Playing the Pied Piper will be noteworthy for Alexa

27 July 2009

Still recovering seven months on from a bicycle accident that shattered her left knee and broke her right arm, Alexa Still is psyching up for one of the most demanding of flute concertos.

The internationally acclaimed flautist is preparing to take-on the lead role in John Corigliano's orchestral epic The Pied Piper Fantasy in Sydney in August as part of The Con's 2009 Concert Series - and out of deference to the renowned American composer's visit to Australia.

The concerto, based on a Robert Browning poem, follows the legend of Hamelin's rats, the Piper's clearance of them, and his revenge on the townspeople for reneging on their agreement.

It is regarded as a mini-marathon, lasting some 38 minutes (versus an average of 20 minutes for major flute compositions) and comprising seven movements that will oblige Still to be very active on stage amidst a large cast.

It is also a composition that calls for particularly loud high notes - something that will add to the vigour of Still's presentation.

"I first started playing the work 11 years ago but there is no getting away from it being a scary challenge," comments Dr Still, the New Zealand born, Sydney-based Associate Professor and Chair of The Con's Woodwind Unit.

"It's a very dramatic and emotional piece, with the orchestration and staging adding to the really is an event, and has all the hallmarks of Corigliano as composer and director.

"The fact is there is no other flute repertoire as technically challenging, nor one that commands so much audience attention.

"The concerto has more notes and a diversity that ranges from the serene to the stark mad. I'm working hard on pumping up the volume."

The finale calls for Still, dressed in a colourful robe, to lead a conga-line of flute-playing children through the aisles of the Verbrugghen Hall.

Renowned Taiwanese maestro, Apo Hsu, will conduct the Conservatorium Orchestra.
Asked if she will be fit enough to take on the task, with a steel plate in her arm and a level of stiffness in her leg, Dr Still, of Ashfield, is both philosophical and pragmatic.

"I would be distressed if I wasn't ready, but in a concerto like this, with no down time, adrenalin carries you a long way."

Dr Still admits she is revelling in her teaching duties at The Con - and being "close to the cutting edge and energy and enthusiasm of student groups and amongst inspirational colleagues."

But that said, she is currently working on completing her 14th CD (due for release in 2010) and will premiere the flute and piano sonata Looking Back by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy award winning composer Joseph Schwantner at the National Flute Association's international convention in New York on 16 August.

"That will be a good work-out ahead of and definitely get me in shape for the Pied Piper Fantasy performance," she adds.

And what of bike riding?

Still believes within the next month her left leg will be strong enough for her to start riding her beloved Ducati motorbike again, though peddling her two-wheeler will be restricted to flat parklands.

John Corigliano, winner of Two Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and Oscar, is due to arrive in Sydney from New York on 26 August as the inaugural international marquee composer for The Con's 101 Compositions for 100 Years project.

The chamber ensemble version of his Mr Tambourine Man - based on the songs of Bob Dylan - will be performed for the first time in the Verbrugghen on 11 September.

American conductor, Philip Mann, who is a post graduate student of Maestro Imre Palló, will conduct.

Media inquiries to
Scott Saunders 02 9351 1298