Reflections on premiering a new work

On February 18, 2024, I had the privilege of giving the premiere performance of Jack Parton's Sonata for Flute and Piano.  The idea of giving a work its first public performance was extremely exciting.  At the same time, the responsibility of giving the composer a strong performance was forefront in my mind.  The process of preparation and collaboration helped me grow in many amazing ways.

When I've studied and prepared other pieces, my interpretations have been relatively safe.  I would gather stylistic ideas from my teachers and recordings of the pieces by other artists.  I would take the choices they made into my own performance.  Standard period performance practices added yet another layer that made me feel less ownership of artistic my choices.  There was never really the feeling that the performance reflected me as an artist.  

However, learning a piece that has never been performed was quite different in a great way.  I had to make my own decisions about phrasing, style, and tone color.  I was forced to be creative and make thoughtful choices.  As I progressed from learning the flute part to collaborating with the pianist, some of my interpretive choices changed.  It's easy to forget that a sonata is a conversation between the flute and piano, unlike a concerto where the flute is the main voice.  I reevaluated choices of tone color, articulation, and dynamics in some areas where the piano needed to take the lead.  

I would send practice recordings to Jack periodically so he could listen to what I was doing and provide feedback.  We made some corrections in the part.  Once Jack arrived in Columbus, we spent hours rehearsing together as well as playing the piece for him with my rehearsal pianist Ailene.  

As a composer, Jack does not micromanage the performance.  Jack's philosophy is says the notation isn't the music; it's the instruction manual to make the music.  Think of paining the Mona Lisa.  Each instrument is like a different color of paint.  Aspects like articulation and dynamics are like brush stokes used to apply that paint.  In live performance, variations in these make each recreation of the piece unique.  

As I played for Jack, there were some stylistic things that I changed to align with Jack's vision of the piece.  There were other choices I had made that were different from his original thought that he liked better.  This back and forth was exciting and gave me a real sense of ownership in performance of the piece.

The things I learned in preparing this premiere piece changed the way I approached other pieces on the recital.  I gave myself permission to make interpretive choices I wouldn't have done otherwise.  I have begun to look at myself as an artist rather than just a performer.

Leave a comment