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Graduate Research Competition Winners

by Lindsay J. Hansen Brown

This session featured presentations about their research papers by the two winners of the annual NFA competition. 


James Thompson, DMA., Ball State University: L’Instrument du Reve: An Analysis and Performance Guide to Selected Works for Flute by Nicolas Bacri

Thompson gave a brief introduction to Bacri, a French composer born in 1961. Bacri trained at the Paris Conservatory, won first prize in composition, and then continued studies in Rome. To date, he has composed 150 pieces, including 17 for flute. He is known for two style periods: atonal (early 1990s) and, to date, “sentiment of tonality.”

The research goal, as demonstrated in the dissertation, was to gain insight into Bacri’s compositional process and increase accessibility for non-French flutists. Thompson conducted interviews with Bacri and flutists familiar with his works, including Philippe Bernold.

Thompson played musical examples from the concerto to demonstrate melodic cohesion. (Primary theme with tritons, M2, M7, etc.). Other observations included the signature motive found in all four pieces and a descending minor second followed by a descending minor third. He also noted that Bacri considers flute to be the instrument of dreams, hence the title of the dissertation.


Elsa Nichols, DA, University of Arizona: Leonard Bernstein’s Halil: Serialism, Eclecticism, and Antagonism in the American Flute Concerto

Nichols introduced Halil, a popular American flute concerto and a piece that Bernstein conducted 20 times. Bernstein was asked to write the piece to honor Yadin Tanenbaum, a flutist killed during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, also known as the Yom Kippur War. He dedicated the piece to the flutist but did not consider it a commission. He first developed a “flute tune,” which formed the basis of Halil. 

Halil (Hebrew for “flute”) premiered in Tel Aviv in 1981 featuring Rampal as the soloist with the Israel Philharmonic. The American premiere the same year was at Tanglewood with Doriot Anthony Dwyer and the Boston Symphony. It received mixed reviews: the New York Times referred to as both “disturbingly slight” and “one of Bernstein’s most positive statements among his abstract compositions.”

Nichols discussed her analysis of the piece: Bernstein used 12-tone rows, as in his Trouble in Tahiti, but did not follow strict rules. Nichols presented the rows, segments, and pitch-class sets, noting that Bernstein used the latter melodically and harmonically at the same time. She also demonstrated Bernstein quoting motives from Dybbuk and the CBS Music label. Musicologist Jack Gottlieb wrote that Bernstein was a “musical magician” in this way. Nichols concluded by observing that several important flutists have performed Halil, including Julius Baker, Paula Robison, and Leon Buyse.