New York Concert Review, Inc.
by Anthony Aibel
Ulla Suokko is not just a master of the flute; she's a master of the art of presentation.
She does it all and she goes it alone. Her flute recital was not a recital in the traditional sense: it was a theatrical presentation, a scientific study, an essay of meditation, a frolic, a history lesson, an exploration of the unexplored, and a reinventing of not just what the flute family can do, but how the heart, mind, body and soul can communicate through its seductive overtones.
The concert took place on January 12th, 2003 as part of the series of concerts given by the New York Flute Club at CAMI Hall. Suokko began the program mysteriously at the back of the hall with an ancient Kalevala Melody for bass flute and meandered her way onto the stage - all the while playing this rather cumbersome instrument. The physical makeup of this flute was the only element that was awkward; the actual sound was one of a sage gently and pensively preaching wisdom. Often while she played, she accurately hummed two octaves above what we were hearing. She immediately showed her versatility in the opposite range and her diversity of character with Ilmatar, The Air Spirit (1974) for solo piccolo, performed as if a shepherd on his pipe was getting the world ready for mankind. In Seven Miniatures (2001) for solo flute by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, Suokko opened each stanza of text with narration and then followed with various amplified descriptions such as flutter tongue, double tonguing, trills and whispering while playing to show the sounds of horses galloping, fireflies twinkling, and breezes blowing.
Following a robust, seductive performance of Debussy's Syrinx, performed with amazing breath-control and pitch that never waivered, she presented Aliento/Arrugas (1998) and the world premiere of Bibliografia del silencio by Marcelo Toledo. The 1998 work was an exercise in raw, animalistic breath exploration, with Suokko being asked to alternately moan out loud, shout, inhale and blow into her instrument.
In Bibliografia, she was accompanied by lighting effects and a 16-flute soundtrack. She played her bass flute, while intermittently growling and hissing like a menacing monster in a cave, salivating and licking its chops. At about four minutes into the piece, I was surprised to hear the strands of Mozart's 40th Symphony (it seemed out of place, but at this point I was expecting anything), and soon realized it was just a cell phone; Suokko stopped all the action and appropriately started over.
In Can vei la lauzeta, Suokko took a passionate approach to 11th century Troubadour music, proving that music of that period could be far from sacred. Refusing to let anything be ordinary at this concert, she began singing the simple modal and pentatonic strands, later humming and playing simultaneously. In Topografia de um caminho andado (2001) for solo bass flute by Alexander Lunsqui, the fascinating breathing, tapping and whistling effects were reminiscent of the first Toledo work, but a bit overlong and repetitious here. In Saariaho's solo work: Laconisme de l'aile or Wings of Freedom, new sounds were again to be found with harmonics and overtones giving the impression of distant seagulls. Wavering pitches, quartertones and even halftones apart, sounded like waves and perhaps symbolically, time itself moving in slow motion. The performer narrates text at the beginning of the work, but the music is an equal partner in storytelling.
Just when you thought anything and everything had been featured on this recital, Suokko, for the final work, was on the floor brooding under a red blanket, alternately moaning and playing a big bass flute while singing and hissing into it. The ingenious climax in Mad Lady Macbeth, composed last year by Francis Schwartz, was not a gigantic piercing scream as one might have expected, but a yelp of utter silence - much like the one Meryl Streep gives when one of her children is taken from her in the film Sophie's Choice.
Perhaps she could have spoken less throughout the concert; for example, the final work, an improvisation for solo alto flute, was far shorter than her anecdotes before it, feeling disproportionate. But look out Fiona Shaw: Ulla Suokko is a convincing actress, a prophet, a poet, and ... oh yes, she also plays the flute, doesn't she?
Suokko Builds Bridge of Light and Leaves Audience “breathless, expanded and transformed”
by Linda Glaser
Ulla Suokko enters the stage in shadows. Deep radiant tones flow to us through the darkness. Small glass bowls of flickering candles rim the stage waiting.
Ulla moves forward, enveloping us with Kalevala Melody, her face half lit by candle and half hidden by shadows. She and her flute carry us far back to the Finland of ancestors where this melody was born. Her large bass flute fills Weber Hall with rich supple tones infusing the air around us and the air we are barely breathing with deep ancient sounds. We are drawn into the circle of light.
Each piece that follows transports us again with Ulla as our guide on piccolo, alto, bass, and solo flute. We ride the music of Ilmatar, The Air Spirit by Tauno Marttinen; Syrinx by Claude Debussy; and Sarabande, Bourree Anglaise, and Arioso by Johan Sebastian Bach. We are captured by the pure sweet tones and the play of light and darkness swelling around us. We are held in the oneness of Ulla and her flute as she moves, sways, and lives the music, shaping it with her breath and with her entire being.
Ulla leads us with words and stories, with music, with humor, and with total presence from one piece to another. When she graces the hall with an improvisational piece, she turns her back to us allowing us to feel rather than see the music sensing itself out of her. We are wrapped in glowing, tumbling, floating, tones. We sit in stillness catching the gift as it unfurls around us, rippling, shimmering, soaring between light and darkness, filling the air, the hall, and our beings. Ulla and flute and breath and music are all one and we, too, are woven into that oneness.
Now Ulla introduces modern pieces: Nada and Aliento/Arrugas by Marcelo Toledo and Laconisme de l’aile by Kaija Saariaho explaining that although they are new, they are also the very oldest form of musicimitations of sounds in nature. Suddenly, we are in a forest, listening to wind, trees, birds, leaves rustling, stillness, animals breathing. We witness the extraordinary versatility of this instrument we thought we knew--bringing forth sounds beyond any limits of flutelike the voice of air and wind and weather, stretching us into a new awareness of what is possible. This flute sings, jabbers, whispers, rustles, breathes. We are suspended in awe.
Ulla recounts her experience of offering healing through music to victims of 911 in a church near Ground Zero. She explains that what people most often requested was deeply familiar music, comforting music Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, Greensleeves. Now she plays variations of Greensleeves, gathering us into the circle of healing as well.
After a full and demanding program of 12 pieces that span many centuries, cultures, styles, and musical forms, she takes her bow and receives a standing ovation.
Do we dare hope for more? Yes. She gives us an encore of French Heels. And with it, she reveals an entirely different side of herselfsexy, dramatic, and full of fun.
During the concert, Ulla has explained that as she plays her flutes, she also plays the hall like an instrumentthat in each concert hall she listens and responds to the hall itself and plays each one differently. And now we as the audience know that somehow, Ulla has played us as well. It is an experience of wholeness--drinking these pure holy sounds. We find ourselves breathless, expanded, and transformed.
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