Art beat: One flute, many voices

Flutist Linda Chatterton plays from her new album ‘Diverse Voices’

FULTON — For many classical musicians who spend their childhoods and young adult years mastering an instrument, the road from a conservatory or university leads directly to a seat in a professional orchestra.

Flutist Linda Chatterton just never saw herself following that path.

“I think I always wanted to do solo work,” Chatterton said. “It was mostly just the opportunity and the feeling of being able to communicate with the audience on a more intimate level, versus in the middle of an orchestra.”

A two-time McKnight Foundation fellowship recipient, Chatterton tours as a solo recitalist and has performed with groups like the Minnesota Orchestra and Dale Warland Singers. Later this month, she will release her fifth album, “Diverse Voices: American Music for Flute,” in a free concert at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, just a few blocks from her Fulton neighborhood home.

All in all, it seems like the solo path was the right choice.

Still, it takes tenacity and an entrepreneurial spirit to go it alone as a professional musician. St. Paul pianist John Jensen, who also plays on “Diverse Voices,” said she possessed both those qualities “outside of the fact that she plays the flute brilliantly.”

Chatterton picked up the flute at age 11 when she joined her Wisconsin elementary school’s band program. She quickly developed a passion for the instrument.

“When I was 14,” she said, “I remember sitting in school and looking at my flute, and it just hit me like a lightening bolt: ‘Oh my God. I could do this for a living. I really love this.’”

After graduating from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and earning her master’s degree at the University of Minnesota, Chatterton did go on a few symphony auditions. But her heart was never in it.

The life of a solo artist offered both rewards and challenges, one of the greatest being to differentiate herself in a crowded field. Chatterton stands out because of her dynamic stage presence — the way she visualizes music and is able to translate those internal images into her precise but expressive playing.

“I think if it means something to you in there and you’re willing to share that with the audience, that’s what resonates with the audience,” she said.

Her pairing with composer Edie Hill, a Lyndale neighborhood resident, plays to this strength.

Chatterton commissioned Hill to write “This Floating World” in 2004, and the work gets its first recording here. In the liner notes for “Diverse Voices” it is described as “a collection of five musical illustrations.”

The title of the composition alludes to Japanese a printmaking style known as ukiyo-e (translated as “pictures of the floating world”), and each section takes its inspiration from a haiku written by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho. Chatterton’s playing emulates the haunting sound of the shakuhachi, a traditional wooden flute.

In a highly technical section of “This Floating World,” Chatterton conjures up the image of rose petals falling near a mountain stream out of a flurry of notes.

“If you think about [how difficult it is], your performance gets stilted, so I just think what color the rose petals are,” Chatterton said. “I sort of focus on the color that I’m trying to present, and then just don’t even worry about the fingers and just trust that what I’ve been practicing forever will just sort of happen.”

(She teaches a similar visualization technique in a performance anxiety workshop called “It Sounded Better At Home.” Chatterton said the workshop developed out of her own experiences with “performance issues” and reflects her longtime interest in psychology.)

Hill described working with Chatterton as “a composer’s dream.”

“I was hoping that she would record it, because she’s really made it her own,” Hill said. “When she plays it, she stands and she closes her eyes, and she plays it.”

On “Diverse Voices,” Chatterton showcases five American composers working in five distinct styles, including Aaron Copland, Lowell Liebermann, Paul Schoenfield and Roberto Sierra in addition to Hill. They are composers who often incorporate folk or world music elements, such as the touches of klezmer in Liebermann or the salsa rhythms in the Puerto Rico-born Sierra’s music.

The selections also give Chatterton the opportunity to display her dazzling mastery of the flute. Jensen described the second section of Liebermann’s “Sonata, op. 23” as a kind of aerobic exercise routine for the flute and piano.

“It just doesn’t stop,” he said. “It’s like a constant spinning wheel.”

And it was Chatterton’s performance of the piece for the McKnight selection committee that earned her a second fellowship, he added.

“It’s a dazzling piece,” said Jensen, “and she plays the hell out of it.”

In concert

The CD release concert for “Diverse Voices: American Musica for Flute,” featuring Linda Chatterton and John Jensen, is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 4801 France Ave. S. Admission is free.