Nancy Stagnitta Artist Interview
Praised for her "brilliance and beauty of tone" by the Baltimore Sun, Powell Artist Nancy Stagnitta is
a leading crossover artist as both classical flutist and jazz artist. She recently served on the jury for the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, and appeared as a guest artist at Sir James Galway’s International Festival and the
Clazz International Music Festival in Italy. She currently serves as instructor of flute at the Interlochen Arts Academy, and principal flutist with the Traverse Symphony and Great Lakes Chamber Orchestras.
Can you give us 5 career highlights?
The time I spent in southern Africa as an Artistic Ambassador for the U.S. Information Agency, a branch of the State Department, will always remain a top highlight. As part of this cultural exchange program, I presented recitals and masterclasses in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Madagascar, and Mauritius over the course of six weeks. The extraordinary people I met, and the musical exchanges I was privileged to experience, remain with me today. Witnessing the power of music as a source of unity, common ground, and most importantly, common joy, was a life changing experience.
Second on the list would be performing the Asian premiere of David Amram’s “Giants of the Night” Concerto with Xincao Li and the China National Symphony Orchestra in Beijing. This work is an epic tribute to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jack Kerouac, and thus allowed me to bring both my classical and jazz backgrounds to my performance. Meeting and working with David, including performing with him at an “Amram Jam” in NY, was an unforgettable experience.
My third highlight would be recording an album and performing a live concert with two-time Grammy Award winning jazz pianist and composer Bob James, entitled “In the Chapel in the Moonlight.” Bob, who has sixty albums to his credit and was once Sarah Vaughan’s pianist, created unique new works and arrangements for our duo, and playing and recording with him was an honor.
Next on the list would be witnessing the growth and successes of my students as they embark on the next phase of their future paths. I encounter young flutists during their early high school training at Interlochen, and to see them pursue their dreams, whether they be winning Young Concert Artists or a position in the Philadelphia Orchestra, entering med school, having a family, or finding happiness in many other ways, it brings me great fulfillment and joy.
As for number five, this one is more personal: during the height of the pandemic, my father became ill, and we were separated from him for the last nine weeks of his long and wonderful life, save for window visits and video chats. One day, after a long wait for help from a health care worker to set up the video call, my Dad was awake but unresponsive. When I couldn’t engage him verbally, I began to play. I exhausted every bit of music I could think of, cycling through all the things I knew he loved: opera, hymns, Italian folk songs, Sousa marches, and some choices of my own. When I finally paused, he suddenly popped up and enthusiastically commented on every last thing I had played – including a rather comical misstep in a melody from Verdi’s Nabucco! I include this as a career highlight for two reasons: first, because it allowed the unwavering support I was blessed to have from my parents to come full circle, and second, because the immeasurably profound power of music was once again unveiled to me, this time in such a personal, powerful, and unequivocally beautiful way.
How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?
Entering Peabody as a freshman flutist was pivotal for me, having come from a small town and a public school system. Making the transition to a conservatory setting at that time in my life was challenging, overwhelming at times, and in the end, exhilarating. Looking back, I am grateful to have this experience to draw upon as I train young flutists for their own future journeys at Interlochen.
Speaking of Interlochen, stepping into the role as instructor of flute at Interlochen Arts Academy was another pivotal moment for me. Now in my twentieth year, the commitment I made at that time to include teaching as a primary aspect of my career along with my performing roles, coupled with the endless inspiration I have been fortunate to draw from my students there, has shaped my career and artistry significantly.
Next on the list would be performing at the 2014 Gala at the NFA Convention in Chicago, sharing a program with Clare Chase and Greg Patillo. As a 100% classically trained flutist who later came to discover a love for playing jazz, this opportunity to share my voice as a jazz flutist was a defining – and thrilling - moment. The confluence of my work in both the classical and jazz fields, and my continued quest to be both authentic and unique in both, is perhaps the most influential aspect to my artistry.
What do you like best about performing?
I am in love with the spontaneity of every live performance, and with the idea that each of those moments in time, and those particular assemblies of artists and audience members, lives as a unique occurrence, likely never to repeat. Every experience is to be treasured and celebrated! I am always inspired by the communication and connections made with fellow musicians and listeners in live performance, and I feel that I continually learn something more about myself on stage as a person, flutist, and artist.
“In the Chapel in the Moonlight” with Bob James, Tappan Zee Records
“Joy of My Life” with Rob Levit, Symbol System Records
“Janus Project” – in the works!
What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?
Having just returned from a performance with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston, I’m now preparing for several concerts as principal flutist with the Traverse Symphony and Great Lakes Chamber Orchestras here in Michigan, as well as a feature with the Traverse Symphony Jazz Orchestra. This summer, I’ll be hosting the 12th annual Interlochen Summer Flute Intensive, and will return for my second appearance as a classical and jazz guest artist at the Clazz International Music Festival in Italy. I’m in the midst of a recording project, “The Janus Project,” featuring classical solo works, a jazz quintet, and several tunes with singer/songwriter Joshua Davis, who was featured on “The Voice” in 2015. I’m excited about a new chamber ensemble I’ve formed with my woodwind colleagues at Interlochen, and I’m looking forward to giving a masterclass at the Flute Center of New York, as well as both classical and jazz performances at the NFA Convention in Phoenix. I’m also preparing for my sabbatical next spring, during which I’ll be traveling, performing, and teaching, while also completing a study on the effects of pandemic-era music education on young children.
What are your goals personally? Professionally?
The word “balance” always rises to the top for me when it comes to setting goals: work/life, performing/teaching, and classical/jazz performance to name a few. I’m always striving to examine my priorities, to leave time and space for reflection and growth, and to remain energized and ready to meet the next challenge.
What inspires you the most in life?
I am continually inspired by my exceptional family, the natural world, my spirituality, my friends and colleagues, and of course, music. I also draw inspiration from my students, and from witnessing performances and exhibits in other genres, such as the recent “Van Gogh in America” exhibit I visited at the Detroit Institute of Art. I find that inspiration can often come quite unexpectedly, from seemingly insignificant moments in life – maybe even from a truly great piece of chocolate!
Who were your music mentors? and what did you learn from them?
My early teachers were David DeWitt, Judith Handman, and Beatrice Keram. Each helped to foster my immediate love affair with the flute. As I entered Peabody, Tim Day became a great source of inspiration and helped me to refine my knowledge and skill, as did Mark Sparks. During my graduate studies and well into my adult life - in fact, until his passing at age 96 - Robert Willougby served as my impeccably supportive and truly wonderful mentor. Of course I also have many “mentors from afar:” the countless flutists whose recordings shaped my flute life, and who I was then fortunate to meet, from Sir James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Paula Robison to Hubert Laws.
Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?
- I love photography, and although it’s just a hobby, I know it has a profound impact on how I experience the world, and how I incorporate that experience in my art.
- I love to bake, and I love experiencing great food.
- When I was very young, I wanted to be a dancer. I remember having a particularly intricate routine worked out to the opening of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” when I was about five.
- I lived in Germany for a year, when I was in the third grade.
- I am passionate about travel, and I speak German, French, and Italian.
What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?
- Cultivate an effective and reliable daily practice routine. Be mindful and remain positive in the practice room, incorporating all of your “good habits” at all times, and striving to leave the “not so good ones” behind. You’ll be amazed at how far this can go in allowing you to trust your work in the moment of a performance or audition, and therefore to access the very best of your artistry!
- Hold fast to the reasons why you have chosen to play the flute. Whether it be a love of the instrument, a joy in sharing it with others, a desire to make a positive difference in the world, or any reason at all, keeping this as the centerpiece of our daily efforts helps to put any challenge in perspective.
- Look at every perceived setback as a gift! There is always something to be learned from every experience, even and perhaps especially the auditions we didn’t win or the concerts we didn’t perform flawlessly. Take the gifts, learn from them, and in so doing, your growth will be limitless.