DeSoto — As part of its Uptown/Downtown Concert Series, the DeSoto Arts Commission and Blue Candlelight Music featured Demarre McGill, distinguished principal flautist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, in concert. McGill and pianist Steven Harlos filled the Corner Theatre’s space with captivating programming of classical music sprinkled with jazz references.
Demarre McGill is a member of an elite group of orchestral instrumentalists for two reasons: his prowess and virtuosic skill on the flute, and also due to the startling statistic that as an African-American, he is one of only 4 percent of instrumentalists in national orchestras who are either African-American or Latino. This heightens the significance of his performance Sunday afternoon before an audience filled with both connoisseurs and with young people that through him became aware of a realm of possibilities previously not considered. Perhaps an added way of seeing this is as an example of how music becomes an effective extension of our cultural classroom.
Sunday afternoon’s program consisted of Wilhelm Popp’s Rigoletto Fantasie for Flute and Piano, Op. 335, Canzone (the second movement from Concerto for Piano, Op. 38) by Samuel Barber, Paul Schoenfield’s Four Souvenirs, and the Sonata in D Major for Flute and Piano Op. 94 by Sergei Prokofiev.
From the opening flourish of the Fantasie (a play on the lead-in to the aria Cara Nome) McGill’s mastery of the flute was immediately apparent. Popp’s variations on themes from the opera Rigoletto are as deceptively difficult to execute as they are delightful to the ear. The flute part has themes from Act III’s “Bella figlia dell’amore,” which begin with the Duke of Mantua’s line and expand into a sequence that actually sounds as if the flautist is playing the full quartet parts. The risk at this level of intricacy is that it can easily sound messy but McGill’s execution was very clean, articulate and impressive.
Further distinguishing this concert was the dedication of a beautiful grand piano to the Corner Theatre by Greg Emery in memory of his lifelong partner, Edward Gonzales. The selection of Samuel Barber’s Canzone was brilliant given that this piano concerto itself had been commissioned by the G. Schirmer Music publishing company to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. In fact, the premiere performance of Barber’s concerto on Sept. 24, 1962 occurred in what is now Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Spring forward in time; Demarre McGill was a 2003 winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant. The symbolism and parallelism in this section of the programming is, to use a jazzy colloquialism, cool.
Canzone is an Italian word for “song” and McGill’s flute literally sang throughout the concert. That he selected material that was either of or inspired by the song or libretto is fitting given his expressiveness and lyricism with his instrument. The Canzone movement, which is the ballad movement of the concerto, sandwiched between the faster Allegro appassionato and the Allegro, has texturally haunting harmonies.
It was through Paul Schoenfield’s Four Souvenirs that the afternoon received its jazzy infusions. Originally written in 1990 for violin and piano, the four sections included three dances (samba, tango, square dance). Here attention must be paid to pianist Harlos, who throughout the concert managed a flawlessly intricate partnering with the flautist. The Samba moved in scherzo fashion setting a sharp contrast with the Gershwinesque Tango during which McGill’s purity of tone served as a lesson to aspiring flautists of the importance of solid embouchure and breath support. Listening to the Schoenfield pieces was like viewing four paintings during an afternoon in New Orleans followed by café au lait and beignets in a lazy corner bistro. One could imagine the wisps of smoke and perhaps hopeful glances exchanged between would-be lovers.
Closing the program was Prokofiev’s Sonata in D Major Op. 94, which the composer wrote during a summer break in 1943 in Perm, a city in the Ural Mountains of Russia. He loved the flute and decided to showcase it saying, “I wanted this sonata to have a classical, clear, transparent sonority.” Prokofiev would have been very pleased with this concert because that is exactly what was achieved. It does not seem possible that McGill could play so many notes on one breath and yet keep the tone pure and robust. The flute and piano became one. It might have been interesting to hear this again the with piano lid lowered one level, but even given the forcefulness required from the piano Harlos achieved a blend with McGill that was sublime.
Upcoming performances in the DeSoto Uptown/Downtown Series are:
Oct. 4 Open Classics (classical music reimagined as jazz)
Oct. 11 Czech Virtuoso duo, Felix Slovacek Jr., clarinet & Viacheslav Grokhovski Fr. Piano
Oct. 18 Big Band Jazz with Matt Tolentino
Oct. 25 Gary Levinson, violin & Baya Kakouberi, piano