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CONCERTO WITH CONSCIENCE: Italian composer creates new work for Symphony, mega-flutist

Italian composer Luca Lombardi has admired the artistry of flutist Emmanuel Pahud since he first heard him play years ago. “I was very impressed not only with the beauty of the tone, but with the musical intelligence and sensitivity,” the 64-year-old composer said in a recent phone chat. “I like his earnestness but also his humor, his irony.” The two seemed a good musical match: “I’m a fairly serious person myself but also have that touch of humor,” the composer says. Thus it was with pleasure that Luca and Swiss-born Emmanuel agreed to create a new Flute Concerto through a commission by the Kansas City Symphony, with a grant from the Miller Nichols Charitable Fund. This week Emmanuel, the Symphony, and Music DirectorMichael Stern will present the world premiere of Luca’s new Flute Concerto, the third of three premieres the Symphony performs this season.

“Luca Lombardi is a fascinating composer,” Michael has said of the commission. “He writes music of extraordinarily interesting textures. He understands the possibility of what a wind instrument can do as a solo instrument.” Currently in his fifth season as the Symphony’s music director, Michael has placed the concerto in a context of works highlighting Italian culture: The program also includes Rossini’s bubbling Overture to The Silken Ladder and Tchaikovsky’s searing Francesca da Rimini with its tale of doomed love. “I feel very lucky and honored Emmanuel agreed to come to Kansas City, and that he chose our orchestra to partner with in premiering this new music,” Michael says of the flutist. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us — one of the greatest experiences of my professional life is making music with him.”

Composing for flute and orchestra presents its specific challenges, Luca says, which he has welcomed. “Of course one must take care not to drown the flute” — yet one of the aspects of the instrument that attracts him is its very fragility. He has attempted to imbue his solo part not only with virtuosity and lyricism but also with something of that fragility. Luca has dedicated his concerto to Emmanuel, and he has woven the flutist’s name into the fabric of the music: The first page of the score is inscribed For EmmAnuEl pAHuD, and each of the appropriate vowels of the composer’s name has been exploited for its pitch on the musical scale: E-A-E-A-H-D. In fact, the first of the concerto’s three movements is built from an almost obsessively worked-out three-note motif (E-A-E) heard initially in the solo part and reiterated throughout. (Here Luca has built on a long-beloved practice: Numerous composers have treated the pitches B-A-C-H to pay tribute to the great German master, for example, with “B” as German for B-flat and “H” for B-natural; more arcane in nature, D-Es-C-H was Dmitri Shostakovich’s famous distillation of his own name.)

Born in Rome, Luca studied there and in Vienna, Florence, Pesaro and Cologne. As a young composer, he was strongly influenced by his contact with key figures of the avant-garde such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, and Mauricio Kagel; his interest in socially committed music drew him to Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau. Since then his musical outlook has remained free, open and eclectic — a far cry from his avant-garde days when tonality was shunned and sentimentality was a bad word. “I believe variety is very important. I am against fundamentalism — political, aesthetic, or artistic. Composers are individuals: Each has a duty to follow his own path. I find ‘schools’ of composition horrible. Ask Beethoven, to what ‘school’ did he belong?”

Luca has composed prolifically for the most important European orchestras, opera companies and festivals, and he has received prizes and awards including Italy’s prestigious Goffredo Petrassi Prize in 2006. “By addressing the social and political issues of his time, his oeuvre is pervaded by a kind of humanism that makes him a worthy successor to his colleagues (Luigi) Dallapiccola and (Luigi) Nono,” Michael Kurtz has written. “His works (150 thus far) show mastery in handling diverse stylistic elements, whereby the musical language results largely from the tasks and the themes confronted by the composer; it ranges from expressive cantilenas, violent outbursts and meditative contemplation to alienation and deconstruction, with constant flashes of wit and irony.” Luca has gained prominence for several theatrically savvy operas, most notably Faust — Un travestimento (1990), the Shakespeare-inspired Prospero (2006) and a comic opera Il re nudo (2008). Born of a Jewish mother, recently the Roman-based Luca took on Israeli citizenship, partly he says “as a small sign of solidarity with a land whose very existence stands in question.”

Luca says he still believes in the responsibility of composers to be witnesses to the world around them. “Composers speak for, and represent, their time. But they don’t necessarily have to do it in a straight political manner. They are composers: They have to write good music. Writing a good string quartet is more important than writing a bad political piece.” In this vein, Luca’s new Flute Concerto — which joins his Viola Concerto and two works for two pianos and orchestra — is a piece of “pure music,” with no extra-musical statements. Deliciously orchestrated, it interweaves modernist and fully tonal styles — with a dynamic opening movement, a dreamy, lyrical slow movement that ends with a series of large tone-clusters, and a finale that pulls out the stops. It does not use a lot of “special effects” on flute, he says, beyond flutter-tongue and multiphonic passages, “because I think that one can articulate musical ideas using mostly normal sounds.”

The concerts are February 19th and 20th at the Lyric Theatre, with a matinee on February 21st at Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College. Call 816-471-0400 or go to kcsymphony.org. In addition, on February 18th at the Lyric Theatre the Symphony’s Education Department will present a free master class featuring Emmanuel and several gifted local students. It is open to the public, but reservations should be made in advance by calling Jedd Schneider at 816-218-2609.

 

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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