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.


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


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.

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