Genesis of a Concerto, part 2

From Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Melinda Wagner (interviewed by ECO GM Steve Weiser)
Can you tell us a little bit about this Flute Concerto – its genesis, structure, inspirations, etc…
A number of years ago, Paul Dunkel conducted the American Composers Orchestra in a performance of an early orchestral work of mine, Falling Angels. During rehearsals Paul (also a world-class flutist) came up with the idea of commissioning a flute concerto from me. As we ironed out some of the details, he suggested that I write for strings and percussion only – no winds or brass! One of the pieces I listened to for inspiration was Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.


Can you walk us through the three different movements from the work?
The first movement is very playful and lilting, and begins with a flute “fanfare”, a gesture one usually associates with brass instruments. The soloist is somewhat mischievous throughout and competes with the ocrhestra for attention! The second movement is very slow and melodic. I tried to create a delicate and diaphanous sound-world in this movement, using harp and lots of divided strings. Near the end of this movement, the music evokes a kind of wind-up jewelry box…The last movement is rather fast and raucous, I think – I used snare drum in the movement, and a prominent part for piano.

What challenges arose when writing for flute?
While the flute has a wonderful range of sounds, it does lack a certain kind of heft – at least relative to the more common “concerto instruments”, piano, violin, and cello. I suppose it could be easily overpowered, but Paul’s suggestion about leaving out the winds and brass really took care of this problem.

interview-melinda-wagner-2011How often to you get to attend both a rehearsal and concert featuring one of your works? Is it helpful to be a part of the rehearsal process?
I make every effort to attend at least one rehearsal before a performance of one of my works. I sense that musicians are grateful for the composer’s presence, especially if they preparing a premiere. I actually enjoy the rehearsal process – which does involve collaboration – almost more than anything else! I love working with players, and I have found they are completely devoted to, and respectful of, the composer’s intentions. I always learn from these experiences.

Can you describe your musical upbringing and background?
I am so fortunate – I grew up surrounded by music. My mother was a fine musician and taught music in the public school system for many years. My dad loved to sing. We did a lot of camping when I was a little kid – my parents always brought their recorders and played duets around the campfire. It was a lovely sound I’ll never forget.

wagnerlunch99What was it like winning a Pulitzer Prize, especially in music?
Winning the Pulitzer was a huge surprise for me, and it was certainly thrilling. I continue to be grateful for this honor and have tried really hard to live up to it!


Being from the Philadelphia area myself, and a Temple University music graduate, is there anything specific that you took from the city growing up that has become a part of your style?

Ah, a Philly person! Well, of course – eugene-ormandy-1899-1985-hungarian-everettgrowing up near Philadelphia meant going to the Academy of Music and hearing Eugene Ormandy (or William Smith) conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra! Our school made many trips into the city for these concerts – and they were very powerful for me – I can still remember the first one (I was about 6). Later, as an adult, I returned to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where I got my doctorate. The music building is on 34th Street – down the road from where I was born (at the Hosp. of the U. of P). Full circle….

Join composer Melinda Wagner, world-renowned flutist Bonita Boyd and the ECO on Friday, June 5th at 7:30pm for a live performance of this work at the Cathedral Prep Auditorium, 250 W 10th Street.

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