The New York Flute Section
By Kathleen Goll-Wilson
Flute Talk—November 1996
From the New York Philharmonic Society which was founded in 1842 emerged the New York Philharmonic which has been led by such notable conductors as Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Zubin Mehta, and Leonard Bernstein.
The Philharmonic has offered Young People’s Concerts since the 19th century and has broadcast on Sunday afternoon since the beginning of radio. In 1962 the orchestra moved from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
The flute section is comprised of Jeanne Baxtresser, principal; Sandra Church, associate principal; Renee Seibert, second; and Mindy Kaufman, piccolo. All are active as soloists and chamber musicians. ‘I am very proud to be a part of this section of virtuoso flutists and dear friends. We all support each other in our various outside engagements and opportunities as well as our work in the orchestra,” says Baxtresser.
Jeanne Baxtresser, Principal Flute
Jeanne Baxtresser joined the orchestra in 1984 at the invitation of Zubin Mehta and has soloed with the orchestra more than 50 times. In April 1992 she gave the New York premiere of Ellen Taafe Zwilich’s Flute Concerto with Kurt Masur conducting, and in 1989 gave the world premiere of Peter Mennin’s Flute Concerto with Zubin Mehta conducting.
Baxtresser has enjoyed working with Mehta and Masur, who are “extraordinary musicians, although very different. I feel their influence, especially with the major composers of the orchestral literature, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms. On a daily basis they mold the orchestra to play in a certain way, and their focus in rehearsals surfaces in my teaching.” She also cites the many musical highlights with Leonard Berstein.
“My favorite musical moments occur when the whole force of the orchestra comes together in a magnificent sound. These are the magical moments when everyone, the 3000 people in the audience and the 110 musicians on the stage, listens and feels the same thing. It is like a glimpse of heaven.”
When only 14 Baxtresser made her professional debut with the Minnesota Orchestra. After graduating with honors from The Julliard School, where she studied with Julius Baker, she was hired as principal flute of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and later became principal flute of the Toronto Symphony. Baxtresser augments her orchestral work by playing at the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Spoleto and Aspen Music Festivals, and solo engagements. She teaches at The Julliard and Manhattan Schools. Next year she will join the faculty of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Her current projects include recording the chamber music of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland along with other Philharmonic colleagues and pianist Israela Margalit. Among her other recordings are chamber music for R.C.A. and Philips, and solo recordings of Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, The Baroque Flute, and The Magic Flute (Pro Arte) with conductor Andrew Davis. Her recording of the major flute solos from the orchestral literature, Orchestra Pro Flute is now available on Summit Records. She recently recorded an album of flute and piano solo works as well as an arrangement of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun for flute and harp and the Gaubert Trio for flute, cello, and piano that will be released in January on the Cala label.
Baxtresser’s book, Orchestral Excerpts for Flute with Piano Accompaniment (Theodore Presser) was released in 1995. It corrects many misprints and mistakes in the literature and comments on the control and creativity within the music. Following publication of the book, Baxtresser was invited by the German Flute society to give a series of masterclasses, and she will teach there and in England next year. “I hope that students will use the piano accompaniment to learn the vertical, not just the linear aspects of the flute part. This way they will learn the musical context of the excerpts.”
Recently the New York Philharmonic commissioned Andre Previn to write a flute concerto for her to premier. She maintains an active solo and chamber music playing schedule.
Among her favorite conductors are the music directors of the orchestras in which she has played: Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Andrew Davis, and Franz Paul Decker. “It takes time, but we become a part of each other’s thought process. The emotion of the composer and the music link us. I have the most respect for these men because of that musical flow they establish.”
Not all moments are serious, and Baxtresser enjoys the humor as a physical and mental release during rehearsals. “The conductor who can keep that alive connects well with the musicians. We have to be able to laugh at things and have fun.”
The best part of the flute section, according to Baxtresser, is that “we are like a wonderful family. Musicians dedicate their lives to making music. I cannot imagine playing with people I do not love and care about, and vice versa. We absorb each other’s idiosyncrasies as a sister or brother would. We feel a closeness and we forgive the odd moments. I burst with pride to be a member of this flute section with three other strong, solo-quality players.”
Among her favorite flute repertoire within the orchestra is Daphnis. “It is always a thrill to hear all the other parts. Every player is so busy and we all have equal billing. Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is also exciting to play, and Tchaikovsky’s 4th ranks up there, too.”
The flute section is known for the strength of each individual. “We are all flexible players. Conductors always know they are getting the very best we have to offer.”
Of course, the flutes are always concerned about playing their best, and intonation is something they talk about a lot. “If someone has a high, soft note that is difficult, we all help each other and adjust. Intonation is not an issue of morality. The idea is to play in tune and be flexible.”
They work hard because, as Baxtresser says, “We are aware of the great tradition of the New York Philharmonic and also of the wonderful flutists who have preceded us in this orchestra. We always try to keep that tradition alive and well and I can say with pride I think we succeed.”