Flute Concerto

Back in July 2017, I answered some questions for Limelight Magazine about composing my first concerto. I’ve shared these responses below, not all of which were published at the time. I recommend reading the full Limelight interview as it includes some wonderful comments by my collaborator and soloist Jonathan Henderson. Jonathan also wrote a beautiful piece that reminisces all the way back to our first year of university as composition students together, titled, I wish to keep my curiosity for music alive. Head over to Cut Common Magazine to check it out, highly worth a read.

LISA CHENEY: FLUTE CONCERTO (2017)

Work commissioned by the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra. Premiered by Jonathan Henderson and the BPO, and conducted by Michael Keen July 23rd, 2017 at the Old Museum in Brisbane, Australia. Featured image courtesy of Adam Finch.

For solo flute and reduced orchestra [0, ca, 1+1, 1+1, – 0, 2, 2, 0, timp, perc, hp, cel, str]

What are some of the ideas you explore in this piece?

When conceptualising this concerto for Jonathan Henderson and the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra, I found myself being drawn towards musical elements concerning pitch, texture, time and atmosphere over others things such as form and rhythm. These choices deeply influenced the character of the work and helped me to craft a unique sound-world in which the flute could live, explore and challenge.

There is no programmatic narrative to the Flute Concerto; its concerns are purely musical, creating an interesting relationship between soloist and orchestra. I believe that at the heart of the work is a sense of questioning and transformation. The musical landscape is still, but never stagnant as it slowly expands in energy, textural shapes, momentum and transforming beauty. The harmonic language is an organic and colourful blend, blurring sonorities, chromatic flute lines and shifting perspectives of light and dark that seek out a strange kind of harmonic beauty.

How did the work evolve?

This is my first concerto. Throughout the process, I was equally exhilarated to be writing for my very talented old friend Jonathan Henderson and apprehensive to be adding my voice to an already excellent and expansive existing canon of musical works for the flute. With the exception of a beautiful cadenza that Jonathan and I shaped together towards the end of the composition process, I made the decision to step away from some of the more traditional images and concepts of a concerto. Written for reduced woodwind and brass, the Flute Concerto is a one-movement organic and slow-growing cell that is constantly looking and reaching forward.

The work evolved almost entirely from writing the flute line first. There were many sessions where I drafted harmonic and textural material, but the more I drafted, the more I realised it was the flute that was going to lead, follow and shape all the surrounding musical material in the orchestra. Over numerous international Skype calls and emails, Jonathan and I shaped the flute line together. It was pure joy and inspiration to work with him in this way. It was truly my favourite part of the composition process.

How did elements of the flute’s sound or technical capabilities influence your compositional decisions?

In almost every way! From arranging musical material structurally to explore the amazing timbral changes in extreme registers to moments specifically highlighting pitch bends, colouristic techniques, overblowing, articulation, stamina and more. Jonathan was an incredible ally in this process; never saying no to any crazy proposal without having an alternative in place. I am extremely grateful for his input and as such, I believe his approach to music making is deeply embedded within the fabric of the work.

How do soloist and ensemble interact in this concerto?

The relationship between soloist and ensemble is an interesting consideration in this work. The work begins with closely related intervals often led by high strings and auxiliary percussion filling the space as the flute slowly emerges from the atmospheric world, blurring the traditional concerto roles of orchestra and soloist as the material blends in the space or rises to the foreground. Framed and influenced by a virtuosic cadenza, the work appears changed as the flute leads the orchestra towards new ground.

Throughout the composition process, I asked myself the questions: Is the musical world at its chore dark, beautiful, haunting, serene, at peace, unstable and can a landscape be all of these things at once? Where does the flute exist in the space: vertical, horizontal, in time, in the foreground, middle ground and background? How does it progress and transform? Does the orchestra influence the development of the soloist line or does the flute influence the direction of the orchestra? I have my own answers to these questions, but I would rather leave them unanswered for listeners to ponder in person.

Is there anything you would recommend audiences particularly listen out for in this work?

Listeners are encouraged to journey with the flute soloist as they navigate a unique, atmospheric orchestral sound-world that is at any given time both: dark, beautiful, haunting, serene, at peace, unstable and in flux. I recommend listening for the role of and sound quality of the flute line, the shifting colours and isolation of timbres in the reduced instrumentation, with saturating divided strings, condensed woodwind and brass and very few tutti passages.

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I offer my warmest (overdue) public shoutout to the BPO for commissioning this work. Thank you for championing the creation of new Australian music, you’re an outstanding role model to community orchestras around the country! And to Jono, you’re an absolute outstanding legend! Thank you for making this a reality and for expanding my horizons by being an excellent and patient teacher and collaborator. I can’t wait to work with you again very soon.

For those musically minded foks who are interested in the score, I have a few edits and orchestration touch-ups to make before it is publically released. However, if you’re interested in performing this work please feel free to get in touch, I’m always happy to chat and give a sneak peak.

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