January 2, 2019
Creating my debut solo album in 2015 Looking Back: Flute Music by Joseph Schwantner was truly such a thrill. The experience made me eager to embark on my next project, but I knew I needed to find the perfect point of inspiration before moving forward.
I realized I had a source of inspiration very close to my heart: my two grandmothers. Both grew up during a time in Korean history when the country was ravaged by oppression and poverty, and later they both raised children as single mothers for a period of their lives during the war. Both women suffered physical and emotional hardships: one battling cancer for decades, the other losing members of her family to illness and war and enduring life as a centenarian living to 112. They were warriors and survivors in their own ways, who became the most loving and affectionate grandmothers to their very fortunate grandchildren.
Over the past few years, I have performed several pieces that were incredible works of art, but somehow each also possessed an essence that reminded me of my grandmothers’ lives and my memories with them — and suddenly the idea for this album came together. I’m especially happy to be able to explore this repertoire with some of my favorite musicians and very dear friends: Carter Pann, piano and 2016 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in composition, Kurt Fowler, cello, Elizabeth Brausa Brathwaite and Cristina Buciu, violins, Rose Armbrust Griffin, viola, Daniel Paul Horn, piano, Jennifer Parker Harley, poetry recitation, and Dan Nichols, Grammy Award-winning sound engineer.
Carter is an especially significant part of this album project and joins me performing Shulamit Ran’s Birds of Paradise and three of his own works, Melodies for Robert, Double Espresso, and the centerpiece of the album, Giantess. To record these with Carter at the piano is a true joy, and I’m certain that these compositions will stand the test of time for their sheer beauty and brilliant complexity.
- Carter Pann’s Giantess (commissioned in 2017 by Flute New Music Consortium) embodies its title in this heroic, larger-than-life work for flute and piano. The virtuosic demands on both flutist and pianist often produce a rhythmic drive that I can only describe as a musical adrenaline rush, and yet, there are also exquisitely beautiful and tender moments that make the heart sing. Giantess is contrasted with Carter’s Melodies for Robert for flute, cello, and piano (commissioned by SDG Music Foundation) where endless melodies and lush harmonies bring a calm lyricism to this pair of movements. This work is an homage in memoriam to a life of courage and love as you hear bells tolling and spirits rising in Carter’s writing. Finally, Carter’s Double Espresso for flute and piano is a 2 minute set of “fully-caffeinated” fireworks that will make your pulse race from beginning to end. This collaboration has been particularly gratifying for me artistically as Carter, Kurt, and I have delved into the depth and sonorities of these three magnificent musical tapestries.
- I have fallen in love with Valerie Coleman’s Wish Sonatine, which is based on the beautiful poem Wish by Fred D’Aguiar (recited by Jennifer Parker Harley), depicting the middle passage as Africans were trafficked across the Atlantic by tall ships to be sold into slavery. The ability of the human spirit to rise above oppression and impossible circumstances permeates every bar of this descriptive work. Having performed this multiple times with my collaborator, Daniel Paul Horn, there have been moments that brought tears to my eyes, as Valerie has captured this valiant struggle so profoundly in her music.
- Although visionary composer Augusta Read Thomas’ work for flute and string quartet Plea for Peace was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of CP-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, in my mind the “plea for peace” must have been a yearning that stayed with my grandmothers throughout their lives in Korea. This work is written as a vocalise (a wordless melody for voice) performed on flute, and the constant interplay of tension and resolution is heightened by each perfectly nuanced and finely crafted phrase. This work will be recorded together with Elizabeth Brausa Brathwaite and Cristina Buciu, violins, Rose Armbrust Griffin, viola, and Kurt Fowler, cello.
- Finally Shulamit Ran‘s Birds of Paradise is a piece that is very special to me, having instigated the commissioning process with this celebrated and gracious composer. Every opportunity I have to study Shulamit’s extraordinary music is like becoming engrossed in the finest work of classic literature, where clearly defined, multifaceted characters come to life in an intricately woven plot. I’m especially grateful to Carter for his willingness to record this with me and look forward to what will certainly be a complex and wonderful journey through this sparkling and colorful work.
With the exception of Shulamit Ran’s Birds of Paradise, all of the recordings on this album will be premiere commercial releases. Stay in touch for more information and if you would like to support the work of this project. (Jen.Brown420@gmail.com) Thanks for reading, and I’ll keep updating this page as the album comes together!