Flutist Curenton shines with a varied repertoire

Posted: February 20, 2012

In Astral Artists' one-day Spiritual Voyages Festival on Saturday, flutist Julietta Curenton rightly occupied the "eye of the storm" slot - the middle - having been the conceptual epicenter of the three-concert event at Church of the Holy Trinity with a program that solidly bridged mainstream classical repertoire and the non-European cultures represented in the other two concerts.

She and pianist Andrea Lam followed an African American program featuring composers George Walker and Alvin Singleton and preceded music of Asian and Latin American origin with composers such as Gabriela Lena Frank and musicians such as Swarthmore's Gamelan Semara Santi.

The only one of the three concerts I could attend was Curenton's, which combined calling-card flute repertoire and music that contributed to the larger statement of the festival, such an inventive, sophisticated arrangement of the anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by her mother, Evelyn Simpson Curenton, and, less successfully, awkward adaptations of traditional songs in Afro-American Suite by Undine Smith Moore.

Most surprising was the temperamental intersection between the ultra-cultivated French composer Henri Dutilleux's Sonatine and onetime Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe music director Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, represented by his Sonata for Flute and Piano. Both are dense, congenial feasts of harmonic tone colors, and so restless in their sense of invention that they gave the illusion of being improvised, particularly when Dutilleux's piece dipped into the French cabaret world. In "Mother and Child," William Grant Still seemed to have thoroughly absorbed Wagner's concept of unending melody.

Where one had a chance to compare Curenton against her colleagues was in Bach's Partita in a minor BWV 1013, most often heard on unaccompanied violin but often adapted by flutists. Curenton used "terrace dynamics" to create a question-and-answer relationship among the phrases, as well as contrasting background and foreground. In Schubert's Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, her interpretation was centered on the content of the song on which Schubert based his variations (even if, after a while, the piece becomes a free-for-all). Often, one hears flutists fight their way into the spotlight with a more aggressive manner. Not Curenton. Her tone glows more than it sparkles, and it draws in one's ear with sounds and ideas that simply cannot be resisted.


Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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