On Saturday, the San Luis Obispo Symphony continues its 2014-15 season with a program blending the familiar sounds of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Symphony No. 41” (also known as the “Jupiter Symphony”) with a less-heard masterwork of early modernism, “Concerto for flute and orchestra” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
Composed in 1926, the 20-minute concerto should be a highlight of the symphony’s season, given its unusually colorful orchestration and subtle, energetic music for flute soloist.
And Saturday’s soloist will be another highlight. Lorna McGhee, principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, will make her first appearance in San Luis Obispo. McGhee talked about the concerto and its emotional immediacy.
“I feel, when I play it, like an actor who has been given a great script with many facets,” she said. “One moment, I get to be heroic. At another moment, I get to be lyrical.”
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“The piece has what you might call a flighty temperament,” she added with a laugh. “It begins with this grand thunderstorm from the orchestra, and the flute echoes that theme. Then it suddenly changes colors to a pastoral innocence.”
In the concerto, McGhee said, “I hear a real clash of epic and childlike qualities.”
Asked about her choice of instrument, McGhee said she’s drawn to the flute’s ancient nature as well as its expressiveness.
“I hope I don’t sound New Age-y or anything, but there’s something so direct about one’s musical expression on a flute,” McGhee said. “It’s like singing. There’s no interference from a reed or a bow.”
And, she added, “there’s a meditative aspect to every encounter with a flute. The flute in some way taps the spirit-energy that comes from one’s body and projects it into the air. Then, it’s gone out into the world.”
McGhee also shared her thoughts on the continuing relevance of classical music.
“I played a flute-and-harp afternoon concert at a homeless shelter in Pittsburgh recently,” she recalled. “Now, you might assume that a roomful of homeless men would have no interest in chamber music, but I still recall how much the sounds opened them up.
“Each person there had lived out a tragic storyline, but the music gave them an hour’s freedom from that storyline,” she added. “They entered an imaginative world, and I think their narrative may have expanded.”