It’s a pleasure as fleeting as it is fine.
At any Seattle Symphony concert, in passages by Stravinsky or Schubert or Debussy, notes will rise from Demarre McGill’s flute, bright and uncannily pure in tone … a ribbon of sound that seems just to float above the orchestra.
Next week, symphony-goers have a chance to hear principal flutist McGill at greater length when he appears in an all-Mozart program as the soloist in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute No. 1.
In an interview at Benaroya Hall earlier this month, McGill enthused about the piece: “I’m really looking forward to playing it with this orchestra and in this hall. It’s a piece I’ve done a bunch, and I never tire of it.”
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His star turn on Benaroya’s mainstage isn’t his only big news.
Earlier this month, the NBC-affiliated website www.thegrio.com included McGill and his brother Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in its fourth annual “100 list.” The list honors African Americans who are having impact and influence on the arts, pop culture, politics, sports, science and technology, education, business, health, activism and the media.
“They liked our story,” McGill says modestly.
The brothers, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side before hitting the big time in classical music, are slated to appear on NBC Nightly News; exact airtime was not available at presstime.
McGill feels his move to Seattle in 2011 (from California, where he was principal flutist with the San Diego Symphony) has worked out splendidly.
“I knew I would like it,” he says. “There was no way of me knowing I would like it as much as I do — ‘it’ being this orchestra and the city.”
The all-Mozart program, he believes, will highlight the versatility of the symphony’s players. “I don’t think it’s always the case — to have an orchestra that can do Messiaen and Dutilleux extremely well, and also Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.”
Mozart’s first flute concerto may be in the mainstream of classical music, but it has quite an unruly background story.
It was commissioned in 1778 by a wealthy doctor and amateur flutist who asked for something short and simple. He got neither. Disputes over payment ensued, and Mozart, in a letter to his father, vented, “As you know, I am always unwilling when I am obliged to write for an instrument that I don’t like.”
McGill says that there’s some debate on whether, by “instrument,” Mozart meant the flute or the doctor himself.
“If this is what he writes when he hates an instrument,” he chuckles, “that just speaks his genius.”
McGill is excited by the fact that British guest-conductor Douglas Boyd is a renowned oboist as well: “It will be fun to actually collaborate with a wind player on the podium.”
But he’s most pleased about performing with an orchestra he’s come to love.
“I know them personally, as well as musically. So we won’t have to fake being friends,” he says with a laugh. “We already are. … I look forward to literally making music with my friends.”
Also on the program is Mozart’s Serenade No. 7 (“Haffner”), one of his most ambitious works: an eight-movement, hourlong, masterfully orchestrated piece of “bridal music” he wrote when he was 20 for pre-wedding festivities for the mayor’s daughter in Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace.
The concert opens with Mozart’s first symphony, written when he was 8. While it’s not nearly as intricate as the flute concerto or Haffner Serenade, it’s bright and bold in character — and of course it’s remarkable, given his age.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org