August 2015 Convention
Washington, D.C.

Gala Concert: Concerto

In my many years of attending NFA conventions, I doubt I have ever seen a ballroom the size of the one at the Marriott Wardman Park. It was absolutely massive, adding to the challenges of presenting a program of flute concertos. However, with good amplification and a stellar roster of players, along with an orchestra led by experienced maestro Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony, these challenges were overcome.

Paula Robison

photo by Alice Dade

First up was Lorna McGhee, principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, who performed a transcription of J. S. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055. McGhee’s playing was gorgeous and elegant throughout, and it was very nice to hear “new” Bach. I only wish I could hear the performance again in a more intimate setting, as even with the amplification, I am certain I missed some things in such a giant space.

Mark Sparks

photo by Alice Dade

Legendary soloist Paula Robison followed, playing Kent Kennan’s Night Soliloquy. Captivating and haunting, the performance captured Robison at her very best. I was sad to think that this was part of a year of “farewell concerts,” after which Robison will retire from performing outside of Boston; at the same time, I was honored to be in the room at all to hear such fine music-making.

Last before intermission was St. Louis Symphony principal flutist Mark Sparks, playing Katherine Hoover’s newly commissioned concerto, The Four Winds. Before the performance, Hoover was invited to the stage, where she spoke in poetic terms about the four winds—east, south, west, and north—and their associations with the seasons of the year. The performance itself was similarly poetic, both in Sparks’ famously beautiful sound and nuanced playing and in the seemingly endless variety of colors Bay drew from the orchestra.

After intermission came Demarre McGill. The Dallas Symphony’s principal flutist performed Jeff Tyzik’s newly commissioned piece, Dream Sequence. With all the drama and chutzpah of a big-budget film score, this work was incredibly tuneful and engaging, helped by the many iterations of the rhythm from the famous Mission: Impossible ostinato that led me to nickname the work “Concerto: Impossible.” This piece was especially remarkable for its insistence on a huge flute sound and sweeping melodic lines, both of which McGill amply supplied in between the impressive virtuoso passages.

Demarre McGill

photo by Alice Dade

The evening closed with the National Symphony’s principal flutist, Aaron Goldman, playing a work that is not yet 25 years old but has already become a standard in our repertoire: Lowell Liebermann’s flute concerto. In addition to showcasing Goldman in tip-top shape, with impossibly smooth legato playing and technique to burn, this work also gave the orchestra—one of the finest NFA orchestras in recent memory, in my opinion—a chance to shine in the many challenging tutti passages. It was a bravura ending to a bravura evening, and everyone involved deserves the highest congratulations.

This is doubly true for Program Chair Joanna Bassett for assembling such an outstanding roster of players to make the evening a success.

—Timothy Hagen