Daniel Dorff has been commissioned by the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras; performed by the Baltimore, Detroit, and Pittsburgh symphonies and Bouriakov, Rampal, Kujala, Jasmine Choi, and Sarah Jackson. He has arranged for James Galway, Keith Emerson, and Lisa Loeb.
How did the collaboration with Jasmine Choi come about?
Francesca Arnone (Program Chair for the 2018 NFA convention) contacted me saying Jasmine was slated for the orchestra gala, and they wanted a flashy new showpiece to premiere. When Francesca asked if I’d like to write a piece for Jasmine Choi to perform with orchestra, for an audience of 2000 flutists, you can imagine my exhilaration!
What was the inspiration behind the work?
Daniel Dorff: Artistically, this was an ideal pairing from the start. I wanted to write a piece that Jasmine (and everyone else!) would want to perform a lot after the premiere, so I studied her YouTubes of music outside the standard flute repertoire to see what excites her own imagination, and how that intersects with my language. Between Jasmine’s own transcriptions from violin repertoire, her non-classical music performances, and her playful eye contact with the audience and the other performers, I felt a great kinship with her exquisite balance between deeply expressive lyricism and florid dazzle, and above all a gratifying and human theatricality. Those are often my own compositional goals, and Jasmine had made famous transcriptions of Sarasate, Czardas, and Saint-Saens violin music to expand her concert repertoire in those same directions.
In starting the Concertino, an atmospheric first section with a cadenza, followed by a driving rondo with a cadenza, seemed the perfect way to thread this all together, especially with some sparkle mixed into the lyrical section, and lyrical passages enriching the showier sections. The first cadenza turns into a dance-duet with the concertmaster, and the second cadenza turns into a dance-trio with two cellos. There’s a sort of yin-yang in how these two main sections are outwardly opposites, yet thoroughly threaded in and out of each other.
One other inspiration was more pragmatic. Concertos tend to get less rehearsal time than the rest of an orchestra's program, so I made sure the orchestra part could be done on one rehearsal by professional ensembles, and played well by community and school groups. This should be a helpful element when soloists ask conductors to perform it. Likewise, the piano version (as with Chaminade) works as a flute/piano piece in its own right; pianists can learn it quickly, making it handy for recitals and concerto competitions.
Describe what the piece means to you?
Daniel Dorff: That’s a harder question! My impulse to write music for people to play and hear is generally driven by an insatiable desire to make people smile from deep within. When I see orchestra players counting rests with big grins, that’s a gratifying sign that I’ve touched their hearts and they’re not just playing a gig. When performers tell me that a piece of mine does something special for their mood, that feels like a kind of magic. With the Concertino, I certainly wanted to communicate love of the flute, love of music and beauty, and to do so in a way that stays rich and compelling after repeated hearings. It’s easy to write pretty sounds themselves, and I’m driven by the challenge of writing longer works whose drama and development remain fresh and grow over time.
What is your composing process? What programs do you use? Or do you write everything by hand?
Daniel Dorff: That varies from piece to piece. Generally I work a lot at the piano, and when a new piece is hatching I’m often sketching little ideas on any scrap of paper and singing into a dictaphone app on my phone when I’m not home. There’s an old metaphorical saying “Write drunk, edit sober,” which is great advice for any kind of creating. First get all the ideas out without any inhibitions or self-monitoring, let that right brain flow. Then later come back and see what should be refined or developed using the left brain’s craft.
I often work with paper and pencil, maybe my clarinet, and piano, and then at some point make a midi demo-in-progress to hear pacing, and to be able to listen to the work from a distance the way painters can alternately be an inch away from their canvas or see the whole everything from across the room. Between full pencil drafts and midi demos, I refine and refine until it feels finished, or until I can’t stand refining anymore.
Then I engrave in a program called Score, which was the first mainstream engraving software, and it’s still the best for notation itself. These days it’s only used in publishing rather than by composers, because it’s only an engraving tool rather than integrated with playback and other features.
By the way, my piano carries a little magic too. It’s a Steinway O from 1912 that was owned by Presser back when they were the biggest publisher in the US, with offices and a retail store right by the Philadelphia Orchestra. When Rachmaninoff visited town, he’d stop by the Presser office and play their house piano, likewise with Ravel, and with other conductors and pianists of that era. In the 1950's it became George Rochberg’s office piano, and more recently Vincent Persichetti’s office piano which I saw him compose and improvise on. (Somewhere in the archives, there's a cassette tape of Persichetti playing the theme from Pac-Man on it.) Lowell Liebermann also played some of his piano music for us on it. Then when Presser moved from Bryn Mawr to King of Prussia in 2001, they had to downsize, and I bought this historical gem for my own home piano.
How long did it take to write it?
Daniel Dorff: When Francesca invited me to write this piece, I was in the middle of a bass flute sonata for Peter Sheridan to premiere at the April 2018 ILFF, and was also about to write Snow Angelfor Ray-Michael Kauffman to premiere in July. I’m not really sure when I started writing down music for Concertinosince I was daydreaming it before starting in earnest. I think it took about a month or two to compose as a flute & piano piece, and then the orchestration went as quickly as I could write it out. My position at Presser requires regular weekday office hours, so composing is only possible on nights and weekends.
Having it performed at NFA with Jasmine Choi. How did it feel??!!
Daniel Dorff: Wow Viviana, you saw me right after, and I don’t think my feet were touching the ground! I can’t find strong enough words to convey the joy I felt with everything that happened. The conductor Chris Confessore, Jasmine, and I, were all spontaneously on the same wavelength about all the pacing and style – like how to fashion subtle dynamics and rubato beyond the literal notation. Getting that level of depth and finesse in a premiere, with a pick-up orchestra, a guest conductor, and other difficult music on the program (needing more rehearsal), was really a special moment. Chris and the orchestra players were magnificent, and working with Jasmine was wonderful beyond what’s seen on stage – she had some great little alterations to the solo part that were all consistent with what she knew I wanted to accomplish, and her artistry delivered the new Concertinoideally to the most amazingly attentive audience one could ever imagine.
What are you working on now?
Daniel Dorff: I’m just getting started on a piece for 2 Bass Flutes and Piano, commissioned by Wendy Stern and Peter Sheridan. Am I lucky or what? The piano part will be simple, both to stay out of the way, and so finding a pianist will never be a challenge. This will probably help define the unique flavor of the music too. Then the next piece will be Balladefor Alto Flute, Flügelhorn, and Piano, which is a consortium commission that Therese Wacker is coordinating.
Advice for young musicians?
Daniel Dorff: I could go on forever about this one! First of all, do what you love doing. Learn about everything, but trust your own preferences about what kind of music you really wake up for. No one can tell you how you “should” express yourself. Parents and teachers are likely to give all they’ve got to help guide you as best as they know how, and eventuallyyourheart, mind, and passion will grow beyond that; this growth must be nurtured when the time comes. This is advice for teachers and parents too – learning music has to involve discipline and mechanics, but if there isn’t also genuine enthusiasm for one’s instrument, or music in general, the flowers won’t bloom.
Only you (the student) will ultimately know if you want to commit your life to the career of a musician, or if you’d be happier forever to find a different career path and preserve music as a fun diversion. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s best for you. My high school band director used to urge all the musicians in 12th grade not to go into it professionally. Years later I asked him why he was so discouraging, and he answered “Those who took my advice were wise to take it early enough in life to find what’s best for them, as they would have quit in college or later. Those of you who couldn’t be swayed are the ones who wouldn’t be discouraged later by the challenges and disappointments that musicians must wade through to go the distance.”
And for those going into music professionally: young flutists are often groomed as if playing in an orchestra is the only career goal available. But there are lots of other ways to be a professional flutist within classical music, in other types of music, and lots of other paths outside of the traditional ones – including the evolving of unique careers that are all about projecting yourself in ways that weren’t there before you started doing it.
Superstar flutist Jasmine Choi has performed across the globe in a variety of genres from classical solo, chamber, and orchestral to experimental, jazz, and pop. Her infinite curiosity has also led her to make her own arrangements of major works, including the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, as well as performing world premieres of works composed by Daniel Dorff, Detlev Glanert, Texu Kim, Mark Laycock, Gary Schocker and Uriel Vanchestein.
Selected as one of the ten best flutists in the history of music by Sinfini Magazine UK in 2015, along with Marcel Moyse, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Julius Baker, James Galway and Emmanuel Pahud, Ms. Choi is a full-time soloist giving almost 100 concerts each season. Before her full-time career as a soloist has begun, Ms.Choi was the first Korean musician to hold a post in Vienna Symphony Orchestra when she joined as principal flute under Fabio Luisi, as well as the first Korean woodwind musician in the US when she joined Cincinnati Symphony under Paavo Jarvi.
Jasmine premiered Daniel Dorff’s Concertino in Orlando at the 2018 National Flute Association Convention. Following is the interview with Jasmine Choi.
How did the collaboration with Daniel Dorff come about?
Jasmine Choi: I was in touch with Francesca Arnone, the chair of the 2018 NFA Orlando, that NFA would like to commission a concerto for me. I was already delighted to hear this, but I was even more excited to hear that it was going to be from Daniel Dorff, whom I have known for many years. I heard his sonata for flute a.k.a. "Three Lakes" some time ago, and was very impressed with his writing style. It reminded me of Copland's Appalachian Spring and I was quietly hoping that his concerto was going to be a bit like that too.
How long did you have to learn it before the performance?
Jasmine Choi: Well, Danny finished this piece already back in April which was about four months before the premiere of the piece. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a new piece in such an advanced time because normally new pieces tend to be finished in the last minute. However, I had not had much time to start learning this piece until July because of the constant concert tours. During my New York days in the summer where I play at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center for five weeks, I took time whenever I could to learn this concerto. The solo flute part looked quite simple and straightforward at a glance but was actually very, very tricky.
What are your thoughts about the piece? How did the work make you feel when you performed it at NFA?
Jasmine Choi: One pattern that I noticed every time I face a new piece written for me is that I do not have any reference: there is no recording of anyone who already performed it. So I really have to dig into the full score more than ever, imagining the whole sound together with the solo flute and the entire orchestra just by looking at the score. Sometimes I feel lost. On this particular concerto by Danny, I'd say that I experienced the same. I would learn all the notes on the solo flute part, however, it could be a totally different atmosphere once the orchestra comes in playing with me. So I had to be very careful interpreting on my own too quickly- instead, I had to think twice, three times, looking at the full score, if this interpretation of mine would actually make sense if I play this or that way. Therefore it was a very exciting process that the interpretation of the piece kept changing rapidly, especially in the last two days before the premiere- with every rehearsal with an orchestra changed my whole concept of certain phrases and so on. I also felt very lucky that Danny was very helpful in explaining to me what he intended in certain parts, and he was also very open to listening to my ideas as well. We were a great team! Danny and I had so much fun working together, and were on cloud nine as we saw the standing ovation with tremendous cheers as soon as the last note was ended.
What are you working on now? What do you have coming up?
Jasmine Choi: I just came back yesterday from a tour in Korea for ten days, playing one recital with jazz musicians and another recital with a guitarist. Tomorrow I'm flying to Ankara, Turkey to perform my favorite Reinecke Flute Concerto with the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra. Then I have recitals with a pianist coming up in Slovenia, Poland, Germany, and then I'll fly to Korea again for playing Bach's Orchestral Suite No.2 and Brandenburg Concerto No.5.
Any advice for young flutists?
Jasmine Choi: In short, I'd say "don't worry, be happy", haha. Young people tend to worry so much for so many things. But it would be really worth it to really think about things like how much you love playing the flute, why you want to become a musician, and what flute means to you. If the answer is any other than "because I love playing the flute so much and cannot explain it any other logical way", then it's going to be a difficult and stressful path ahead. We shall not lose the pure joy of being a musician. Of course, it is not always an easy journey, but if there is no such crazy love, passion or desperation, it will be more of a burden than a joy. Focus on your "playing" and on your "being" at this very moment, rather than thinking about "becoming" anyone in use of this instrument. If you live every moment giving all your love into the flute, then one day you will realize that you already have come to somewhere beautiful.
Jasmine's premiere of Concertino:
Online orchestra score of Concertino: https://issuu.com/theodorepresser/docs/dorff_concertino_for_flute_and_orch
Published version for Flute and Piano: Presser 114-41918, available from your favorite sheet music dealer.