Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion

in Three Movements

Melinda Wagner

Duration: 00:24:00
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

It was during a rehearsal of my orchestral work, Falling Angels, in October 1995, that conductor and flutist Paul Lustig Dunkel first suggested that I compose a concerto for him. Delighted and honored to be given such a wonderful opportunity, I quickly agreed, and in the following year the Westchester Philharmonic commissioned the work in anticipation of its forthcoming 15th Anniversary celebration.

Several concerns presented themselves at the outset. While the flute is an incredibly agile instrument, capable of producing its signature silvery pyrotechnics as well as tones of dark and mysterious liveliness, it does not cut the same kind of “heroic” figure as the concerto “heavy hitters,” the piano and the violin. Nor does it necessarily stand up, acoustically or spiritually, to huge orchestra forces, or comfortably carry off a certain brand of angst. For these reasons, I agreed with Maestro Dunkel to omit winds and brass from my plans, thus leaving me to “discover” the palette of colors used by Bartók in his landmark Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (I added additional percussion to Bartók’s forces).

From the outset, I had a strong desire to compose a truly serious work for the flute. I wanted to include, of course, the virtuosic, rapid-fire passagework that sounds so good on the flute. However, I did not want the instrument to merely bob and float delicately atop the piece, but rather to participate fully in its compositional and formal rigor – not as a “hero” beating the odds, but as an artistic beacon, or navigator. I was not as interested in pushing the flute to its limits with extended techniques (there are no key slaps, multiphonics or speaking into the instrument) as with exploring the performer’s rich tone and command of musical line. Also, I wanted the accompanying ensemble to participate fully in the music; indeed the piece bears little resemblance to the ritornello forms of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nonetheless, the first movement does owe a doff of the cap to the spirit of Sonata Allegro form with strongly delineated first and second themes. The first, appearing initially as an angular, somewhat strident fanfare, recurs throughout – often against, or in answer to a plangent bass – or with the more sprightly “wind-up-toy” sound of xylophone and glockenspiel. The second more lyrical tune, a descending linear “sigh,” is first heard in fragments, then in longer, more coherent phrases. After the cadenza the “sigh” is allowed full breath, so to speak, in a dreamy episode cushioned by strings. A quick recapitulation and coda ends the movement.

The lullaby tune that opens the second movement was composed to exploit the exceptional beauty of Paul Dunkel’s lower register. I tried to create an intimate environment for the soloist by composing accompanying lines for various solo strings and string quartet. Often, the remaining players provide a backdrop or “scrim” in long pedal tones (I used the working title “Veils” for this movement). This movement is the most impassioned of the three, yet it is also, paradoxically, the most reserved and private.

The prominence of the piano and snare drum, coupled with its rondo-like form, sets the third movement apart from the others. Here the flute is truly light hearted! After a brief cadenza, the fanfare from Movement I briefly reappears, and the work merrily rushes to its noisy conclusion.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Westchester Philharmonic in honor of Paul Lustig Dunkel?s 15th season as Music Director and Conductor.
Composition Date 1998
Orchestration Solo Fl.; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str. (
Premiere 30th & 31st May, 1998. Paul Lustig Dunkel, Flute; Westchester Philharmonic, conducted by Mark Mandarano.


I. Playful
II. Sad, simple; warm
III. ♩ = c. 100

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