The Albany Symphony Orchestra concluded its three-day American Music Festival Saturday night at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center with what music director David Alan Miller called "mindbending" pieces. That was no understatement. All the pieces were new for the huge crowd. There were Clint Needham's and Andrea Reinkemeyer's world premieres, Derek Bermel's novel Concerto for Jazz Band and Orchestra (2006) with the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, and Michael Daugherty's sensational "Trail of Tears" (2010) for flute and orchestra with the equally sensational flutist Amy Porter.
Needham's "We Are All from Somewhere Else," with interspersed taped comments from the 25 people he interviewed about where they were from and how they ended up as colleagues, opened with a busy, rhythmic, tonal but not lyrical, well-orchestrated and colorful section. Miller had numerous changes of meter to conduct but was precise and in control. This was "journey music." The second section was more upbeat, vigorous and celebratory. The crowd liked it.
Daugherty's wonderful concerto chronicled the Cherokee Indians' tragic death march of 1838 to Oklahoma. The flute was their voice and Porter brought that sorrow and despair to life. She worked with Daugherty for two years before she premiered the work, which she calls a "dream to play," so she has had time to live with it to make it her own. The melodies were beautiful, the extended techniques such as bent notes and flutter tonguing were very effective. Porter's technique was flawless, even in the "wildly difficult" finale.
Daugherty's vigorous yet supportive orchestration allowed the flute to always be heard. The ASO will soon record the piece. Porter got a standing ovation and several curtain calls.
Reinkemeyer's "NaamJai" ("Liquid Heart") was highly rhythmic with dry articulations but there was a strange imbalance as to which section had the lead. There was also an odd inner segment with isolated solos that seemed to have no particular direction.
Bermel's piece, which the ASO will soon record, was an interesting concept, but the various segments between the jazz musicians and the mostly ASO strings did not especially connect. There were various wind riffs while the strings sustained tones, and a few solo "interludes," one of which Bermel himself played with some funky clarinet licks. The finale, however, ￼￼was more integrated with both groups driving with strong rhythms. Miller was in sync. The crowd liked this one, too.
— Geraldine Freedman,
The Daily Gazette - Troy, NY
Flutist Amy Porter gave a superb recital Saturday night at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center and showed that she’s not only very versatile but that she can do everything well.
She chose a program that tested every aspect of her playing from a Baroque sensibility to using the instrument as a vehicle of sound effects, and she met each challenge with passion, skill and much musicality. The concert was also stream lived, which allowed her many students and two of the composers whose work she played to “listen in.”
Porter, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, played with a big colorful sound, a very fleet, smooth technique, fabulously light double tonguing, effortless breath control and a forthright style of musicianship that was open, direct and had its own kind of exciting brio.
Her pianist, Katie Leung, who was once a Porter flute student, provided exceptionally sympathetic support, matching nuances and excellent balances.
They began with Poulenc’s Sonata (1957), one of the most familiar works of the repertoire for its lyricism and line. The first movement was well nuanced with strong colors and a judicious use of vibrato. The slow second had a thrilling depth of expression with finished phrases and the finale was brilliant and playful.
Porter’s arrangement of Bach’s Prelude from his solo Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor was done with great passion. Flutists don’t have this type of piece in their libraries, so this arrangement is a welcome addition. It’s very challenging and dramatic, but satisfying to perform.
Christopher Caliendo has written several sonatas for Porter. “The Western Sonata” (2010) is vivacious, jaunty, jazzy and brilliantly conceived. Porter was at home with its shifting moods and technical and offbeat demands.
Skidmore flute professor Jan Vinci joined Porter and Leung for Ian Clarke’s “Maya” (2000). Working in close harmonies, they interwove and blended in a pretty piece that often sounded like a rippling stream.
Heinz Holliger’s “Sonate (In)solit(air)e” (1996) for solo flute is a tour-de-force for a flutist to make all kinds of sound effects over a three-octave range including multiphonics, whistles, blasts of sound, and key slaps. Despite the weirdness, the seven movements had continuity and a hip coolness that made the crowd smile. Porter played all this stuff so well.
Porter and Leung finished with Daniel Dorff’s “Sonata (Three Lakes)” (2014). The three movements had long flowing arched melodies in sunny colors, a light and spare piano part, and rippling technical passages. The duo played with great energy and finesse and got a standing ovation.
— Geraldine Freedman, Daily Gazette
In the title, the flutist Amy Porter likens the act of transcribing Bach’s Cello Suites to a translation. But her gleaming, lyrical reading of these profoundly personal works feels more like a distillation that concentrates and heightens their melodic structure. But a little is lost in the process, too, especially the rich depth of the cello’s low register, and the spatial dimension spun from the string crossings during those recurring, ruminating arpeggios.
— Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim,
The New York Times
There is much in Porter’s background that qualifies her to make this recording. She studied at Juilliard with Samuel Baron, longtime member of the Bach Aria Group. She tells us in the notes, “I began learning the Cello Suites at the suggestion of Boston flutist and cellist Tim Taranella, playing from the edition in treble clef given to me by Professor Paul Meisen. In 2005, Professor Meisen and I both served on the jury of the Kobe International Flute Competition, where he delivered a lecture in German, translated into Japanese, on the Bach Partita (for unaccompanied flute) and Cello Suites. His lecture compared the two works and offered a contrasting cello performance of 60 July/August 2014 Bach’s Partita in A minor. Mesmerized by Professor Meisen’s 2005 lecture, I began the journey of learning the Cello Suites in earnest.”
This 2-disc set is meant to complement an edition of the cello suites for flute published Carl Fischer. The printed edition includes all the movements, but Porter doesn’t record every movement, omitting the ones she considers least suited to the flute. Thus the subtitle of this collection is ‘Selections from JS Bach’s Cello Suites’, making the incompleteness clear on the cover. Suite 6 suffers the most: only two movements here. Beyond the obvious problem of how to render double stops and other polyphonic writing, any transcriber of these works for flute also must occasionally choose what octave to place the music in. Porter tells us, “Often, I avoid soaring into the highest octave of the flute for the sake of the sound of the music.”
It is probably important to note first that this recording uses a modern flute; in fact, the booklet tells us that it is a 14k gold Muramatsu instrument. Overall, this playing is very fine and refined. She uses a lot of slurs, more than some people might prefer to hear, which means it is the songlike and not necessarily the dancelike quality of the writing that comes
across. In contrast to the respectful character of Porter’s approach, to her credit, she is willing to take considerable liberty with the tempo. She has a vibrant sound and excellent control over the breathing, the wide intervals she plays, and the intonation. Listen merely to the Prelude from Suite 3 to hear all three. She has been placed in a resonant space that adds ebullience to the sound without taking away any of the clarity.
I had high praise for Porter’s other recent recording, also on Equilibrium (May/June 2013: 193). If you are open to hearing more Bach transcriptions played very well on flute, you must have the recent recording by Eric Lamb with cellist Martin Rummel on Paladino 39, too (Sept/Oct 2013).
— GORMAN, American Record Guide
"She also was an exuberant, easily extroverted performer whose enthusiasm for the music made the composition sparkle."
— Houston Chronicle
Music director David Amado continued the concert with a more substantial second premiere, Michael Daugherty's "Trail of Tears" for flute and orchestra.The DSO had co-commissioned the three-movement concerto jointly with the American Composers Orchestra, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and the Omaha Symphony, which premiered it last year. Wilmington native Amy Porter, for whom the work had been written and who introduced it in Omaha, was the soloist.As its title indicates, Daugherty's score commemorates the forced migration of the Cherokees from Tennessee to Oklahoma. The music, which generally subordinated the orchestra to the soloist, whose song represented the Cherokees, included many piercing reminders of hardship and heartbreak, from a persistent flattening in the middle of a motivic lyrical phrase to the flutist's savagely breathy attacks on the instrument.The alternation between rhapsodic solo recitatives and shorter, more pungent answering tuttis suggested an unresolved dialogue.The music's somber subject did not prevent frequent wild eruptions in the first section, "Where the Wind Blows Free," and the closing "Sun Dance," whose opening bars, leaping furiously from one meter to the next, recalled both the barbaric Stravinsky of "The Rite of Spring" and the prankster of the "Circus Polka."Having tamped down her exuberance for the central "Incantation," Porter rode confidently above the orchestra in the formidable final movement. The composer joined her onstage to share the standing ovation that greeted the performance.— THOMAS LEITCH, News Journal
The infamous "Trail of Tears" has gone down as one of the darkest episodes in American history.
In the winter of 1838, about 15,000 Cherokee Indians were forcibly relocated from Tennessee to Oklahoma. More than 4,000 men, women and children died from exposure and disease.
That tragic march served as the inspiration for "Trail of Tears," composer Michael Daugherty's new flute concerto. Its world-premiere performance was Friday night at the Holland Performing Arts Center, courtesy of flutist Amy Porter and the Omaha Symphony.
Daugherty, one of the world's pre-eminent composers of concert music, has written a piece that is both audaciously contemporary and appealingly romantic.
His score is full of modernistic effects -- bent pitches and aggressively fluttering harmonics -- that would sound right at home in a Bartok concerto. But his piece also includes the sort of drop-dead gorgeous melodies that you might expect to hear in the music of Samuel Barber.
The three-movement concerto lasts about 22 minutes and is programmatic, meaning it is meant to be a kind of sonic narrative. Daugherty's tale proves to be thoughtful, sensitive and imaginative.
The first movement is called "Where the Wind Blew Free," from a quote of Geronimo's. The idea is that when you are dislocated from your home, you don't just beat your chest in anguished emotion. You think of a better time and place -- where the wind blew free. So Daugherty loads his opening with beautiful, haunting, nostalgia-inducing melodies.
This movement is largely episodic. It opens with a brief flute solo brimming with bent pitches, which, the composer explained during pre-performance remarks, serve as a bridge between classical and Native American flute playing. After the orchestra enters with bright, sumptuous music, the flute goes on a journey, with the flutist playing aggressive, Jethro Tull-like flutters, romantic melodies, bouncy staccato passages and finally a trudging, wrenching march.
The second movement, called "Incantation," is an extended musical meditation that builds to a transcendent climax. It is the sonic equivalent of a peyote-induced epiphany.The finale, called "Sun Dance," is a virtuoso romp that includes, among other things, vertiginous solo passagework and a memorable duel between flute and tom-tom.The concerto could not have had a more auspicious debut. Porter, a charismatic performer, was focused, flexible and intensely in the moment. She tossed off fiendishly difficult passages as if they were child's play and performed lyrical passages with heart-rending emotion.Music director Thomas Wilkins and the Omaha Symphony provided supple and sensitive support. For their efforts, Daugherty, Porter, Wilkins and the orchestra received an extended ovation.Friday's concert also included the music of Dvorák and Brahms. It's nearly impossible to spoil Dvorák's Carnival Overture, which opened the program. It's a straightforward, celebratory piece, and the orchestra gave it a sparkling, virtuosic reading.Wilkins and the orchestra got Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor, the blockbuster of the evening, exactly right. Brahms sweated over this symphony for 20 years -- he was intimidated by Beethoven -- and came up with one of the orchestra world's most remarkable pieces.There isn't a true fast movement in it -- his tempo markings are all modified by terms such as "sostenuto" (sustained) and "non troppo" (not too much). Wilkins heeds these instructions.He allows the orchestra to linger and brood in the first movement, building up enormous tension. He treats the inner movements -- Andante sostenuto and Un poco Allegretto e grazioso -- as affecting intermezzos.The finale, a triumph of bright C major over dark C minor, flowed inexorably to a glowing, transcendental climax. The finale alone was worth the price of admission.—
John Pitcher, Omaha World-Herald