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The Internet and the ever more sophisticated publishing technology it offers have made it possible to provide the best thought and writing we can achieve without having to raise capital for printing and distribution, and all the other expenses involved in a kind of publication, which, I regret to say, is headed towards obsolescence in our particular “niche,” the arts. Many excellent print publications in the arts have had to shut down, and others have tried to survive by opening themselves to commercial interests. Newspapers and weeklies, struggling for survival themselves, have been radically cutting back their staffs in the arts, so that all that is left are quick impressions of a popular, consumeristic nature. We believe above all that the arts are too important for the life of communities and human civilization to be treated as a casual amusement or as a variety of shopping. Even if the latest technology has allowed us to present our wind-powered labors—looking both to the past and to the future—to a substantial audience in a form that, while making the most of multimedia, remains primarily based in text, the costs involved in creating this content are considerable.

Paula Robison

Paula Robison talks to Michael Miller

On the day following her amazing recital with Katherine Chi at Jordan Hall, Paula Robison and I met at the house she shares with her husband, Scott Nickrenz, with its bird’s eye view of Frederick Law Olmsted’s house and garden. In the hour or so we talked we covered a lot of ground: the concert, her preparations for it, and some of the music she played…we talked about Sidney Lanier, the poet, linguist, and self-taught flute virtuoso, who died at 39 of tuberculosis contracted as a Confederate prisoner of war, and Charles T. Griffes, who died at 35 of the same disease, leaving behind a remarkable body of exploratory compositions, Paul Taffanel, the founder of modern flute playing and the teacher of Ms. Robison’s teacher, the great Marcel Moyse.

Paula Robison and Katherine Chi. Photo Matt Dine.

Paula Robison and Katherine Chi play Griffes, Lanier, Taffanel and Franck at NEC’s Jordan Hall

Although Katherine Chi played Charles T. Griffes’ Three Tone-Pictures, Op. 5, for solo piano, there could be no question that this program was primarily a feast of specialized flute repertoire. (Simply hearing the sounds of Paula Robison’s playing in Jordan Hall’s extraordinary acoustic is enough to make this an exciting event.) One piece, Sidney Lanier’s “Windsong,” is even known relatively little outside Paula Robison’s flute recitals. Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) is remembered primarily as a great flute virtuoso, who developed the modern technique of playing the Boehm flute and modifications thereof—the foundations of the instrument and technique that prevail today. While Taffanel sought above all to enrich the emotional content of flute music and to extend the expressive capabilities of the instrument, he composed much of his music for technical display at his own recitals and as exercises for his students. Nonetheless the appeal of the concert went far beyond the immediate concerns of flute-players and their pupils and offered a wealth of insights, which were both fascinating in relation to music as imagined and constructed by the composer and as re-created within the specificities of acoustics, instrument, and player, and deeply moving as expressions of the human spirit.

Paula Robison and Katherine Chi to play a free concert at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall

I don’t mind confessing that I never fully appreciated the flute until I heard Paula Robison play the instrument. The range of color and expression she can create with it are truly astonishing, and she has the ability to make every note count, as Pablo Casals could, and a few of the very best of the musicians who have passed through Marlboro.

On Sunday she will play for her students and colleagues at the New England Conservatory, as well as the rest of us, and I think that will bring a special sense of occasion—not that that is ever lacking at any of her concerts. Lately she has been venturing out into other forms of expression, notably the Sprechstimme in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, in which she has also played the flute part. As when she plays her flute, she approaches this with terrific concentration and fanatical preparation.

Everything but the Vuvuzela: Brazilian Music comes to Tannery Pond – Paula Robison, Romero Lubambo, Cyro Baptista Trio at the Tannery Pond Concerts

Music that is somehow outside the accepted parameters of classical music appears at the Tannery Pond Concerts once or twice every season. For example, in 2008, soprano Amy Burton and pianist John Musto presented a program of show tunes from Broadway and the Grands Boulevards. Or mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, whose singing of Vivaldi, Handel, and Rossini is so highly regarded in Europe and America, combined German Lieder with zarzuela numbers, an enthusiasm she acquired from her Mexican-born mother. Now, for Tannery’s 20th anniversary season, Music Director Christian Steiner has asked Paula Robison and her colleagues, Romero Lubambo and Cyro Baptista (both Brazilians who have settled in the United States) to return after a ten-year absence, to play the Brazilian music which has attracted a warmly enthusiastic following since the early 90’s when they first began playing together.

Tannery Pond 2010, the Twentieth Anniversary Season, with a look back at 2009

Over the past few years, my enthusiasm for the Tannery Pond Concerts has been no secret. Where else can you hear a unique combination of the most celebrated soloists and chamber groups together with handpicked young musicians of extraordinary promise? And in a handsome Shaker tannery from the early nineteenth century with glorious acoustics. All this thanks to its director, Christian Steiner…

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