August 2015 Convention
Washington, D.C.

Seth Morris: 2015 Young Artist Competition Winner’s Recital

One of my favorite aspects of convention is discovering works that have been previously unfamiliar to me. For this reason alone, Seth Morris’ Friday recital was delightful, even at 9 am. He began with a solo flute work by Sidney Lanier, a 19th-century American flutist and composer. One of a number of Lanier’s works brought to light by scholar and flutist Patricia Harper, Wind-Song was written to be the composer’s audition piece for famed conductor Leopold Damrosch. It truly is a showpiece, both lyrically and technically. Lanier wrote that his audition was a success, and if he played the work half as well as Morris did, I imagine it would have been made Damrosch’s personal solo flutist for life.

Benjamin Smolen, Jennifer Hsiao, and Seth Morris

photo by Brian Covington

Afterward, Morris proved himself to be much like Lanier with his own arrangement, for flute/piccolo and piano, of five of Benjamin Britten’s six Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes. Morris’ work was made somewhat easier by the existence of a reduction for two pianos, but this still left the challenge of condensing both piano parts into a single one. He handled both the arranging and performing beautifully, with no small thanks to pianist Jennifer Hsaio, who expertly played the densely layered score (with a little left-hand help from page turner Benjamin Smolen). This arrangement would be an excellent choice as a large, dramatic work on a solo recital, and I hope it will be published.

Speaking of Smolen, the 2014 YAC second-prize winner and Morris’ partner joined in the fun to end the program with his arrangement of Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite for two flutes and piano. In keeping with everything that came before, both the music and performance were spectacular. Smolen’s arrangement was keenly sensitive, enhancing the many colors and moods of Debussy’s original work. I also hope this arrangement will be published.

Not that there is anything wrong with our warhorses, but it was refreshing to hear a competition winner’s recital that steered clear of them in favor of originality, personal artistic expression, and collaboration. I hope some of our future winners will be brave enough to follow suit. Bravo to Morris, Smolen, and Hsiao!

—Timothy Hagen