The First European Piccolo Symposium: Jezersko, Slovenia August 27-28, 2011
With the spectacular Kamni-Savinja Alps as silent supervisors, the very first European Piccolo Symposium unfolded in the tiny hamlet of Jesersko, just south of the Austrian border in Slovenia. This project of Matjaž Debeljak, piccolo player of the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet, was an eventful, collegial, two-day programme full of multiple recitals, warm-ups, masterclasses, and other sessions
View from Hotel Planinka, Jezersko, Slovenia, Official accommodation site of The First European Piccolo Symposium, 2011
Headlining the symposium were Jean-Louis Beaumadier from the Marseille Conservatoire, France, Nicola Mazzanti from Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Italy, Christine Beard from the University of Omaha, USA, Nicole Esposito from the University of Iowa, USA and of course, Slovenian and mastermind of the event, Matjaž Debeljak. Each soloist presented a full recital in the beautiful St Oswald's Church, without repetitions of the repertoire—a feat quite unimaginable a couple of decades ago. There were two additional concerts: one featuring piccolo(s) in flute and/or multiple piccolo ensembles and the other featuring Slovenian piccoloists playing Slovenian composers.
Solo recitalists in St. Oswald's Church: l.- r. Matjaž Debeljak, Christine Beard, Jean-Louis Beaumadier, Nicole Esposito, Nicola Mazzanti
The Ensemble Recitals
The first recital of the symposium featured all the headliners along with Milica Milojevic Bogdanovic originally from Belgrade, now teaching in Austria and Slovenian flutist, Maša Bertok Duh, in a varied collection of piccolo ensemble music of transcriptions and original works. Christine Beard and Maša Bertok Duh opened with a charming duet for piccolo and alto flute titled Flea and Elephant by Slovenian composer Crt Sojar Voglar. Soaring through the fabulous acoustics of the intimate St Oswald's Church, Christine's rhythmic clarity depicted a very persistent, frenetic flea while Maša, presented a very sultry-sounding elephant. Maša with rather short notice, graciously and competently substituted for the absent Carla Rees at the symposium. (We all send Carla our most deep, heart-felt wishes for a speedy recovery of her day-to-day functioning after the devastating and needless destruction of her home in the UK riots last August.)
Despite her physical absence in Jezersko, Carla was still very much present through her three fine transcriptions--a Bach Prelude and Fugue, Patapio Silva's Primerio Amor, and the Flight of the Bumble Bee - and most especially in her fabulous Quatraine for three piccolos and alto flute. Sometimes in Quatraine, the three piccolos (played by Mazzanti, Beaumadier and Esposito) served as busy accompaniment for a lyrical alto flute yet in another moment the three piccolos were pure magic with their mesmerizing unison playing. One could only wish that Carla could have been present to hear the lengthy and resounding applause at Quatraine's conclusion. Other original gems on the programme included Dan Di Maggio's Experiment with its wonderful dialoguing between Mazzanti's piccolo and Bertok Duh's alto flute and Ambel Skuse's Reluctant Fire, a minimalist-styled trio scored for piccolo (Beard), flute (Mazzanti), and alto flute (Bertok Duh) loaded with percussive tonguing and filled with complexity and energy.
One of the great revelations of the whole symposium was Roz Trübger's transcription of the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde arranged for four piccolos. While a prejudiced, non-piccolo proponent might wince at the notion, the reality of four outstanding professionals playing this work demonstrated the telling expressive capacity of the piccolo and its wide range of dramatic, dynamic control. If only Wagner had explored and promoted the possibilities of the piccolo in the manner he did with the brass! One can only hope that future composers will have the opportunity to hear this version of this prelude in order to bury so many of the derogatory descriptions and warnings that abound in most orchestration texts. The applause following this performance was deservedly long and enthusiastic. Trubscher has downloaded midi files on Soundcloud of this and the other piccolo works prepared for this symposium ( http://soundcloud.com/rosflute/sets/solos-duets-trios-quartets-for/ ) but the measured vibratos of the sampled sounds and the inexpressive blandness and boring correctness of the digital rendering, in absolutely no manner, reflect the captivating performance of this arrangement as heard on the acoustic instruments played by Mazzanti, Esposito, Bogdanovic and Beaumadier!
Another ensemble recital of ensembles featured Slovenian piccoloists playing the music of Slovenian composers. Slovenia, as an independent country is very young, and there is an excitement surrounding any discussion of new, local composition and the publications of Sloway or DSS that are now making this repertoire available to piccolo performers. From Nenad Firšt's Momenti for piccolo duet, a piccolo and viola duet by Vladimir Hrovat, two duets for piccolo and harp by Krivokapič and Voglar, and two trios for piccolo, bassoon, and piano by Kopač and Krivokapič there was an impressive array of new repertoire available for the piccolo player. The Slovenian piccolo players who prepared this programme, Matja Kremljak, Nataša Paklar Markovič, Jasmina Šubic, Anamarija Tomac Krečič, and Pija Hoevar, were all excellent musicians. Markovič played through Peter Savli's Pipicopolopo, an unaccompanied solo, developing beautiful varieties of tonal colours and with pianist Urska Vidic, gave a fine performance of Kumar's Grafiti that featured powerful and fluid sweeps through daunting passages of high notes.
The Solo Recitals
The symposium's mastermind, Matjaž Debeljak presented the first of the solo recitals, in which he performed a baroque sonata by Bellinzani, (choirmaster from Udine), and four movements from John Rutter's Suite Antique, both translating very well as piccolo pieces. With the rarely heard Willard S. Elliot's Fantasy and Damaré's Le Merle Blanc, Debeljak included some older, original piccolo fare, in which his very powerful technical mastery and virtuoso drive bestowed an exciting energy. The unaccompanied Sonatina by Peter Kopač and Prebliski by Igor Krivokapič (both reviewed in my last column) completed the programme.
Christine Beard's recital offered a substantial amount of American fare with selections from Beaser's folksy Souvenirs, Daugherty's soaring The High and Mighty, and the powerfully evocative Passage by Daniel Kelley. Also included was her charming rendition of Tilmann Dehnhard's Wake Up!, the duet for piccolo and alarm clock which is rapidly becoming a classic piccoloist's favourite. The most interesting works, however, were Canadian Derek Charke's Lachrymose and England's Matt Smith's Sonata no.2 for piccolo and piano. Throughout Smith's first movement, right from its opening statement in which the sustained tones of the piccolo are given a percussive articulation by the unison doubling in the piano, there is a sustained restlessness both in rhythm and tonality, which only finally unwinds in the last few bars of the movement. Christine's soliloquy beginning the Lento was beautifully expressive, as were the ensuing bursts of rhythmic octaves. Most of the third movement displayed long fluid lines and an extended cadenza, but it closed quietly, reflecting upon the same unison passage of the opening, as though the whole work had been part of a dream sequence. To hear a performance by Beard of this sonata, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA7w4dKEa8
Uninhibited by the powerful identifications by so many orchestration book authors who have forged a difficult identity for the piccolo as a somewhat untamable joker or petulant child, Derek Charke has so atypically chosen this instrument to be the sorrowful voice of a mourner. Charke's challenging Lachrymose is a for unaccompanied piccolo - that is if one discounts St Oswald's resonance of chords effected by the rapid tremolos and the captivating vocal pedal that Christine managed so well. With Beard's emotional rendering, it is difficult to imagine that there could be any sadder music than this. Her performance captured on YouTube, should be essential listening for all composers/orchestrators http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lflhbWSnknE , for it shatters any notions that the piccolo might be lacking in deep, expressive powers.
Later the same day, Nicole Esposito presented a highly expressive programme, which included original piccolo works: Genin's Il Pleut, il Pleut Bergere , Marilyn Bliss's Rima and Mike Mower's Sonata. Nino Rota's Cinque Pezzi Facili, sounded so very sweet and musical that we could be lured into to believing that these pieces too, were originally composed to be played on the piccolo and not for the standard-sized flute. Hear them at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2gq1pSeXkU . Throughout her chosen programme Esposito easily displayed technical skills in abundance, but it was the soaring and emotive lines of Pattapio Silva's Sonho and the moody colours and nuances of her rich, low notes in Mower's second movement that especially touched the heart.
The first evening recital was reserved for Nicola Mazzanti whose musicianship can only be categorized at the very highest level. There is a depth of colour and authenticity to Mazzanti's articulation that elevates the piccolo to a position far above that of its auxiliary status found in the symphony orchestra hierarchy descriptions. His piccolo-playing is that of the true virtuoso. The first half of the programme featured mostly Italian pieces with Cavicchi's passionate and showy Inconto e Danza ( See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb1tiYuxPuQ ), Gary Schocker's (albeit American) Piccolo Italiano and closed with Bellafronte's The Crazy Acrobat (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZrBmxV9QN4 ). The post interval programme consisted of the world premiere of Christopher Caliendo's descriptive Four Gypsy Pieces for Piccolo and Piano (written for Mazzanti) http://christophercaliendo.com and concluded with the entire popular tour-de-force Concerto by Lowell Liebermann. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAH94sX3hVU At this juncture special mention must be made about the fabulous accompanist, Tim Carey, who so brilliantly supported Mazzanti and, in this instance, colourfully and energetically represented a full symphony orchestra. The task of accompanying soloists and for all the masterclasses certainly kept both our excellent and dedicated accompanists, Tim Carey and Urška Vidicvery busy!
The final recital of the symposium belonged to Jean-Louis Beaumadier and accompanied by his stellar pianist, Christelle Abinasr, he dazzled the capacity audience from his opening notes of Janček's March of the Bluebirds through to his third encore, the famous Vivaldi Largo. Beaumadier, well-known through his Billaudot publications that have produced volumes of rediscovered, newly-composed, and adapted works for piccolo, did not disappoint in the presentation of interesting, lesser-known fare. Executed with his flawless technique and spectacular dynamic control throughout the entire range of the instrument his performance displayed irrepressible excitement and energy. Jean Novak's Marsyas was a particular treat in which the final note of the third movement magically melted into silence and the fourth movement's exuberance led the audience to interrupt in spontaneous applause before the final movement could begin. Levente's three movement Sonata with its rapid rhythmic flourishes composed c.2007 for Zart Dombourian Eby opened the second half of the programme followed by an impressive Allegro by the father of the Russian school of flute playing, Vladimir Tsybin. The precision of the rhythmic dialogue between piccolo and piano in the Feld Sonata for piccolo and piano was remarkably fresh and driving even at the end of such a challenging programme. The first two encores were the whimsical Liebestraum by Kreisler and Beaumadier's signature party-piece, Le merle blanc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRvdCzMFL1w If any might have previously questioned the notion of a "Paganini of the Piccolo" as the late Jean-Pierre Rampal dubbed M. Beaumadier, this recital would have banished any doubts about such a title for the performer who charmed, dazzled and even seemed to laugh in the face of the most difficult technical challenges. And so full were the piccolo's repertoire coffers at this symposium, that it was only in Beaumadier's third and final encore that even one note of Vivaldi was sounded, yet Beaumadier's heart-felt rendition seemed to be the perfect summary to what had been two utterly inspiring days of piccolo musicianship.
Yes, there were the masterclasses too, the warm-up classes, Christine Beard's "All about the Piccolo" and Romana Kebe's "how to make friends with stage fright." There was the hospitality, food, the charm and eager helpfulness of the warm, welcoming volunteer hosts and the camaraderie of fellow musicians all so passionate about the piccolo, and the astounding amount of fine repertoire beautifully played by first-rate musicians. However the question remains: how do we get this word out to the anti-piccolo-prejudiced? Debeljak spoke of plans for another European symposium in 2013. In the meantime, it is up to the rest of us to spread the message, urging those difficult conductors, those reticent composers choosing to avoid writing for us, and especially those reluctant flutists with their ready, derisive commentary, to recognize the important and vibrant renaissance occurring in our current times in the piccolo sphere.