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Capabilities and Roles of the Piccolo in the 21st Century: Performance Practice Studies of Selected Repertoire for Piccolo by Contemporary Composers

25 August 2021

11:00 - 11:30 hrs (GMT+7)

My ten years of work as an orchestral musician and flute lecturer in Bangkok has created in me an ambition to “fill in the gap;” to further advance the knowledge and appreciation of classical music in Thailand from my field of expertise. My thesis aims to bring a less mainstream instrument, the piccolo, into the spotlight. I hope that this project will be a starting point that will encourage further studies, performances, compositions and ultimately enhance career opportunities for Thai musicians and contribute to improving the quality of classical music production in Thailand.  Compiled in this research project are pedagogical approaches, promotional procedures and documentation of  performance practices of selected piccolo repertoire by international contemporary composers.

In correspondence to the theme “Traditions in Transition” of the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music International Symposium 2021, I would like to discuss the composers’ intentions, as communicated to me during interviews. Their works give clear illustrations of the technical ability and resonance of the piccolo and are thus musically compelling, enriching cultural aspects of musical compositions.

The famous Sonata for Piccolo and Piano by British composer Mike Mower gives the audience access to unexpected timbres of the piccolo. Involving jazz styles, this Sonata is full of wit and character. The low and middle register of the piccolo, which are often unheard in the larger ensemble, are mainly displayed in this chamber music setting, with some exclamations from top pitches at times. The off-beat finger clicks, the woody tone colour expressed with the use of flutter tongue and air-sound encourages the piccoloist to perform with utmost technical capability, while retaining flexibility and the stylistic quality of the composition.

Pablo Aguirre’s “Recuerdos” for Piccolo and Piano resonates the Argentinian musicality with the use of dance-like rhythmic motives, modes, special effects that replicate jazz big band, as well as beautiful improvisational sections both in the piccolo and piano part. This composition in 3 movements is a flavourful, expressive piece of music that can very well display the involvement of traditional music idioms in the form of a classically structured composition. The composer further discussed in the interview that there is always room for traditional music involvement in academic music, and that Latin American and Asian traditional musicians are always interested in the classical music community.

Morakot Cherchoo-ngarm’s Sonata for Piccolo and Piano is the first established solo piccolo repertoire with Thai musical idioms. The piccolo resembles “Wot”, Thai north-eastern panpipe, as the piano resembles  “Kaen”, Thai north-eastern mouth organ. The music involves the highly energetic piano solo from the composer’s earlier composition “Isaan Toccata”,  some famous Thai traditional tunes, and the layering combinations of playful Thai rhythmic motives. The composer was successful in combining pentatonic tunes with lavish western harmony.

Spanish composer, Salvador Brotons offered in his well-crafted Concerto for Piccolo, “Dialogues with Axels” the new idioms for the piccolo as a solo instrument in 21st century. Having piccolo as his first instrument as a child, the composer related the piccolo to childhood, and plotted the four movements after the novel based on a true story by Fortuny from Menorca. The composition unveils the expressiveness and depth of sound with a wide dynamic range to depict the feelings of a child facing severe illness, fighting to accept and eventually find the sense of his life.

Facing the challenge of working on this project during the pandemic in 2020, most of the project’s activities had to be conducted online. Having an opportunity to introduce myself as a performer to international composers, and to learn about different cultures even in the hard situation has truly been my privilege as a musician.

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