Matthias Ziegler, Swiss composer and flutist, has created a masterpiece for low flutes. Low Flutes at High Tides establishes the ensemble as a unique and independent combination of instruments, a chamber group with its own powerful and passionate voice. It is scored for 4 alto flutes, bass flute, contra alto flute (or bass flute) and contra bass flute. I had the privilege of conducting the world premier of this stunning piece at the National Flute Association convention in Las Vegas on August 10th and then a second time at the British Flute Society convention in Manchester on August 20th. It was commissioned with funding from the Blessing Foundation and dedicated to Mr. Kotato and Eva Kingma for all their contributions to the low flutes community.
(Low Flutes at High Tides at the British Flute Society Convention. Front row l. to r. Carla Rees, Anne Hodgson, Wendy Stern, Abbie Burrows, Gareth McLearnon, Marion Garver Fredrickson. Back row Ellen Burr, Karen Demsey. Christine Potter, conductor)
Matthias coached us at both conventions: he provided wonderful insights and guidance to bring out the atmosphere, colors and gestures that are uniquely his. Melodies reminiscent of the Reinecke Undine Sonata appear briefly, and a theme from Stravinsky's Firebird haunts the piece.
In Low Flutes at High Tides, Matthias has created his own universe of flute sounds and has sculpted them into unexpected shapes, gestures and textures. With Renaissance melodies floating in and out of the waves, the audience is submerged into a world of shadows, sea foam, mysterious currents and ghostly shapes passing just out of reach. Large, slow, shapes float away as the piece ebbs to a close.
The effects do not require superhuman flutists, and people who had little experience creating such sounds were able to do so with just a little practice. The contrabass has several challenging solos and is the most difficult part of the work. The altos have some delicate passages where they hum into the flute while changing vowel shapes with their mouths and, simultaneously, fleet fingers pass through patterns altering the tone color still further. The bass flute has a dramatic solo in the third octave. The unusual contra alto flute has solos; this part can also be played on bass flute.
There are no electronic devices used to create the sounds, it is all acoustic. This is good news for those wishing to perform Low Flutes at High Tides; no loop machines and internal microphones are required, but a conductor is a necessity.