The Responsibilities of the Solo Performer

Flutist Zoe Sorrell discusses her upcoming recital, March Forth

By Zoe Sorrell

I’ve never been good at the art-for-arts-sake mantra and have always had a compulsion to over-justify my programming. It doesn’t seem enough to me to pair works for purely aesthetic ends; they must have a deeper significance to my life and belief system, and furthermore must fit neatly into the overarching theme by which I’m branding my performance.

March Forth carries several meanings and unifying themes. I will present my degree recital in completion of a Master’s in flute performance at Carnegie Mellon University on Saturday, March 4th at 7:30 pm in Alumni Concert Hall. It will celebrate seven long years of higher level arts education and allow me a platform from which to share my own individual artistic identity. Whereas performances with school ensembles or with my own non-profit contemporary music ensemble NAT 28 are wildly fulfilling, they are inherently limited to the political responsibilities of the overseeing organization. A solo recital means I get to be just me, without compliance to mission statements, brands, or institutions. The only things on the line? My integrity and reputation.

Planning for this recital has caused me to think deeply about the many hats of the solo performer. The solo recital is much like a museum exhibit with the performer acting as archivist, curator, and docent. First, the performer must seek out the objects they wish to include, either by examining existing works or by commissioning new ones. Much like with archivists, often a performer will find that they specialize in a particular body of works. Then comes the curation — the performer decides how to organize and classify their objects and how to present the resulting collection to the media and audience. I believe the long-term responsibility of the performer is also curation: the performer dictates the works that will enter that great museum with hallowed halls known as The Canon. Finally, the performer acts as docent, guiding an audience on a dictated tour of the objects they’ve gathered and organized. The recital allows the performer to determine to what niche population the tour is catered, how long an audience stands before a particular object, the pacing, perspective, emotion. Without a compelling docent, a fantastically crafted exhibit full of the best objects barely even exists. If a fantastic piece of music is composed but nobody hears it, does it even make a sound?

This is the model by which I designed the program for March Forth. I gathered my artifacts, a little from the Baroque world, a little from the romantic, a lot from the modern era. I was lucky to land March 4 in the wild lottery of degree recital assignments, because it allowed me to seem very clever with my at once thematic and instructive title. I wanted to brand my recital as a call-to-action, and the date lent the perfect command. With each piece, I am inviting my listeners to march forth with their own beliefs and aesthetics, to join the revolution (I’m also marching forth right out of Carnegie Mellon, conservatory lifestyles, and educational institutions all together…).

Zoe Sorrell

I will open with Reza Vali’s Persian Suite for flute and piano, a piece that evolves in three movements from peaceful to celebratory to frenetic and angry. My exploration of this work has coincided with Trump’s despicable travel ban, causing me to approach the piece as a celebration of the intersection of Iranian and American art and a lamentation of our administration’s rejection of the former. I don’t claim to speak for the composer (who will be in the room) but my performance of this piece is a direct confrontation of policy that would attempt to eliminate artistic and cultural influence such as Vali’s.

After an intermission, cellist Will Teegarden (of NAT 28) will join me for Saariaho’s rarely performed duo, Mirrors. The piece is only a few minutes long and it appears and disappears inconspicuously like a musical wisp of smoke. But throughout, it presents horizontal and vertical mirrors, in pitch, rhythm, instrumentation, and contour. The idea of reflection is an important one in our current climate. Reflection encourages deep listening. When we reflect on ourselves, on the world around us, we tap into details we previously skirted over. Similarly, Will and I have learned to listen in a more sophisticated way in order to stitch this work together. I hope that listeners will be invited in and that this piece will then serve as an auditory palette cleanser for the second half of the recital.

The concert ends with Eugene Bozza’s Agrestide, which mirrors back at the Saariaho. This word agrestide has a complicated etymology, seeming to allude both to urbanism and imagery. The piece quotes Bozza’s more famous flute work Image, leading me to believe the latter etymology was important to him. When I explore this work, I am accessing it through the lens of images and imagery, of what’s real and what’s only perceived. I think I may even find the space to talk about fake news.

I have conceptualized each of the other works on the program in this way as well, and I will talk about this on Saturday. It seems irresponsible in our post-election world to avoid relevance in our art. Each of these pieces must have a message for me and you today. Why am I preserving these objects, championing them for the glass cases of The Canon, lest I believe they belong in our 21st century world?

Learn more about March Forth at https://www.facebook.com/events/224312551373492/


Program

Saturday, March 4th 
7:30 pm 
Alumni Concert Hall, Carnegie Mellon University

Persian Suite, Reza Vali
~ Featuring Վահան Վիլլիի Սարգսյան, piano
Partita V for solo Baroque flute, Johann Georg Tromlitz
Trio, Claude Debussy 
~ Featuring Maija Anstine, viola and Natalie Severson, harp

~Intermission~

Mirrors, Kaija Saariaho 
~ Featuring Will Teegarden, cello
La ou soufflé le vent, Rika Suzuki
Agrestide, Eugene Bozza
~ Featuring Վահան Վիլլիի Սարգսյան, piano