Rouse’s Flute Concerto

written by Rebecca Gilbert, RPO’s Principal Flute

Christopher Rouse was a Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer and one of the most influential composers of our time. After a fantastic career of many celebrated works, his flute concerto is one of the most well known and beloved. This performance will be my first performance of the concerto, and I am humbled to be giving the first performance of the concerto since Rouse’s untimely death this past September. 

Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse wrote this concerto in the early 90s while he was teaching at the Eastman School of Music and living in Fairport. When he received the commission to write a flute concerto, he chose to draw from his Gaelic roots and incorporate elements of traditional Irish folk melody and rhythm into the music. It is set in five movements and follows a loose Arch Form where the first and last movements are mirrors of each other.

The first and last movements are called Amhrán, a Celtic word for ‘song.’ The solo flute plays simple melodic elaborations over slow-moving harmonies played by the orchestral strings. It invokes an atmosphere of spiritual reflection, and Rouse compares this music to some of the recordings by the Irish singer Enya.

In the second and fourth movements, Rouse invokes the mood and energy of Irish dancing using first an Irish reel and then an Irish jig. These dance movements are wild and frenetic references to traditional Irish dances. The flute is set in a combative posture against the orchestra winds and brass.

The heart of the concerto lies in the third movement. It was composed as an elegy for a young boy who suffered a violent death in 1993 while Rouse was writing the concerto. He dedicated the concerto with this poignant inscription:

In a world of daily horrors too numerous and enormous to comprehend en masse, it seems that only isolated, individual tragedies serve to sensitize us to the potential harm man can do to his fellow. For me, one such instance was the abduction and brutal murder of the two-year old English lad James Bulger at the hands of a pair of ten-year old boys. I followed this case closely during the time I was composing my concerto and was unable to shake the horror of these events from my mind. The central movement of this work is an elegy dedicated to James Bulger’s memory, a small token of remembrance for a life senselessly and cruelly snuffed out.

Christopher Rouse

 In this elegy, the flute is the voice of innocence and purity even as it is surrounded by the threatening and cacophonous sounds of dark forces. This movement also includes a sweeping hymn of redemption played by the orchestral strings.

I am so very humbled to be giving this performance. I am dedicating it to the memory of Christopher Rouse in gratitude for all the beauty he gave us. As a mother of two young boys, this piece is very close to my heart. It is a rare gift to be able to perform music that is so powerfully evocative of the universal human need for healing.

Rebecca Gilbert
Principal Flute, The Charlotte Whitney Allen Chair, funded in perpetuity.

I also dedicate my performance to the work of Roc Restorative. A program based in the City School District, Roc Restorative helps foster a collaborative environment to bring peace, social justice, and academic excellence to the next generation of our community members and leaders. 

I hope you will join your Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and me to share in the fantastic experience of the Rochester premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto.  

Thursday, November 21, 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 23, 8:00 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

Tickets can be purchased here, by phone at 454-2100, or in person at our new Patron Services Center at 255 East Avenue in the back of the building. Free parking in the adjacent garage off of Union Street, between East Ave & Broad Street.

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