfully we were led by the extraordinary Bruno Ferrandis, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony. Not only was he clear and concise with impeccable technique, he was an absolute pleasure to work with. As the pieces fell into place it was clear that anticipation was rising and that everyone was becoming more and more excited to perform.

Opening the Gala was the world premiere of Mike Wofford’s Tapestry 39, a beautiful piece for flute choir and string orchestra. The tone colors and blending of the low flutes and strings provided a truly stunning aural experience. Professional Flute Choir was seamless in its performance. This piece truly takes flute choir music to a new level.

Christina Jennings accepting flowers after her performance of the Gordeli Concerto

Next was the always-lovely Christina Jennings performing Otar Gordeli’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, a one-movement piece reminiscent of George Gershwin’s style. Jenning’s tone and technique were flawless, and her sweet yet never sappy interpretation gave the music life and a youthful, innocent character. Following Jennings was her mentor Carol Wincenc performing Lukas Foss’s Renaissance Concerto—arguably her signature concerto. Wincenc owned the music, and the phrases seemed to flow from her flute. Her confidence, command, and stage presence were inspiring. The solemn Recitative movement was especially haunting, and a special thank you must be given to flutist Kathryn Thomas Umble, who joined us to play the off-stage echo part. From the stage, the blend of the two flutes was stunning; I’m sure that the audience must have been holding its collective breath.

After the intermission, the orchestra pared down to just the string section to perform with Jean Ferrandis Yuko Uebayashi’s Concerto pour flute et orchestre à cordes. Ferrandis played with a tone and lightness of technique that was reminiscent of Rampal. His posture and body positioning are so natural that he barely moves while playing. For someone to make it through the grueling technical passages found in Uebayashi’s concerto while remaining that calm and relaxed was a breathtaking sight to behold.

Next on the program was Marina Piccinini performing Daniel Schnyder’s Carmen Fantasy for Flute and Orchestra. Piccinini worked personally with the composer in a remake of Borne’s Carmen Fantasy, including not only different accompaniment figures and sonorities, but also additional music from the opera not heard in the more familiar version (including my personal favorite, the fortune telling scene in which Carmen repeatedly draws the death card!). Even from the stage it was clear that Piccinini’s tone was filling every inch of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Her treatment of the music was so operatic and virtuosic one could almost hear the text of the opera. The emotion certainly came through and garnered her thunderous applause for her exquisite performance of this perennial crowd favorite.

Closing out the show was jazz sensation Holly Hofmann with a lounge-style rhythm section consisting of piano (Mike Wofford), bass (Ron Brendle), drums (Rick Dior), and percussion (Jim Brock). Hofmann’s smooth, reedy tone was the perfect complement to Christopher Hughes’s arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Auga de Beber (Drinking Water). For those who love jazz or a non-traditional element not often included in a program of flute concerti, this performance was a treat and a perfect way to say goodnight.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the event (other than that it must eventually come to an end) is that I leave wanting to immediately get to my flute and practice; I’m always so inspired! But 10:15 p.m. isn’t always my most productive practice time! I must be content to fall asleep reliving each incredible performance, something that was even more enjoyable for me this year as I was privileged to have a seat on stage performing with these amazing flutists.

And back to our reputation among our fellow musicians—my colleagues were in awe, not only of the Gala Concerto concert, but of our entire convention. From the incredible variety of programming down to our convention program book (which my oboe friend was incredibly jealous of!) everyone was buzzing about having the NFA take over Charlotte for four flute-filled days. I received many compliments and a staggering amount of positive feedback.

Would it be selfish to ask the NFA to come to Charlotte every year?

Flutist Kathy Farmer had her piece Flourishes performed and composer Stephen Lias heard a live performance of his Melange of Neumes. Meador explained that a neume was a system of music notation that was used prior to the invention of the five-line staff. “The earliest neumes were inflective marks, which indicated the general shape but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung,” is how Wikipedia defines the term. Each of the four movements of the piece represented a different direction; the motive for each movement was demonstrated by NFA flute choir member Isacc Alter before the entire piece was performed.

—Erinn Frechette