Playing Syrinx outdoors usually means in open air with the sky as the upper limit of my concert hall. This space was different: a covered archway in the Tuscan hill town of Castelmuzio. The stone surfaces bounced my sound back to me, not an echo which might have invited me to alter my pacing, but a slight concentration of the sound.
There was a lot of wildlife, most off camera. While I was playing, three cats and one dog came out and sat facing me across the street. On camera, you’ll notice me brushing a fly off my face near the end of the piece.
This 16th-century Tuscan church has unusually reverberent acoustics. Each note awakened a powerful echo with a long decay, so that Debussy’s sinuous lines became harmonized sonorities. It was really surprising to experience this effect while playing!
An interesting note: part of the film The English Patient was filmed here.
My thanks to Stefano at Sant’Anna in Camprena for allowing me to play in this wonderful and historic space.
Playing Syrinx on a hillside terrace overlooking the cypress-lined hills and fields of Tuscany was inspiring. The natural beauty here is powerful, and Debussy’s sinuous lines seem to intertwine with the breeze.
Special thanks to Isabella and Carlo Moriccioni for the use of the terrace in Casa Morricioni for this recording.
Today, August 22, 2012, is the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) – creator of masterpieces, innovator of a unique musical voice, and an inspiration for generations of artists who followed him. Debussy’s music has always held a significant place in my life. As a flutist, I cherish his solo, chamber, and orchestral contributions to my repertoire. I arranged several of his songs for flute and piano in a book published by Theodore Presser, “Nuits d’étoiles: 8 Early Songs Arranged for Flute and Piano.” As a historian, I have studied and researched Debussy’s life and work, having written my Master’s thesis and several articles about him. As Artistic Director of Dolce Suono Ensemble, I am pleased to be devoting our 2012-2013 season to the theme “Debussy in Our Midst: A Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Claude Debussy.”
I also have the desire to honor Debussy’s birthday year in a very personal way, with my project “Syrinx Journey.” I will make a video recording of his “Syrinx for Solo Flute” every day for one year, starting today on his birthday. “Syrinx” is one of the most important works ever written for solo flute. Composed in 1913 as instrumental music for Gabriel Mourey’s play “Psyché,” this 2 1/2 minute jewel highlights Debussy’s ability to create a universe of moods and timbres in microcosm, to invoke the soul of the instrument for which he writes, and to spark the imaginations of performers and listeners alike. Originally titled “La Flûte de Pan,” the work was performed from the wings during Pan’s death scene, giving rise to the current performance practice of performing Syrinx in a darkened room. The eminent flutist Louis Fleury gave the premiere performances and subsequently included the piece in his recitals.
I am challenging myself to delve deeply into “Syrinx” through my commitment to daily performances for a whole year. I am sure that the piece will take on new meanings for me every day as I experience it in a range of venues from traditional concert halls to natural settings. I am starting in Israel, in the Roman theater at Bet She’an. Not only was it thrilling to perform in this near-perfectly preserved Roman theater with its astoundingly brilliant acoustics, but the connection between the subject matter of the music, derived from Greek myth, and the ancient theater, was particularly inspiring.
Please come with me on my journey and join me in saying, bon anniversaire, Claude!
I welcome your comments as we embark upon this journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Susan Lewis, who interviewed me for her segment on the “Creatively Speaking” show on WRTI Radio in Philadelphia. The interview, about my Dolce Suono Ensemble, aired last week and is also online.
John Wittmann, my great friend and Artist Relations manager at Yamaha, is also a fantastic percussionist. I was delighted when he agreed to play with me on a visit to Indiana for recitals and masterclasses.
Here is Altamiro Carrilho’s Brazilian choro Aeroporto do Galeão.
Here is an excerpt from a stunning piece by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, The Sealed Angel for Chorus, Soloists, and Solo Flute. The chorus is The Bucks County Choral Society, conducted by Thomas Lloyd, who also had dancers Tim Early and Carrie Ellmore-Tallisch perform a dance Tim created. It is natural to have dance with Shchedrin’s music because he wrote several ballets for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya, former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi. I was fortunate to work with Shchedrin on his Three Shepherds, a piece for flute, oboe, and clarinet which incorporates movement, at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland years ago. Maya Plisetskaya was there and coached us on the movement – it was a memorable experience!