Alexandria, Va. --
This Sunday, May 8, flutist and special guest soloist Mimi Stillman will join the Marine Chamber Orchestra in concert for a spectacular afternoon of music on Mother’s Day! During the performance, Stillman will give the world première of the new Concerto for Flute and Orchestra written for her by Grammy-nominated composer Zhou Tian, and close with a new arrangement of the bright and energetic Libertango by Astor Piazzolla. Also programmed are Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, and the seven fairy tale-inspired movements of Ravel’s Mother Goose.
The free concert will take place at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center in Alexandria, Va., and start at 2 p.m. No tickets are required, and free parking is available in the adjacent garage.
Stillman is an internationally acclaimed solo, chamber, and recording artist who has performed as a soloist with major orchestras and as a recitalist and chamber musician at prestigious venues domestically and abroad. Stillman is the founding artistic director of the popular Dolce Suono Ensemble based in Philadelphia which has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, William Penn Foundation, and Aaron Copland Fund for Music, among others.
Appearing with the orchestra nearly a year later than originally planned, Stillman is especially grateful to give this performance on stage for a live audience.
“While I never took being a performing musician for granted, the fact that the pandemic struck at the very heart of what we do—making music for live audiences—caused me to appreciate it even more,” Stillman said.
Before “The President’s Own” and a consortium of other ensembles commissioned Zhou’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Stillman already had a longstanding working relationship with the composer which began in 2010 when she recorded his Duet for Flute and Piano with Charles Abramovic. Impressed with his work, Stillman and her Dolce Suono Ensemble commissioned the piece Viaje by Zhou in 2015 as part of the Música en tus Manos, a project engaging with Philadelphia's Latino communities while featuring chamber and popular music of Latin America.
In this third collaboration between Stillman and Zhou, their musical partnership has developed further.
“It's the largest scale collaboration we've worked on, and took a great deal of talking and planning artistically and logistically together and with our orchestra consortium partners,” Stillman said.
In the beginning stages of writing the Concerto, Zhou asked Stillman to share examples of her favorite pieces and moments in the flute repertoire, and in the general orchestral repertoire involving the flute.
“As I compiled what turned into a rather extensive list for him, I realized that some of my favorite moments were about music that speaks to me more than specifically about flute techniques,” Stillman said. “And so, our discussions broadened into deeper issues of musical language in addition to how my instrument most effectively ‘speaks.’ We spoke about the nature of the concerto as a genre, the relationship of soloist with orchestra, and in-depth details about various aspects of flute technique.”
Stillman continued: “Zhou's deep knowledge of and respect for the flute and its repertoire is evident in the Concerto, as he has referenced some of the greatest traditions of flute music, including its Baroque heritage, French 19th-20th century music, and American composers Barber and Piston, all within his individual musical language. His understanding of music—the canon, history, theory—and thoughtfulness about it is embedded in his approach to writing music.”
One of the most exciting elements for Stillman during the composition process was simply working with the composer and getting to ask him what he has in mind—a luxury not afforded with composers of the past.
“When Zhou presented the concerto to me, movement by movement, we met on Zoom so I could play for him and discuss it,” Stillman said. “It's a symbiotic relationship because in a few places in the concerto, Zhou was concerned about the level of difficulty. I told him that I love a challenge, and that more importantly, I want him to realize whatever is in his mind. If a phrase is awkward, I can help resolve it while still achieving the musical idea. In a few spots, I proposed some adjustments to the flute line.”
These discussions also spurred changing the name of the Concerto’s first movement, too.
Zhou originally titled the first movement of the concerto "Lilacs," explaining that he felt a connection between this color palette and the sound of the flute. When Stillman shared with him that the iris is her favorite flower, he renamed the movement "Irises."
“He had synesthetically associated the flute's timbral possibilities with a range of purple and blue hues in this music, which is a color scheme I particularly love and identify with,” Stillman said. “As a flutist, and student of the legendary Julius Baker, I am always thinking about producing myriad tone colors to express the music. In that way, Zhou's approach to the instrument is akin to my own.”
In addition to the Marine Chamber Orchestra, commissioning ensembles for this piece include the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle in North Carolina; Annapolis Chamber Orchestra; Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra; Portland Symphony Orchestra in Maine; Youth Orchestra of San Antonio; and Allentown Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania.
Learn more about Mimi Stillman here.