Carol Wincenc: Following Her Bliss

2019 marks Carol Wincenc’s 50th anniversary on the stage, and we can’t wait to celebrate her Golden Jubilee year!  Commissioning five new chamber works to debut at three special New York events (Morgan Library, Merkin Concert Hall, and Staller Concert Hall at Stony Brook University), Carol is continuing her legacy by championing new music, teaching the next generation of flutists, and most importantly, following her bliss.

The classical music has definitely changed from 50 years ago until now. How are you adjusting to this change in your own career?

The angle I want to go with for my Jubilee Year was inspired by my seeing a documentary about Wendy Whelan of the New York City Ballet, about her life in the ballet into the transition of being older, away from being a member of the company and now delving into her own projects.  She was very inspiring to me and I really identified with it. I’ve been watching my transition from all the concerts I did (about 80 per year) to where I am now, still enjoying collaborations in playing chamber music, concertos with orchestra, solo recitals (those are very sparingly slim, unless you self-produce in an endless variety of venues).  But I don’t have any plan of packing it up yet!


Of course, the budgets and audiences for the “old” model of classical music are not the same as they were.  How has that changed for you?

With symphony orchestras, for example, the orchestra’s principal wind players are requesting to play the wind concertos.  So it has the potential of putting people like me out of work.  This pattern started about 25 years ago.   I remember when I performed at the American Symphony Orchestra League conference about 25 years ago, and many of the top orchestra managers were touting and encouraging presenters to hire young players right out of their training for 1/3 of the fee I was commanding at the time.  That was a big eye-opener.  I’m not judging the brilliance of very young players, but it would be nice to protect the veterans as well.  Don’t you agree?  As far as press, publications are not covering classical solo and chamber music performances with any reliable frequency. These days, it’s all about events and more innovative happenings.  You’ll see a lot of rock and pop, and they will still cover the opera and visiting orchestras to Carnegie Hall.  These are very New York City-centric observations of mine.  I love going to my son’s rock concerts because they are vibrant and satisfy the listeners in a positive way.  Does that mean to sit quietly in a focused fashion is challenging younger people?


Do you think it’s just about money? Is that why things have changed?

No, I don’t think it’s just about money.  I think the niches are being redefined, plus, the level of players just keeps rising! I’m graduating remarkable talents, and they have the capacity to all do it all.  What I offer them is the ability to be a soloist if they’ve got that flair. Mind you, to be a soloist requires extraordinary mindfulness, discipline, and know how.  There’s no question that my thorough background in both dance and theater as a very young girl has contributed to how I present myself in front of the public.  Not every flute player wants to project themself as a notable superstar, so if you want that, you better be prepared.  So, it is paramount that if you want to FOLLOW YOUR BLISS in this certain way, know that so deeply inside of you.  Today there are so many creative ways to make this happen.  I’ve always utilized the chamber music pathway as one of my favorites.


Speaking of chamber music, what will you be playing?

I have commissioned 5 new works for this celebration.  They are all chamber music pieces except one piece for flute and piano.  For my Ruby Anniversary celebration one decade ago, I commissioned Jake Heggie, Thea Musgrave, Joan Tower, Andrea Clearfield, and Shih-Hui Chen. This time, the works are written by:

Jake Heggie : two movements of a trio written for flute, cello, and piano: Full Circle Fifty (Movement 1: “Golden," Movement 3: “Hummingbird")

Pierre Jalbert: a quintet for flute and string quartet

Morgan Library and Musuem: November 12, 2019.  With Escher String Quartet. 7 pm


Robert Sirota: “Dancing With The Angels” for flute, viola, and  harp. That will be with my trio, Les Amies

Sato Matsui (doctoral student at Juilliard): a flute and piano duo. (will also perform Sato‘s first movement "Goldenrod" at NFA in Salt Lake City with Colette Valentine on Saturday of the convention)

Merkin Concert Hall: Only at Merkin (WQXR) February 23, 2020. 5 pm


Larry Alan Smith: a quintet for flute, oboe, viola, cello, and piano

Staller Center for the Arts at Stonybrook: April 16, 2020.  7 pm


On the Morgan opening concert of the entire series, there will be an excerpted version of the documentary made about me and the Ruby Anniversary concerts by filmmaker Leonard Yakir.  I’m so excited about all of this!


There are so many flutists on such a high level these days. What can one do to follow their bliss if there are shrinking opportunities and venues? 

Yes, the existence of so many high level players presents a conundrum.  Last year, at the Juilliard entrance auditions, we had 20 players in our callbacks.  Usually it’s a dozen. These were all first class players applying for BM, MM, GD, AD, and DMA. We, the jury, looked at each other and thought any one of them would be a great addition to the school.  The appeal to go into a music conservatory is still very high, although we’re seeing kids going into big universities as well so they have more options for employment when they graduate, such as music management.


Students are hopeful for a sustainable career in music. 
I remember as a student at Juilliard, the flute community seemed much smaller, and now, I meet flute players everywhere who have Masters or Doctoral degrees under good teachers and are all vying for the same type of jobs.  And I wonder what sets one apart from the next. 

It’s just a very tricky question.  For example, my son is carving out his career as a lead singer in a rock band while there are literally thousands of rock bands out there.  It’s true you have to have videos, merch, and fan base…and for a flutist, it’s a similar kind of strategizing to be able to do professionally what you love the most.  If you are unified with your authentic self, even though you may think you want to do something else, you will wind up doing what you really want to do.


Is the Answer the Internet?
With the explosion of the Internet, there is so much online and not much stands out anymore.  People watch all the videos, try to imitate them, and try to do it better. Before the Internet, when you had to have a press kit/manager, I feel like it leveled the playing field a bit.

Right.  Everybody is an “expert” now.

And when everyone is an expert, what is this leading to? 

I don’t know…here we are, sitting on the 14th floor in one small apartment in a city of 10 million people and pondering, where is this going to go?  VALUE  matters to us.  QUALITY  matters to us.

Quality matters because it’s a vibration.  Everything is a VIBRATION.  Everything is part of this big circle of “what vibration are we putting out there?”  Here I am, about to turn 70, and asking myself, what do I want to do for the rest of my life?  I can maintain quality in the lesson room; I can maintain my love of playing and beautiful music, music that will endure.  I’m not saying it’s just classical music, but an event that is generated from high quality, for which you have to have a technique.  You can’t do anything without a technique.  You need something that will enhance or send out that finer vibration that will endure and impact others in some way.  I’m not going to be a snob and say it’s only Beethoven symphonies that will endure.  When I hear my son singing his heart out and engaging with his other stellar band members, that is quality of a certain kind.

But to answer the question, where is this all going, it’s quite dizzying!  The cream will always rise to the top. I’m grooming my students to be able to do it all: orchestral auditions, chamber music experience, and the networking.  It is really about persistence, and that certain kind of grit, and never losing sight of what you’re envisioning for yourself.  That has to be in the forefront the entire time, and you’re blessed if you know what that vision is.


The “MAGIC” and the “ESSENCE”


What makes one person express music in the most charismatic, yet welcoming and convincing way, as opposed to another, who has flawless technique plus a beautiful sound?  It’s very difficult to create a flute sonority that has appeal.  And that is a skill that we all have to develop, but then comes that ingredient called MAGIC.  Why does one player spin a phrase the way they do?  Perhaps it is something that is related to one’s ESSENCE, and our essence is something we don’t have control over.  It’s so mysterious.  I’ve been told I’m an effective teacher, one who is able to identify and support what is going on with the student's essence. That’s what I love about teaching, to crack that lid open a little bit and see what’s in there.

I will be continuing to teach and empower a young student to realize their fullest potential.  In support of discovering the student’s essence with them, I do it with a balance of serious mindfulness and nurturance.  I am that kind of teacher that doesn’t always necessarily give the student what they want, but what they need.  I generally find some kind of entreé to help empower the student. Especially with this tsunami of information on the Internet, how does a young person remain feeling empowered and not be crushed by what everyone else is doing?  It takes a lot of quiet.  You have to get quiet enough; there is so much [internet] noise now.


Most people don’t know how to get quiet. Educating oneself in that way would be helpful.  When I meditate and get quiet, so many ideas come to my mind.

Exactly. Often in the Colloquium classes I gave at Juilliard, we included my guided, deep relaxation exercise.  Quiet and reflection are very important.  We don’t want to get to a sense of waking sleep, and that’s the other thing I love about BREATH.  Breath is a gateway and an immediate way to connect to our inner as well as our outer.  Anyone who meditates knows this, and that is why I encourage students to practice inflating through the nose when there is time in the music.  Flute players have to breathe!


Any more words about the Jubilee celebration?

Commissioning new works was a career strategy in the beginning of my career, and I did that. Iconic flute concertos like the Rouse, Foss, and Tower continue to endure for a reason.  For my 50th, I asked composers to write for me, who are well established and more my peer group (except for Sato), and I love that about the compositional process: age absolutely does not matter.  I want to leave this planet having birthed more and more inspiring music.


Bliss, Magic, Essence, Vibration, Breath.

These are words I think of when describing Carol Wincenc, whom I had the privilege of studying under at The Juilliard School and interviewing for this issue.  Congratulations, Carol, for 50 years of a multi-faceted and fulfilling career, and being an inspiration to us all!





November 12, 2019, Tuesday, 7 pm, at the Morgan Library and Museum. The program includes the premiere showing of an excerpt from the CAROL WINCENC film documentary: “The Ruby Concerts” by film maker Leonard Yakir. Plus the Mozart C Major Flute Quartet and world premieres of works by Jake Heggie (Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano) and Pierre Jalbert's Quintet for Flute and String Quartet. The guest artists are Escher String Quartet and Jake Heggie, Pianist.

February 23, 2020, Sunday, 5 pm, at Merkin Concert Hall on the acclaimed series “ONLY at MERKIN" with TERRANCE MCNIGHT." In addition to the epic J.S. BACH Sonata in B minor and the Amanda Maier Sonata in B minor, there will be two world premieres by Robert Sirota with Trio Les Amies (Fl, Va, hrp) and by Juilliard DMA Composer/Fulbright Fellow in France, Sato Matsui, with a new work for Flute and Piano with Bryan Wagorn, Met Opera Pianist.

April 16, 2020, Thursday, 7 pm, at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, with the world premiere by Larry Alan Smith for Flute, Oboe (James Austin Smith) Viola (Matt Lipman) Cello (Mihai Marica) and Piano (Hsin Chaio Liao).  The program also includes Daniel Paget's arrangement of traditional panpipe music, ROMANIA! and the finale, Andrew Thomas’s “A Samba," for 2 Solo Flutes, Double Flute Choir, String Quintet, Percussion, Congas, Piano, and Harp.

** In addition to this 50th Anniversary Season, Ms. Wincenc will premiere two additional works to honor the 100th Anniversary of The New York Flute Club (11/17/19, 8 pm at Merkin Hall) for Flute and Piano by Gabriela Lena Frank, and for the Flute New Music Consortium for Flute and Piano (1/18/20 Staller Arts Center) by Valerie Coleman.


Leave a Reply