Instrumental Ensemble Review



Raleigh Flute Choir Features New American Music

May 4, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:


The estimable Raleigh Flute Choir, whose members serve music all over the Triangle as teachers, in orchestras (one is an orchestra manager), and advocates for flute playing, offered an unusually attractive program at Highland United Methodist Church on the evening of May 4, capping an unusually busy weekend of music. The program apparently overlapped yet another flute event, announced for Meredith's Carswell Recital Hall, resulting in a veritable embarrassment of riches for fans of the orchestra's highest-pitched instruments. We've listed that in the plural because the RFC folks have a whole lot of flute family members, ranging from piccolos all the way down to the group's newest arrival, a cumbersome-looking contrabass instrument made, as we noted in our review of the ensemble's Cary performance last fall, of PVC pipe(!). All told, RFC Manager Ann Cameron Pearce said, their instruments span six octaves!

There have been some changes in personnel since last fall; the RFC members appearing at Highland UMC, in addition to Pearce, were Debra Benson, Irene Burke, Diana Cherry, Kim Kittner, Thomas Mease, Terry Patrickis, and Rosene Rohrer, who heads the Raleigh Area Flute Association (RAFA), an organization of more than 250 flutists.

The program began with Pearce's stately "Aurora," to which the members entered, walking down four aisles while performing, accompanied by handbells, played by the composer. There's not a vast quantity of music for flute choir, but Pearce has made many contributions to the literature; several of her arrangements, including one of the Masterpiece Theatre theme, were given on this occasion. Among the dozen offerings were an attractive Handel Passacaglia, arr. Paul Morgan, two dances by Lucien Niverd, some attractive "Memories of East Tennessee" by Austin Alan Scott, a four-section Sextet by Matt H. Doran, and a winning triptych by Harold L. Walters called "Scenes from the West," for which the ensemble donned quasi-cowboy hats and draped bandanas on their music stands.

The highlight of the evening, and its most varied work, was the premiere of Robert Nosow's "For Samantha." This represented a first for the RFC in several respects - its first world premiere* and a rare departure from the ensemble's norm, since it is scored for soprano, cello and flutes. The composer is a cellist and musicologist whose music has been previously heard here in the Triangle. The new piece is a brief setting of a text by Nosow that recounts the futile existence of an inmate in a Soviet labor camp. Musically, it is dark but not as grim as one might expect. Colene Birchfield sang it with commitment, and the composer served as the cellist. "For Samantha" is basically a recitative, and it succeeded in its own right, but to these ears it has potential as the core of a larger piece. Because it is so short, we regret that it was not repeated, following the applause it earned.

Lighter fare rounded out the program. A transcription of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" ended the first half, and in the second there were lovely, flowing readings of "Simple Gifts" and "The Circle of Life," from The Lion King, arr. Pearce. The formal part of the program, which embraced much larger representation of American music than usual, concluded with a brilliant rendition of the "Russian Sailors' Dance" (sometimes listed as a singular sailor's dance), from Gliere's Red Poppy . Throughout, the playing of the RFC, variously configured during the course of the program, was at exceptionally high levels.

Then came the grand finale, as flutists from the audience joined the RFC for a reading of "Stars and Stripes Forever," arr. Bill Holcombe, that was conducted by Jason Brame, a flutist and conducting student of William Henry Curry, of the NC Symphony. He also won the evening's raffle, taking away a new piccolo, provided by McFayden Music Co., whose reps were on hand in the lobby, after the show. We can hear regular musicians grumbling about the guest conductor walking off with the big door prize..., but at least this one can actually play !

The Raleigh Flute Choir and the Raleigh Area Flute Association (RAFA) share a common internet portal, at http://www.RaleighFlutes.org/index.html .

*Note added 5/15/03: Something about this didn't ring true, when it was said at the concert. The new work by Robert Nosow was the RFC's first premiere of a work by a composer who is not a member of the ensemble. Many of Anne Cameron Pearce's original compositions and arrangements have also been premiered by the RFC.

There were too many programming coincidences over the weekend to let pass without comment. As various CVNC ers have noted in other reviews, there were back-to-back performances of two short choral works by Brahms, in Raleigh (twice) and Durham. A solo vocalist in the NCS' pair of concerts attended von Stade's recital and wound up having her comments about the visitor incorporated in the review of the latter. Another featured NCS singer appeared Sunday afternoon in three parts of the aforementioned Durham concert. Over in Charlotte, Christopher Deane, who seems to own the only cimbalom in North Carolina, played in Kodály 's Háry János Suite - and then showed up in Raleigh on Sunday afternoon, masquerading as a teenager and making a guest appearance in the Triangle Youth Philharmonic's reading of the same score. On that occasion, Jason Brame, of the TYP, conducted William Schuman's "Newsreel"; a mere five hours later, he was on hand at the Raleigh Flute Choir's spring program, at the end of which her directs 18 flutists(!) in Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," a performance that suggested in more ways than one the NC Symphony's admirable "Play with the Pros" events in Cary.