The intimate and welcoming space of Person Recital Hall of UNC Chapel Hill was the launching pad for travel to other worlds through the imaginative flute artistry of Nathan Zalman, adjunct faculty at the UNC Music Department. Solo flute recitals are rare (though I took in a fine one by Mary Jo White a month ago), and even rarer are concerts of flute with electronic sounds.
Composer Zalman prepared pre-recorded tracks for a suite of twelve tone poems depicting science-fictional scenes around the solar system, entitled Oort Cloud Diaries. The very first, "Weightless," drew on the first gymnopedie of Satie – the rest were entirely Zalman's composition. "Stardance" set up a funky, almost Latin rhythm to the sound of virtual woodblocks. "Beneath a Sea the Earth Could Float Upon" was slow and rhapsodic, recalling an Indian alap with its static harmonies. "Far Pavanne" set a long-breath melody, modal, French, over harp and strings. "Away Beyond the Ecliptic" made use of reverb (what we would have called "Echoplex" decades ago) and flute chords. "In the Oort Cloud" was a musical high point, with a mood that was tranquil, almost eternal.
The "Biker Fairies Touring Olympus Mons" were depicted by pounding rhythms and parallel power chords in the accompaniment. The cantabile of the "Darkside Lullaby" led to the mechanistic factory-like strains of "Io Summer Camp," with a brilliantly virtuoso part for Zalman's flute. The "Ice Demons of Saturn," for this listener, recalled the over-top images of artist Boris Vallejo, with an almost cartoonish quality. The work concluded with "Aurorae of the Deep Places," in which the flute generated deep quartal chords, with the lights of the aurorae depicted by pre-recorded whistle tones.
Playing with amplification and artificial reverb gives the flutist an almost-unfair advantage, in that he can take advantage of a tone that is larger and more detailed than would otherwise be the case. On the other hand, I would certainly agree that the flute is best heard in a very reverberant space, and if your concert space does not have those qualities, perhaps one might as well add them. What was clear to the listener, at any rate, was Zalman's mastery of the instrument, the beauty of the tone he produces, and the expressivity of his line. The combination of his in-drawing compositions and his compelling interpretations meant that this will certainly be one of the most memorable programs of the season.