"UpTown Flutes...is one of the best groups I've heard all year...UpTown Flutes deserves major attention as they are top-notch and one of a kind."
--Anthony Aibel, NY Concert Review, Fall 2002
"...a good ensemble CD from UpTown Flutes...loved it. Good music and good playing from the excellent group."
--Sir James Galway, Fall 2003
"...spectacular...great vitality, virtuosity, and mastery..."
--Ricky Lombardo, Composer
"...an amazing tour de force of ensemble and solo playing"
--Darryl Kubian, Violinist, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
at Morristown United Methodist Church
November 23, 2002
A nonet of flutes
Creative programming and superb musicianship marked Abendmusik's presentation of the nonet UpTown Flutes. In what is inherently a monochromatic ensemble, UpTown Flutes presented a program of such timbral and stylistic variety that any preconceived notions about what a flute choir is capable of were left behind by the second work. Since this kind of ensemble is essentially a twentieth-century invention, UpTown Flutes could easily rely on transcriptions and arrangements of older works but instead chooses repertoire primarily by living composers. This choice not only is the foundation of the ensemble's artistic integrity but is also an essential feature making its programs so interesting and enjoyable to its audiences.
Composer Sonny Burnette's 1998 Stone Suite is an outstanding example of the creative possibilities contained in a flute ensemble. In addition to using piccolos, C flutes, alto flutes, and bass flutes, Burnette calls for the performers to play a variety of percussion instruments, clap, sing Native American chant and play pitched soda bottles. In expanding the tonal palette in this way, the music he wrote takes on an almost symphonic scope. Stone Suite was inspired by such famous stone landmarks as Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, the great Sphinx at Giza and the Blarney Stone. Alto flute joined by maraca, hand drum and chanting characterized the first movement, "Cliff Palace Ghost Dance.". John McMurtery's florid solo lines on C flute with rich sonorities between bass and alto flutes created a vivid picture of "Sunrise at Yosemite." "In the Shadow of the Great Sphinx" was the most evocative of the four movements. Not all flute ensembles have two bass flutes, but fortunately UpTown does, for the richness of the sonorities achieved by the deep velvety sound of these unusual instruments is a rare experience for any listener. Joined by an alto flute, one could hear the care and artistry it takes to play these instruments in tune. The final "To Kiss The Blarney Stone" is a fast jig that turned the UpTown Flutes into a hand-clapping, foot stomping Irish jug band, much to the delight of the audience.
American composer and flutist Katherine Hoover has contributed very substantial music to a wide range of ensembles. UpTown Flutes wisely chose two works by this fine composer whose intimate knowledge of the instruments has yielded works that are idiosyncratic, well constructed and communicative to an audience. Hoover's three tone poems collectively entitled Three for Eight evocatively explore oceanic images. "Dunes" utilizes shimmering cluster harmonies, while double-tongued major seconds portray "Sandpipers" darting about on the beach. "Kites" brought a noticeable reaction from the audience with its vivid tone painting. Hoover's Celebration was written in 2001 to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of flutist Joseph Mariano of the Eastman School of Music. This jubilant work for nine flutes cleverly interpolates quotations from major solo flute works by Mozart, Bach, Poulenc, Debussy and others along with Hoover's imaginative score. UpTown Flutes displayed a deep understanding of the direction of these works along with delicate balancing, and nuanced playing.
The ensemble also varied its program with the size of the ensemble. Legends from the Greenwood (1998) is a flute quartet by Catherine McMichael. It portrays three North American legends: "Hiawatha and the West Wind," "Evangeline and Gabriel," and "Paul Bunyan and His Blue Ox, Babe." McMichael uses a variety of styles and musical languages ranging from Native American music to cowboy tunes to convey the individual stories. Carla Auld, Elise Carter, Jeanne Fessenden and Rebecca Vega played the work with subtlety and imagination. Another quartet - Patricia Davila, Karen Dempsey, John McMurtery, and Virginia Schulze-Johnson - played the music of Donald Draganski. The Winds of Change (2000) is a suite of five short movements using the gamut of available flutes. Each movement utilizes different combinations in music that draws from lyrical, modal melodies and harmonies to styles as varied as the Baroque and Prokofiev.
The oldest work on the program, and the only transcription, was a charming work by Phillippe Gaubert (1879-1941). Madrigal, originally for flute and piano in 1908, has become a favorite of audiences and flutists alike in a transcription by Ervin Monroe. In this performance, the rich sound of this ensemble was what left a lasting impression.
The concert began with all nine flutists positioned around the church playing Carol Kniebusch's 1996 Dawn Carol. It is an effective canon whose beauty was enhanced by the special deployment of the ensemble around the sanctuary of the church.
A deeply appreciative audience, many of whom gave the ensemble a standing ovation, were further treated to a lively and fun encore entitled Rhumba.
January 23, 2003
Weill recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
June 15, 2002
New York Concert Review
UpTown Flutes, the ensemble-in-residence at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, is one of the best groups I've heard all year. They regularly perform new music, and the work Three for Eight, an absolutely wonderful and original piece of inspired craftsmanship, gave the group opportunities to show how good they are on both the technical and artistic fronts. The composer Katherine Hoover, in this work, from 1996, incorporated touches of flutter tongue, trills and chirping dissonance in ways that sounded only organic and tasteful. In the first movement, the group kept a dry, white toned, non-vibrato sound that was not only evocative and organ-like, but showed off the player' impressive ears for pitch, as out of tune notes are much easier to cover up when vibrato is employed. Over the Edge by Benjamin Boone, written for flutes with percussion, is also a great piece of music. The work contrasted nicely in terms of compositional structure - it's in one long movement - and is primarily about syncopated rhythms and the stylized variety of those rhythms. The ensemble was tight throughout their jazzy performance. The work and its players were mesmerizing with the whisper-effect interruptions and repetitions-yet they never bored the listener. I was on the edge of my seat by the work's end, as the pace quickened and the interplay got more hyperactive.
The concert was enhanced by the John Davis transcription of the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.3. The program needed contrast and it barely got it, as I would have preferred to have heard a couple less 20th century works and more transcriptions of earlier styles like this one. In the Bach/Davis, Uptown played with excellent balance, voicing and phrasing. In the program, it looks like John Davis has the dates of 1685-1750, and to some of the audience's surprise, and horror, (many people were young) his ghost presumably and miraculously stood up to take a bow during the applause. The opening work, Ricky Lombardo's Renaissance for a New Millennium included a contrabass flute of all things, and it was the most cumbersome and bizarre thing you could imagine at a flute concert. But it added a deal of color to the group's sound as it had the eerie combination of a low organ stop and a bass clarinet. Nymphs for the Flute Quartet by Gary Schocker was played so well that one might wonder if a studio recording was playing back stage. (Their first CD is out, by the way.) The ensemble in the Schocker piece was superb and the intonation and blend were dead on. Memories of East Tennessee, a sextet, is a cute set of hymnal pieces and folk dances that are monophonically and plainly written but with some good ol' country flavor just the same. The vibrato blend and intonation weren't as good here, but it was played with a hearty spirit. I commend Uptown Flutes for commissioning and presenting new and recently written works, but I hope they will intermingle more arrangements of works from other styles ranging anywhere from the Renaissance to Impressionism. In any case, UpTown Flutes deserves major attention as they are top-notch and one of a kind.
New York Concert Review
Vol 9 No 2 9th Anniversary Season Summer/Fall 2002