A chance to shine for flute player

Program Spotlight, Musician Spotlight

Les Roettges, principal flute player with the Jacksonville Symphony, says he is excited about about an upcoming performance, which gives him a chance to step into the spotlight to perform one of his favorite pieces.

I am thrilled to be the featured soloist on the upcoming Florida Blue Masterworks series concerts (January 31 and February 1). I have been the principal flutist here for 33 years and love the performance opportunities that this provides. From classical masterpieces to pops and blockbuster movies, or opera and ballet, I stay busy and challenged from week to week and season to season. I have a center stage seat from where I can enjoy the music making of my colleagues, conductors, and guest artists. I am privileged to be part of the growth and transformation of our orchestra and hometown. Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Symphony are thriving and it makes this job a labor of love!

Occasionally, I have the pleasure of stepping to the front of the stage and performing as a soloist with the orchestra. Next weekend, we will be presenting the Nielsen Flute Concerto; one of the most outstanding flute concertos of the twentieth century. It is such a measuring piece for the modern flutist that it has become the foundation of one of the most prestigious flute competitions (Carl Nielsen International Competition). So, for those of you that may not know this piece or much of Carl Nielsen’s music, let me share just a bit.

Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born in 1865, the same year as his most famous Finnish contemporary Jean Sibelius. Both were violinists and their music grows out of the tradition of Brahms and Grieg. Their music bridges the late romantic to early modern style. While Sibelius enjoyed great success during his lifetime, Nielsen’s recognition was slower to come; receiving some fame in Denmark during his life but international fame only posthumously when (in the 60’s) conductors such as Bernstein championed his music. His six symphonies, opera “Masquerade,” and concertos for violin, flute, and clarinet are perhaps his best-known works.

Nielsen had a particular affinity for the wind instruments of the orchestra. He believed they best represented the pastoral nature in music of which he was so fond. He had a close friendship with the members of the Copenhagen Woodwind Quintet for whom he composed his wind quintet of 1922. Nielsen wrote an extended set of variations in this piece featuring each instrument as well as smaller groupings of the quintet and sought to reflect in each the personalities of the players he knew so well. This compositional style was continued in the flute concerto of 1926 and the clarinet concerto of 1928. He had intended to write concertos for all five members of the quintet but only completed these two.

The flute concerto is a piece in two movements. It is highly programmatic. The first movement is a struggle. It pits the flute and its friends, the other wind instruments, against the other factions of the orchestra, particularly the bass trombone and timpani. The flutist wants to play pretty melodies and playful music yet is continually interrupted by more vigorous music from the orchestra. The attempt by the bass trombone to get in on the act is scorned by the flute with furious responses. After numerous interruptions the flute screams and the orchestra falls silent while the flute tries to demonstrate and regain control of the thematic elements of the piece, accompanied only by the slightly ominous underpinning of a distant timpani roll of receding thunder. The second movement presents Nielsen’s vision of children’s music; innocent in nature and playful. Nielsen wrote a piece for solo flute titled “The Children are Playing” in which he uses the flute in much the same manner. The piece ends in a jubilant dance with only a few hints of the acrimony that dominated the first movement.

Please join us for this performance and you will also be treated to Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite #1 and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. If you are interested in learning more about the music, you can attend the pre-concert talk, Insight, at 7 p.m. (one hour before the concert) and participate in a brief discussion about the music and the history of the pieces and composers. I will be happy to share more about the story of this piece!

Written by Les Roettges, Principal Flute