In celebration of her 40th anniversary as a performer, flutist and Juilliard alumna and faculty member Carol Wincenc is presenting a series of three concerts throughout the 2009-10 season at various New York venues. The culminating recital, which will showcase her in an expanded chamber music setting, will take place in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater at the end of this month.
In a recent interview, Wincenc, who is sought after as a teacher, soloist, recitalist, and recording artist, described the early days of her career. During her last semester as a Juilliard student, she won a position as principal flute of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and took the job despite the discouragement of others. “At that time, St. Paul was just a spot on the planet that nobody really knew about yet,” she said. “But I was eager to get my career started, so I went. Dennis Russell Davies was also going, and everything just exploded with his expertise and wonderful innovative programming. That first year, the orchestra changed so dramatically. I have never regretted a moment, because in my five years there, I got to work with Olivier Messiaen, Aaron Copland, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Oscar Shumsky. We had so many giants come through that it was phenomenal.”
With experience in St. Paul and performances at the Spoleto Festival under her belt, Wincenc went on to win the inaugural Walter W. Naumburg Solo Flute Competition in 1978. “And,” she said, “that was it!” Wincenc has since become one of the most respected flute players, having appeared as a soloist with the world’s finest orchestras. She is equally sought after as a chamber musician and is also a prolific recording artist.
Despite her success, Wincenc concedes that the flute is not her favorite instrument because “it is so difficult to get it to be alive. We don’t have anything to push against. Vocalists can push against their vocal chords, but we have to create that resistance somehow.” Wincenc noted that this search for resistance and vibrancy allowed her to create her trademark: her sound. “As a player, usually people can pick me out on the radio. Or they can pick out my students. I have been told I have a very layered sound, like layers of color and texture.”
Wincenc explained that her philosophy of sound developed out of an attempt to copy string playing. “My father was a violinist, and he had a very beautiful and alive sound. I wanted to copy everything he did on the flute and transfer that kind of sound quality.” However, she explained that the very nature of wind instruments creates complications. “When we cease blowing into the tube—when the air column is not in vibration—there is no more resonance in the instrument, whereas for a string player, there is still sound beyond the end of the bow. Without knowing it, I was trying to imitate that resonance after the end of the note.”
In addition to her unique sound and superb musicianship, Wincenc is known for her expansion of the flute repertoire. She has collaborated with many major living composers, commissioning works from Lukas Foss, Christopher Rouse, Henryk Gorecki, Joan Tower, Paul Schoenfield, Roberto Sierra, Peter Schickele, Michael Torke, Tobias Picker, Thea Musgrave, and Andrea Clearfield. For Wincenc, this process “is like receiving the most extraordinary Christmas present. You don’t know what’s in there. You hold it up, and you shake it, and you see the form of it. And then, you open it up, and there it is. It is so thrilling to me. You just never know what you’re going to get. It’s an amazing process. If I had all the money in the world, I would ask everyone to write for me.”
Her 40th anniversary concert series is especially illustrative of her characteristic innovative programming and her commitment to new music. In particular, the program on March 31 will present an unusual and exciting combination of works and collaborators.
The concert will open with Antonio Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in D Major, “Il Gardellino” (“The Birds”). Wincenc describes this “delightful and beautiful” work as the “quintessential bird idea of the flute. I wanted something to represent the Baroque era, which was really the golden age of the instrument.”
Next is one of two premieres on the program, Rising for flute and string quartet by Joan Tower. Wincenc and Tower have been longtime friends, and Wincenc said that this piece fulfills her deeply rooted desire for a work for flute with quartet. In this performance, she will be joined by the Juilliard String Quartet.
The premiere of a chamber concerto, Becoming, by Shih-Hui Chen, will follow. When she first heard Chen’s music, Wincenc said she immediately loved “the way she blended her Taiwanese background and Asian colors and moods with influences from the West. Her work is stunning.” George Stelluto, Juilliard’s resident conductor, will conduct the piece, scored for solo oboe, clarinet, horn, violin, cello, bass, percussion, and piano.
The program will also include Au-delà du temps for two flutes and piano by Yuko Uebayashi. According to Wincenc, this piece sounds “as if Ravel lived in Kyoto! It shows a real blend of French Impressionistic writing with a Japanese bent. It is very interesting and has an exhilarating quality to it.” Her former student, Tanya Dusevic Witek, whom Wincenc calls a “delicious player,” will join her.
The concert will close with Samba by Andrew Thomas for two solo flutes, flute ensemble, percussion, harp, piano, and string quartet. For this euphoric piece, Wincenc will be joined by 40 flute players—current and former students—representing her 40th anniversary. “There are people flying in from all over,” she said. “It will be like a big reunion!” Jeremiah Bils, a Juilliard alum, will be playing the other solo part, and Stelluto will conduct.
Wincenc, who is as luminous and animated in person as she is on stage, said that “ending this anniversary concert series at Juilliard could not be more apt. This has been my home. I went to school here. I teach here. I have done a lot of collaboration here. I am so excited I can hardly stand it.”