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Inverno Azul (Blue Winter) by Cynthia Folio

 cynthiafolio

New chamber music for flute

composed by Cynthia Folio

 © Copyright – Cynthia Folio / Bcm&d Records (888174789408)

Release Date: 2014

Available at:

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Spotify

Including

Philadelphia Portraits: A Spiritual Journey

“This wonderful five-movement work by Cynthia Folio for piccolo and piano was commissioned by and dedicated to respected piccolo artist Lois Herbine, who premiered the work at the 2011 Annual NFA Convention in Charlotte. In the program notes, the composer states that Herbine suggested the theme and provided feedback on drafts. It was truely a collaborative process, and the recording that I heard of Herbine performing the work reinforces that sense of shared joy in the creation and performance of a new composition”- Andrea Loewy, The Flutist Quarterly 2013

2nd movement of Cynthia Folio’s Philadelphia Portraits: A Spiritual Journey for piccolo and piano

II. John Coltrane

Program Notes

Let us sing all songs to God
To whom all praise is due …

The Coltrane quote above comes from his album A Love Supreme, which was an expression of Coltrane’s inner spiritual struggle and his gratitude to God. The movement alludes to some of Coltrane’s famous tunes and “licks.” After a free intro, there is a written-out solo over changes that are inspired by Giant Steps, but instead of II-V-I sequences transposed by Major 3rds, it uses II-V-I sequences transposed by minor 3rds.

The coltrane movement

As much as the Persichetti movement has strong personal ties, Coltrane was my most difficult personality to imitate. My interpretation of the Coltrane is not organic but rather reverse engineered. Supported by “thumbs up” from Cynthia and jazz musicians who heard the premiere, I’ve decided to include in this article a primer on interpreting jazz for the classically trained musician – sharing the knowledge I gained in the process of working through this movement as well as tidbits I picked up over the years playing with my dad’s dance band and as principal flute with the Philly Pops.

I liken the Coltrane movement to having to learn to speak in a foreign language by mimicking its most fluent native. Before the movement was composed, I listened to an NPR special on John Coltrane and borrowed a few of his LPs from my friend. I discovered that Coltrane’s sound was raw and on edge but his music-making was laid back. I tried to emulate that style in my performance, as well as his discriminant use of vibrato. I used Giant Steps for inspiration and a slow down machine to get it to 1/8 speed so that I could practice a to transcribed version of the first thirty measures of this solo with the master. I notated the slides and the amount of swing, which seemed to be proportionate to changes in his articulation. I then played along until I could get the first section up to speed.

CYNTHIA FOLIO’S THOUGHTS

Email from Cynthia to Lois: “I’ll get the Coltrane movement to you as soon as I can. This one will be fast and somewhat challenging (technically) for both you and Matt!”

Cynthia did not use the same major 3rds changes but minor 3rd tonalities, and composed her own improvisation so everything I learned while preparing Giant Steps was brought close back to square one when learning her movement. I had about a week and a half with the new part before the premiere!

The one thing to keep in mind when performing the Coltrane movement, is the opening is like warming up the horn. While Folio says to use “jazz articulation”, she advised me to play this opening section rather straight and slur in groups of two. In performance I progressively get more laid back with slides, leans and held notes as this opening section progresses.

When the Love Supreme four-note motif enters later on, Cynthia advised me to change the articulation to accentuate the part. I finished which a “dat” articulation, which cuts off and punctuates the ending with a snap. It draws attention to the otherwise fleeting lick.

Email from Cynthia to Lois: The piccolo solo is challenging because it requires some familiarity with jazz articulation and you learned to do this in a short amount of time–sounding like a pro.

MY PERSONAL HISTORY WITH JAZZ AND DANCE BAND

Before I was born, my dad, Bill Bliss, played the tenor sax and clarinet with the big bands in the Philadelphia clubs surrounding WWII. Then for forty years he had his own quartet, the “Cordials”, who performed together at clubs, weddings and parties. I heard his music rehearsed in the house while growing up and when his rehearsals went to other members houses, the wives would go with me in tow, and we would play games or do puzzles and listen while they played.

When I got older, I played the flute with the Abington high school jazz band, took a few improvised solos, and eventually learned to play the tenor sax when I tired of transposing parts for myself to play. I honked away at my dad’s King Super 20, trying to imitate my dad and my older brother Ken who also played tenor, as well as Boots Randolph from the many recordings at my house. My sound wasn’t bad, but it was wrecking my flute playing embouchure, so I gave up the sax after high school.

My own personal swing interpretation when growing up was, in my dad’s words, “corny”. I played jazz as it was explained to me, two plus one triplets, which did not seem right. I was always told to “just feel it” which is a little like telling a drowning person to “just swim”. I only got slightly better at interpretation after I went out on gigs with my dad’s band in high school and college, singing lead vocals and playing the flute on a few numbers like Jobim and always on “Bill’s tune” which was my dad’s idea of getting me to improvise on a straight forward I, IV, V, I progression.

LEARNING JAZZ INTERPRETATION

I tell my story so anyone can see that I didn’t come by performing jazz organically. Classically trained musicians learn how to “feel” jazz to varying success. I will use this space to attempt to teach how to approach jazz from analysis.

First, I learned from improvising with my friend, the fabulous jazz/classical violinist Diane Monroe. She instructed that in swing the strength is on the second eighth note of a grouping of two, not the first. Also, in classical music beats one and three are the strong beats of the measure. In jazz it is the opposite – beats two and four.

Articulation

I heard from listening to recordings of Coltrane that the second articulation or approach to the note was strong and the first was week so I developed a “yoo-da, yoo-da” articulation for a majority of this movement because in rehearsal Cynthia preferred the articulation to not be slurred very often.

HOW TO SWING

I gained a level of proficiency with the help of some great players who sat next to me when I played principal flute in the Philly Pops. Here is Tony’s secret that taught me to finely feel swing correctly: Place the swing rhythm exactly between two eighths and a two plus one triplets. Add to that placing the strength on the “and” and not the downbeat.

The right “feel” should happen without needing to “feel it”.

1st movement of Cynthia Folio’s Philadelphia Portraits: A Spiritual Journey for piccolo and piano

 I. Vincent Persichetti

PROGRAM NOTES

The place where men meet to seek the highest is holy ground.

The statement above—inscribed over the stage at the Philadelphia Ethical Society—is quoted by Persichetti in an interview in Perspectives of New Music. This movement is inspired by three pieces by Persichetti, all of which reflect his profound spirituality: Parable XII for piccolo (which Lois recorded on her CD, Take Wing); “Christmas Hymn” (on which the parable is based); and a piccolo solo from the Andante movement of his 7th symphony. The movement  begins with a solo cadenza, developing two short motives from the parable. It later quotes two short phrases from the hymn and symphony mentioned above (used by permission of Theodore Presser Company).

Workshop at the International Piccolo Symposium

Workshop on Folio’s Philadelphia Portraits at the International Piccolo Symposium, 2013

Folio expertly sets Persichetti’s quotes while putting her own signature on this movement. The Parable, 7th Symphony and Portrait are crafted by master composers.

THE PERSICHETTI MOVEMENT

Email from Cynthia to Lois: “I think that your idea of quoting was a good one. The two passages are like jewels that I have had the opportunity to set. (This is similar to what Bartok said about harmonizing folk songs.)”

As a musician, it is a wonderful experience to be a part of the creation and dissemination of a new work. In the case of this movement, it was the collaboration between two composers—with Cynthia Folio, as plans were formulating for Philadelphia Portraits through to the final rehearsal the evening prior to the premiere performance, and with Vincent Persichetti in preparation for performances of his quoted works. I worked alongside him in preparing for performances of his 7th Symphony and his Piccolo Parable and have very fond memories of this time together.

My story behind the quoted material 

Persichetti’s Litergical Symphony

My story began with my performance of Persichetti’s 7th symphony with the New School of Music orchestra in Philadelphia. It was my sophomore year of college and up until this point I was very self-conscious about how I fit within the orchestra as a piccolo player, particularly with tuning. In my freshman years I had a difficult time when I was given a piccolo solo in the American premiere of Delius’s Sleigh Ride. I wasn’t sure how to “tame the beast”, as piccoloists call it, and both my private teacher Deborah Carter Smith and the orchestra conductor, her husband William Smith, took on the challenge of helping me control significant problems with individual note tuning before the performance. Luckily I improved greatly, but not before I received demeaning yet well-intended advice from my peers.

My next solo experience came only one year later with the 7th symphony under Mr. Persichetti’s baton. This has an elegant and melodious piccolo solo that requires the soloist to play a very long phrase in one breath. When I played for Mr. Persichetti, he stopped the rehearsal to compliment me on my performance. Not only was it the first time that a conductor complimented me in rehearsal, but it was the first time that I received a coveted foot stomping by my peers, which was just as significant to me. A flute student at the rehearsal told me I needed to write down what Mr. Persichetti said so that I didn’t forget it—I don’t think there was ever a chance of that happening!

Persichetti on his Hymns and Responses for the Church Year

His spiritual journey

Out of the nine symphonies that Persichetti composed, the seventh was “a very personal statement and is a symphonic development of materials from his small choral book Hymns and Responses for the Church Year.” 1

Explaining the Hymns and Responses collection for an article for Perspectives of New Music, Persichetti told the interviewer, “that season became a day-and-night obsession with music for the church.  Every Sunday, my family and I visited a different church.  I discovered in the various congregations of different denominations a variety of attitudes to their music, the universal approach I wished for my hymns…  I am a religious person, but not in any formal way… my whole world can be placed in a single frame. When I’m writing an Episcopal Magnificat, my entire being is caught up in that religious medium and way of worship.  That segment of the Christian world is mine at the time.  I can find this whole world in the arms of a single double bass.  In my Parable for Solo Clarinet, I don’t miss an oboe or even a friendly piano.” 2

Also taken from this hymnbook was the second quote that Folio set, mm. 6–8 from “Christmas,” which in itself was recast as the solo-lined Parable XII for piccolo.

Nineteen of Persichetti’s biblical Parables are for a solo instrument. In the Parable for Piccolo the finale section is the soprano line of the Christmas hymn in its entirety, including the Amen. Both the Parable and Folio’s Persichetti movement begin with the fragmented theme from the Christmas hymn, “This is the month, and this the happy morn”.

Opening of Vincent Persichetti's Christmas Hymn from the  Hymns and Responses for the Church Year, Vol. 1

Opening of Vincent Persichetti’s Christmas Hymn from the Hymns and Responses for the Church Year, Vol. 1

My story behind the quoted material 

Persichetti’s Parable for Piccolo

 One year after I performed the 7th Symphony in college, then new president, Tamara Brooks, arranged personal coaching sessions for me with Mr. Persichetti on works of my choosing. The first session was on his Parable for Piccolo, one of the first repertoire pieces written for solo piccolo. Mr. Persichetti was a wonderfully good-natured mentor; he had only the nicest things to say. In particular, his advice to me when playing the final hymn tune at the end of the parable was, “don’t make more of this than it is – it is just a simple Christmas hymn tune.”

My new teacher John Krell helped prepare me to play for Mr. Persichetti. I remember so well that Mr. Krell was unfamiliar with the Parable when I brought it to him for lessons. Still, he played it brilliantly and had wonderful insights on performing the work. When Mr. Krell passed away in 1999, I thought to play the Persichetti on his memorial concert. When I went to look for a recording of the Parable for Piccolo and discovered that there was none, I decided to record it myself. This work became the impetus for recording and gathering compositions for my first solo CD Take Wing.

Cynthia Folio’s Thoughts

Email from Cynthia to Lois: “I’ve listened to the whole 7th symphony several times–it’s fantastic! Thanks to you, my respect for Persichetti as a composer has grown. I’ve always respected him as a pedagogue—I’ve used his 20th-century harmony book in my own teaching—I love the composition exercises at the end of each chapter.”

Cynthia Folio – I am grateful to Lois for suggesting the idea of doing a series of portraits and more specifically for suggesting Persichetti as one of the important Philadelphia figures. She also suggested Betsy Ross, and then I came up with the other three (John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, and Benjamin Franklin). The whole process was a collaboration from the inception up to the premiere, when Lois also had many interesting ideas on how to perform particular spots in the piece. Philadelphia Portraits would have been a very different piece (and a different title) without this collaboration!

1 “VINCENT PERSICHETTI.” Welcome to Presser Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://www.presser.com/Composers/info.cfm?Name=VINCENTPERSICHETTI&gt;.

2 “Conversation with Rudy Schackelford,”  Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 20, Fall-Winter 1981 & Spring-Summer 1982, pp. 104-133.

Philadelphia Portraits: A spiritual journey for piccolo and piano by Cynthia Folio, commissioned by and dedicated to Lois Herbine

Cynthia Folio piccolo composition

Cover design by Aleck Brinkman 1

On June 13, 2013, I presented a workshop at the International Piccolo Symposium on Cynthia Folio’s piccolo and piano composition, Philadelphia Portraits: A spiritual journey, which she composed for me in 2011. I premiered the work on a concert devoted completely to Folio’s compositions for flute, at the National Flute Association Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 13, 2011.

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Piccoloist Lois Herbine, composer Cynthia Folio and pianist Matthew Bengtson after premiere in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 13, 2011

COMPOSER CYNTHIA FOLIO – OUR PERSONAL STORY

The first time we met was in Colorado when we were awaiting the final round as auditioners for the piccolo position of the Denver Symphony. While Cynthia doesn’t remember this, I told her about the Piccolo Society and she was interested in getting information for her students at TCU. After she moved to Philadelphia, we were both flute freelancers in the city. I recall that we were the flutists for the summer annual Concerto Soloists Band Concerts at Morris Arboretum and we were both pregnant and nearing our due dates at one of these performances.

One thing was certain from knowing her previously: Cynthia’s strong piccolo performance background meant she knew the capabilities of the piccolo.

The inspiration for Cynthia’s composition came during a lunch meeting at a quaint restaurant on Germantown Avenue, a cobblestone road in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. While we were surrounded by Philadelphia history, I thought to suggest a composition that honored famous Philadelphians.  While Cynthia doesn’t always write programmatic music, she enjoyed the challenge. She thought each movement could be a “Portrait” of a famous Philadelphian. Planning this work was a real collaboration. I came up with the idea for a Persichetti movement and Betsy Ross, which Cynthia used as a springboard for her ideas for three other Philadelphia protraits: John Coltrane, Marian Anderson and Benjamin Franklin.

A sound sample of Lois Bliss Herbine playing Philadelphia Portraits live on the dress rehearsal in Charlotte, North Carolina

Explaining the work prior to the NFA premiere

Explaining the work prior to the NFA premiere

Just as the planning, ordering of movements and rehearsing were collaborations between composer and artist, so in a way is this series of articles.  I am recasting Cynthia’s printed program notes for each movement and adding some of our personal correspondence during the creation of her composition. I’ll share research about each portrait artist, personal backstory and suggestions on how to interpret each movement. The first article focuses on the first movement, the Portrait of Philadelphia composer Vincent Persichetti. Look for John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross in upcoming blogs.

1 All photos taken for the cover except for Persichetti were by Cynthia’s husband, Aleck Brinkman. The Coltrane picture was from an incredible mural on Diamond Street, not far from where Coltrane lived. Neighbors told Cynthia and Aleck that the building will soon be torn down.  The Marian Anderson picture was from a flag just outside of where she lived and where the Marian Anderson House is located. The Benjamin Franklin Statue is from the Franklin Institute, and the Betsy Ross House is a Philadelphia Historical Landmark.

Scouting out performance space in Philadelphia to premiere new work for piccolo

I spent the afternoon in center city Philadelphia yesterday with Andrew Simonet of Artists U. His organization offers strategic planning to Philadelphia area artists and my private session was provided by the Leeway Foundation, through the grant I received in 2004 for producing my piccolo CD. Andrew had some fantastic ideas about performance spaces and project collaborators for my premiere performance of Howard Hersh‘s “I had to go Down in the Mines to Climb Up to the Sky” and ways to create a multi-media event surrounding this single work. I am so motivated, not only to create this amazing piece of art, scored for solo piccolo and a pre-recorded choir of 16 piccolos, but to share it with new audiences. I’ll be documenting my experiences as they unfold along with more information about the composition.
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Tweet for solo piccolo by Daniel Dorff, commissioned by and dedicated to Lois Herbine

Tweet

Daniel Dorff’s Tweet for solo piccolo is a four-and-a-half minute joyous romp with repeated thematic material that suggests the flitting and chirping of birds.

Composer Daniel Dorff – Our Personal story

Although we live close to each other in the suburbs of Philadelphia, composer Daniel Dorff and I first met at a performance at the 2000 flute convention in Columbus. Over the past 12 years we have had a business relationship that has developed into a close friendship. I recorded his Sonatine de Giverny on my solo piccolo CD, “Take Wing” and play all of his newly composed works for solo flute and piccolo in his presence before he takes his works to print for Presser and Tritone publications. Sometimes he changes his written instructions – such as breath marks and tempo – pending the stylistic interpretation I take. If he feels my musical interpretation is not fitting, he might notate his directives clearer.

Our spring and summer run-throughs or rehearsals for upcoming performances would begin with a walk in my backyard garden as inspiration for both of us. When I asked Danny if he would write a piccolo solo for me, our commission agreement was gardening lessons and a carload of transplants. Tweet is reminiscent of the birds, flowers and the outdoors. As my transplants are flourishing in his bourgeoning backyard, many of Danny’s recent compositions for flute, such as Perennials and Woodland Reverie are influenced by his views of nature.

A sound sample of Lois Bliss Herbine performing Tweet live on a solo piccolo recital at Rice University

Piccolo solo recital and masterclass on Saturday, January 28, 2012

Piccolo solo recital and masterclass on Saturday, January 28, 2012

Performance tips and strategies for Tweet

Tweet’s opening Volante segment is marked “strict tempo”, however, this should not be confused with rigidness of feel. This composer is quite happy to offer Tweet for stylistic interpretation. As he explained to me, the word “strict” is merely taking and maintaining a similar tempo throughout the work to unify its various sections. The repeated melodic progression of three quick grace notes ending in long quarter notes restated throughout the work is in itself a technical challenge. Performers should take care that the fingering and pitch of each grace note is accurate. In the middle register of the piccolo, even subtle shadings of pitch can create an improper sounding underlying chord. Fortunately, it takes subtle changes in the embouchure and air placement on the piccolo to make corrections. Practice making the adjustments slowly at first and work up to speed. I first learned this solo on the flute to memorize the proper pitch of the chord progressions before tackling the work on the piccolo. The instrument changeover is welcome, because the smaller finger movement of the piccolo helps the passage move quickly and freely when performed up to speed. The tempo is marked c. 124 or “circa” 124. The actual tempo is not as important as the fleeting impression of the grace notes.

Tweet1Clink on the sample to view music in detail

Each time this melody is stated I try to do something different with it. During the premiere I was taking liberties that I hadn’t taken in practice: abrupt shifts and extreme dynamic changes. These were supported by the room’s acoustics and the composer’s wishes. Since I have worked with Danny for years I know that he prefers me taking chances and trying out new ideas. Upon taking Tweet “on the road” in piccolo recitals for Rice University and the University of Texas, I discovered that I make these changes at will – no two performances are alike. For example, sometimes I think the repetition of the opening statement being joyful and other times more stately and somber, and I add a dose of whimsy when I feel like it!

One part that I suggest to keep in strict tempo with no variance is the repetitive ascending sixteenth note runs that begin in measure 10. I perform these as written – sotto voce with punctuations from the inserted accents in the first segment, and with added dynamic contrasts in the next three recaps. The accents go against the pulse of the measure, which Dorff wrote to be unweighted. This creates a sly and syncopated movement that foreshadows the jazzy middle section.

Tweet2

Since the theme and its variations repeat often in the work it is a good idea to follow the wide dynamic changes the composer has marked, particularly from m. 46 – 47, 61 – 62 then to 63, 81 – 82 then to 83, 103 – 104, and 121 – 122. Make them as unexpected as possible.

In the center of the work is a pianissimo section appropriately marked “secretly tiptoeing”. This should be played with stealth. As Dorff suggested to me in performance, the notes should be so soft that even if a note or two doesn’t actually sound, the character is maintained.

Tweet3

Measure 66 begins the lighthearted jazz dance. Take the accents literally, they are well placed and propel this center section into the repetition of the opening theme, but not before revisiting the quiet tiptoeing notes from before.

Tweet4

The coda is a signature Dorff finish, a quick gallop to the end with a final grace note-filled flourish.

Tweet  is Dorff’s third work for piccolo, and only unaccompanied solo. It is the feather-in-the-cap of any flutists recital.

available to purchase from sheet music plus
Theodore Presser publisher
Lois Herbine with composer Daniel Dorff, Charlotte NC

Lois Herbine with composer Daniel Dorff
after the NFA premiere, Charlotte NC

Welcome readers – lend me your ear!

This is my new adventure into blogging. I want to share my enthusiasm for the piccolo as a solo instrument with articles, reviews, sound samples  and practice tips. Feel free to make comments or ask questions.