World Premieres for Flute

Last Sunday, members of the Conservatory’s Flute and Composition Studios sat scattered among the seats of Harper Hall, a simultaneously cozy and distanced setting that allowed the performers to play live and unmasked. For many on the evening’s program, taking the stage would be their first live-audience experience in over a year. 

During winter term, the two studios met on Zoom for the first time for a crash course on composing for flute and composer-musician cooperation. Students were paired across studios to conceptualize a piece reflective of the writer’s intent and tailored to the player’s expressive range. The project, jointly introduced by the professors of the two studios, was an opportunity to engage with musical creation on a new level for flutists and composers alike. 

Over the next few months, drafts were composed, workshopped and revised. Recordings were sent back and forth and focused meetings with professors presented valuable feedback. Last week, the studio Zoom screen was once again crowded with twice as many faces as usual. Everyone finally got to hear some of what their peers had been creating as each piece was premiered to a small breakout group for a final round of comments. 

Before the venture’s culmination, flutists attended sessions in Harper Hall throughout the day to record demos for each composer’s portfolio. While it was an opportunity for high-fidelity capture with professional devices, the recording process was one that had grown familiar for students as it had, for quite some time, been the only safe way to share. 

In the late afternoon, though, the house lights dimmed over a live audience. The stage was set. Applause was audible rather than emoji-rendered as the first performer’s footsteps rang across the wooden stage floor. 

The May 16 concert, which was livestreamed, began with three pieces written for flute and electronic track. Some electronic accompaniment featured synthesized instruments, while others experimented further with warping and distortions as a background for the flute’s characteristic voice. 

A collection of pieces as ambitious and varied as those featured on Sunday night required a brief set change before the next portion of the concert. On a stage now void of extra wiring and the laptop that held digital accompaniment in queue, six solo flute pieces were premiered. Just as the electronic pieces each still carried heartfelt stories of places once called home and of quaint countryside landscapes, the traditionally voiced pieces were no less bold, featuring a vast array of extended technique, atonality and the “rules are meant to be broken” attitude of modern composition. The concert ended, after another set change, with a video presentation of four last piece, performed from off-campus, which also featured alto flute and piccolo. One duo, flutist Cindy Kaiser and composer Sofia Coman with Memories, 3, took advantage of their remote situation to include animated audio visualizers for their piece, closing out the night with a multi-media performance. 

This collaboration’s fruition after two terms saw a realization of ideas that had not even existed in the fall. It gave composers a chance to write a piece with the live feedback of a dedicated performer, and players the gift of a piece written just for them to introduce to the world. For everyone, taking on the challenge of creating something from nothing – with a stranger – became an exercise in vulnerability and the sharing of stories. Each piece was an intimate glimpse into a months-long conversation. 

The live portion of “World Premiers for Flute” will be available on the Lawrence University Vimeo page. The digital program is also available on the Conservatory’s Concert Programs page.