Sounds of America

Katherine BryanMon 13th May 2013

A new disc of flute music continues the quest to introduce new American works to British audiences

Flautist Katherine Bryan releases a disc of flute concertos by Rouse and Ibert on Linn Records on May 20, and will perform works from her first and second album at the National Geographic London Store in Knightsbridge on May 19 at 4pm. She writes about her influences below:

It is no coincidence that the opening concerto on both of my recordings is a work by an American. I spent my student life at the Juilliard School in New York where I was lucky enough to study with renowned flautist Carol Wincenc, who had commissioned a number of works by American composers. The more I discovered this music, the more I felt inspired and excited to bring it back to the UK and perform it. Composers such as Lowell Liebermann and Paul Schoenfield became regular features in my recital programmes and I loved the warm reactions that audiences would give to the pieces. I also began to play earlier American music, such as Copland’s Duo for flute and piano, with a new feel and understanding. Carol Wincenc had played this piece for Copland himself and by studying it with her I felt I had a direct line back to him. 

Selecting the music for my first CD of flute concertos was difficult, as I wanted to highlight an American concerto but also wanted to include the Nielsen Concerto, a favourite of mine for many years. Ultimately, I chose to feature two main works; the Liebermann Flute Concerto and the Nielsen. The music of Lowell Liebermann, also a Juilliard graduate, has an open lyricism to it that I immediately fell in love with. Similarly, for my second CD I chose the wonderful Ibert Concerto to share the limelight with the flute concerto by the American composer Christopher Rouse. Alongside these are the stunning Ballade by Frank Martin, and Debussy’s haunting Syrinx.

I don’t think it is possible to qualify a piece of music as sounding ‘American’. Many of my favourite American works take much inspiration from other traditions. The Rouse Flute Concerto is an excellent illustration of this with its many Celtic influences. However, when one hears the opening of a piece such as Copland’s Appalachian Spring for example, it is impossible to deny that it conjures up a feeling of space and landscape, transporting one straight to the countryside of Pennsylvania, Tennessee or Maryland (despite the title of this piece being rather an afterthought, as Copland originally called the piece, commissioned by dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, ‘Ballet for Martha’, and it was actually she that suggested the final title). Liebermann’s music has the same natural, honest feeling as Copland’s, taking you on a journey through a whole breadth of human emotions. There is a quiet boldness to the American works I know and love, an openness similar to that which I find in my American friends. This is the quality that draws me to the music, and one I find is particularly befitting of the flute. I feel when played at its best, the flute has an open and soulful character that makes it unique and irresistibly alluring.

The flute concerto by Christopher Rouse, composed in 1993 and featured on my latest release, is an incredibly powerful piece of music. The piece’s impact on me increased as I discovered more about the music and the influences behind it. The concerto has connections to Celtic musical traditions. Even though both of Rouse’s parents’ families emigrated to America well before the Revolutionary War, he has said that he still feels a ‘deep ancestral tug of recognition’ when exposed to the arts and traditions of the British Isles. It also felt particularly fitting to choose the Rouse for my latest recording as I am currently living in Scotland, and love Celtic music. The piece has five movements, of which the third movement was written in response to the tragic killing of the young child James Bulger in Liverpool some years ago. Rouse followed this case closely during the time he was composing the concerto and was unable to erase the distress of these events from his mind. Even though I was a child of only ten years old at the time, I too remember this event shaking me to the core. The movement is an elegy dedicated to James Bulger's memory, in Rouse’s words ‘a small token of remembrance for a life senselessly and cruelly snuffed out’. The first and last movements bear the title ‘Amhrán’ (Gaelic for ‘song’) and are simple melodic illustrations for the solo flute over the accompaniment of orchestral strings. They evoke the traditions of Celtic folk music, and are incredibly spiritual. Significantly for me, not only was Christopher Rouse a professor of composition at the Juilliard when I studied there, but the piece was written for my teacher Carol, who also made the first recording of it. I feel so proud and fortunate to have released the first British recording of this amazing work.

Listen to 'Amhrán' from Christopher Rouse's Flute Concerto performed by Katherine Bryan on her new Linn recording below:

Katherine Bryan

Flautist Katherine Bryan made her concerto debut at the age of 15 with Daniel Harding and the Orchestra of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, and later made her US concerto debut at the Lincoln Center with The Juilliard Orchestra after being awarded a full scholarship to study at The Juilliard School, New York. At the age of 21, Katherine was appointed principal flute with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra - a position she holds today in addition to appearing as concerto soloist with leading orchestras worldwide.

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