August 2005 Convention
San Diego, CA

Competitions Reports

Thursday, August 11, and Saturday, August 13

As a finalist of both the NFA Orchestral and Young Artist Competitions of last year, it was relaxing for me to sit back and watch this year. The Orchestral Competition was yet another marathon of excerpts, including Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun byDebussy, and many of the difficult passages from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, among many others. Most flutists do not get the opportunity to “perform” excerpts outside of the orchestra, so it is a very interesting feeling to have 500 flutists staring at you wondering “will she make that breath?” Each contestant performed very well under pressure, and remained unflustered by small kinks that arose. One contestant had to endure room noises including trucks backing up outside, loud air conditioning, and pipes clanging. Everything was taken in stride, and the rest of the audition was presented in a focused and determined professional manner. This year’s first place winner was Jenny Robinson, second flutist of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

Mathieu Dufour led the masterclass that followed the competitions.

Mathieu Dufour led the masterclass that followed the competitions.

Mathieu Dufour, Principal flute of the Chicago Symphony, led this year’s masterclass following the competition. He too was impressed with the level of preparation by the contestants, but worked with them to get beyond the perfection of notes and rhythms. He encouraged each to play in the style of the different composers, and with the type of tone, vibrato, and articulation suitable for each piece. “Competitions,” Dufour said, “are sometimes about playing louder and faster than the next person, but an audition is an opportunity to present many different styles of music, showing that you are not only a good flutist, but a good musician.” While working on the Mendelssohn “Scherzo,” a question was asked by someone in the audience: “How do you need to play it to get the job?” For me personally, Dufour sent the best message he could with his response: “To me it isn’t just about getting the job, it is about becoming a better musician.” He noted that different people may be looking for different things, and if you try to please everyone else, you will not please the music or yourself. “Do not try to sound like anyone else,” he said, “but just don’t be different for the sake of doing something so different.” He encouraged everyone to keep an individual quality while adhering to what the composer is asking, and to find how the excerpt fits into the context of music, making sure that the flute part corresponds to the style of what is happening around it. Dufour’s words were inspiring, and all of his demonstrations of the excerpts were stunning. It was a wonderful class that was most valuable, not only to the participants, but to the audience as well.

This year’s Young Artist Competition was also a showcase of fine talent with Julietta Curenton, Mercedes Smith, and Gloria Huh as the three finalists. Each contestant played with confidence—Smith with an outward flair, Curenton with a solid inner strength, and Huh with her execution of very fast tempi. The works performed included Hue’s Fantasie, the Liebermann Sonata, Jolivet’s Chant du Linos, and the Grand Polonaise by Theobald Boehm. If one is a frequent participant or observer of competitions, these are certainly among the must popular choices of repertoire, as they are all tour de force pieces for the flutist. Julietta Curenton was chosen as the first prize winner. Interestingly, Curenton was the only candidate to perform something from the Baroque era. She gave a beautiful and musically appropriate performance of the Poco Adagio from the Solo Sonata in A Minor of C.P.E. Bach. It was a poignant setup to her powerful performance of the Jolivet. As a former contestant of this competition and of many others, it was nice to see that, as Mathieu Dufour mentioned, not only “loud and fast” flute playing was rewarded. Strong musical conviction, variety, and taste seemed to be the determining factor in the end. Congratulations to all participants in this year’s NFA competitions, and also to the NFA for providing this outlet to the future of their organization.

Just when I thought I would be able to remain an audience member this year, I was asked to play for the 2005 lifetime achievement award winner, Peter-Lukas Graf, for his class “The Antagonism of Musical Sound and Articulation.”Whitney Pencina, a semi-finalist in the 2005 Young Artist Competition, Paul Gardner, the winner of the 2005 High School Soloist Competition, and myself were provided the rare opportunity to work with this legendary flutist. Graf spoke about three areas concerning musical expression: singing quality in a piano dynamic; flexibility of dynamics and changing tone color; and full sound and intensity. We were asked to play short examples including the second movements of the Ibert Concerto and Poulenc Sonata and the first movement of the J.S. Bach E Minor Sonata. Graf worked with each of us on getting the appropriate tone quality to match the inflection of each phrase. We all had to transpose our examples on the spot. The point of the exercise is to show that if one can play musically under any kind of technical circumstance, as the technique will change for each key, playing in the original key will become a much easier task. It was indeed a wonderful experience to play for Peter-Lukas Graf. The audience was most impressed and excited to receive his insightful words of wisdom.

—Nicole Esposito