Sitting here enjoying my morning cup of Peet’s Assam tea, I find myself reflecting back on the extraordinary music making that has taken place in my life this past month. Toggling back and forth between beautiful locations, remarkable musicians, awesome people, and music that feeds ones soul, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo was a brief but truly inspiring experience. A small chamber sized group of exceptional musicians from near and far (mostly far), of which I was thrilled to be a part of, came together to open the festival with the Brahms Serenade No. 2. I love Brahms, I love this piece, and I love playing the piccolo. The last time I played this piece was a handful of years ago. I played first flute and it was in a big, boomy church. As I recall, it was a little stressful, somewhat tricky to hear well in the giant space, and as a result, difficult to really enjoy that performance. What’s really fun about this piece as a piccolo player however, is that you get to sit for 4 movements, and soak in all that Brahms goodness before joining in on the fun in the last movement. The piccolo chair is my happy place for many reasons, but taceting for long periods of time and just taking it all in is probably one of the biggest reasons I dig it most. As I sat there in the Mission San Miguel, surrounded by a fantastic chamber orchestra shredding on one of my favorite pieces, enjoying the acoustics of this amazing historic structure, well, you can imagine what that might have felt like. In a word: awesome. Working with the dynamic Scott Yoo was also great fun. It’s not often the case that we as orchestral musicians are inspired by conductors. That’s a whole other topic for another time (or not) but suffice to say, Scott is fantastic and it was great fun working with him and all of the wonderful musicians at Festival Mozaic.
Many years ago, I was asked to play at the Carmel Bach Festival, but due to other work conflicts, I wasn’t able to accept. When they asked me this year, there was no way I was going to let it slip through my fingers again. J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is arguably one of his greatest masterpieces, and he wrote many masterpieces! Approximately 2.5 hours in length, it’s a work of epic proportions; two orchestras side by side, a chorus, youth chorus, and several vocal soloists. There is quite a lot of tacet time for me in this piece, as well. I played first flute in the second orchestra, which was a treat since all of the other times I’ve played this piece it has been as first flute in the first orchestra. Totally different experience, in a great way. As a wind player, and in my case, as a freelance flutist and piccoloist, it is often the case that you play different chairs all the time. This means you might have played a piece many times on first flute, but never the second part, for example. This summer was all about wearing different hats, so to speak, almost on a daily basis. Case in point: Festival Mozaic; piccolo. Camel Bach: flute one, second orchestra, with a wooden head joint on a modern flute. Back to the Bach; this Matthew Passion experience, for me, was inspiring beyond words. The singers were without question some of the best I’ve ever heard. In some ways, it was as if I was hearing the piece for the first time. One of the big highlights for me is the movement with violin solo and countertenor, “Erbarme dich.” Every time I heard it, I got chills, and my eyes welled up with tears. Concertmaster Peter Hanson and countertenor Robin Blaze were outstanding. Another highlight was the gorgeous “Aus Liebe” for solo flute and soprano, performed beautifully every time by principal flutist Robin Peery and soprano Dominique Labelle. Wow. Chills. Every time.
I love my job as second flute and piccolo for the San Francisco Opera Center Orchestra. We no longer tour, but our time together each summer, albeit brief by comparison to what it once was, is very special. This summer, I was grateful that the schedule worked out and I could do Don Giovanni. It literally fit together with Carmel Bach and Festival Mozaic like pieces of a puzzle. Oh how I love to play opera. Seriously, there are few things better than sitting in a pit, being a small but crucial part of something much bigger. Mozart’s vocal ensemble writing blows me away, EVERY TIME. There are always these glorious moments of vocal trios, quartets, sextets, whatever, that are simply some of the most beautiful moments in all music ever written. The man was a genius. Each year, it’s great fun for us in the SFOCO to play with the new, up and coming stars of tomorrow in the Merola Opera program. These young singers are something special, and this production of Don Giovanni is no exception. I’m having a ball, playing in yet another happy place, the second flute chair, weaving inner harmonies, with the occasional 1 measure moment in the sun. Love it.
Almost every day, I’ve had to think “OK, what instrument do I need today?” In these past four weeks of great inspiration, there have been many miles driven, some really beautiful commutes, some not so beautiful commutes, many meals eaten out – some less glamorous than others, a brief trip home to Long Beach to tag base and recharge for 48 hours before flying back up the coast and resuming my place in whatever chair of whatever group I’m with that day. I’ve gotten to play three masterpieces, all of which are favorites of mine for different reasons. If I were asked to pick a favorite among them, I’d have to say all three. Today, as I pack my car to head to my final Don Giovanni performance and then home to Long Beach for another 48 hours before heading to the NFA convention in Chicago, I have a similar feeling to that feeling I used to get after summer camp at Interlochen, or after a great summer flute masterclass. I’m inspired. I want to sit down with all of this inspiration and create something really great. I’m exhausted, yet very happy and refreshed at the same time. To the many musicians, friends, and colleagues who have played a part in this month of awesomeness, thank you!