Legend has it that French composer Cecile Chaminade made her Flute Concertino in D major a finger killer — stuffed full of speedy runs, daring leaps and syncopated solos — for the usual reason: jealous love. Stuck in a loveless marriage with a much older man, she wanted to humiliate a young lover who jilted her — a flautist.
It’s a tantalizing idea, but the simpler truth probably is that Chaminade, having accepted a commission to create something for the annual French flute-off known as the Paris Conservatory Flute Concours, felt obliged to write the trickiest, most challenging tour de force possible.
That was in 1902, when Chaminade was popular in Europe and well on her way to becoming world famous. An American tour a few years later made her a true musical superstar and even inspired the formation of more than 100 women’s amateur musical societies that were called “Chaminade Clubs.” A few years after that, she was decorated with France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor.
But Chaminade’s fame and reputation didn’t last. Music historians now debate whether it’s because tastes were changing, or because she was a woman in a field crowded with men. That always worked against her: Even though her own gift was great enough to prompt family friend George Bizet, the great composer, to recommend the Paris Conservatory, her father would only allow private lessons. Conservatory wasn’t for girls.
Celebrated in her day as the prolific composer of hundreds of short pieces, Cecile Chaminade is mostly forgotten now — except for that devilishly tough Flute Concertino, a work she aimed to fill up with “all the difficulties of the instrument,” she said.
If You Go
• What: “Flourishes,” a concert by the Southwest Washington Wind Symphony.
• Featuring: Special guest Zachariah Galatis, piccolo and flute.
• When: 3 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Union High School, 6201 N.W. Friberg-Strunk Street.
• Admission: Free
• On the web: www.swwindsymphony.org
Fortunately, the Southwest Washington Wind Symphony’s special guest artist on Sunday afternoon is up to the task. Flute and piccolo master Zachariah Galatis, whose regular gig is with the Oregon Symphony, will take charge of Chaminade’s Concertino as well as the dramatic, Flamenco-feeling “Piccolo Espangol” by James Christensen and “Only Light” by contemporary composer Aaron Perrine.
Galatis, who has won many major awards for his piccolo and flute artistry, also performs with Third Angle, a Portland new-music ensemble, and 45th Parallel, a chamber group. He teaches at the University of Portland and privately.
The Southwest Washington Wind Symphony is a 50-player concert band that lives up to its name. Aside from a dash of percussion and strings, the group consists almost entirely of woodwinds and brass horns — instruments you blow through.
This concert is free and open to the public.