Artist Interview: Joshua Smith, flute

By Patrick Burke on January 28, 2015
Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith

Approaching his 25th season as principal flute of the Cleveland Orchestra, Joshua Smith is described as "a masterful soloist instilling lines with bite, sublety and bracing virtuosity." Joshua returns to the PCMS stage on Sunday, February 8, and we spoke earlier this month about his upcoming recital with pianist Christina Dahl, his time at the Marlboro Music Festival and his chamber music group, Ensemble HD.

Patrick Burke:  You're presenting a diverse program with works from CPE Bach and Schubert to Kurtág and Boulez. How did you choose these specific works? Do you find yourself gravitating towards certain composers?

Joshua Smith:  Placing pieces next to each other to create captivating programs is one of my favorite pastimes, actually. I had been wanting to program the Boulez for a while, and it's his 90th birthday this year, so it clicked into place. I adore the Schubert violin sonatinas, and the thought of using an early Viennese sonatina and a very-strongly Second Viennese School-inspired one as bookends was the initial spark for the program. The rest fell into place, mostly drawing on ties to and inspirations from Eastern European dance forms.

PB:  Along with your commitment to the Cleveland Orchestra, you also lead the chamber group Ensemble HD (which recently recorded its first album). Could you tell us a little more about the Ensemble:  how did it form and what are some future projects you have in store?

JS:  HD was at first an experiment in playing for people who wouldn't expect to hear straight up chamber music in the places we played. We were invited to appear at the Happy Dog, a local tavern, and the lines to hear us on the first night were snaking out the door, which was quite unexpected. The main idea, when it occurred, was to play with the flash-mob concept, hopefully allowing some people to foster a comfort level with classical music because they can have a beer in their hands while they see it happening close up, realizing that its process isn't terribly different from the performance of any other kind of music. We're still working on developing other ways to do this. I just made a strongly Cabaret-influenced program of music from Europe around the time of the World Wars for next season.

PB:  You’ll be joined by another Ensemble HD member, pianist Christina Dahl, for your performance with us. How did the two of you first come to work together and do you feel that your history as friends helps with your musical collaborations?

JB:  Tina and I adore working together. She's married to a colleague in the Cleveland Orchestra, which is how I came to know her at first. We're in the same group of friends who spend holidays cooking for each other (she's famous for pies and Swedish meatballs; I do cocktails and a mean guacamole), and we have very similar tastes in music as well as very similar work ethics. It's fun spending time together over Boulez, or over a glass of wine, and each way of spending time inspires the other.

PB:  You’re incredibly active with the Marlboro Music Festival, both in the national tours and the Festival in the summer. Could you explain to us your role as a senior member at the festival and could you share some of your favorite memories from Vermont?

JS:  Marlboro has been such a joy for me. It's invaluable to be in a place where emphasis is very strongly placed on the creative process, in building work slowly, over necessarily performing all the time. Doing this alongside young, eager musicians as well as other seasoned colleagues is very refreshing. For me, process is always more interesting than product anyway (which is the kind of message I want to be sharing with HD audiences, in a sense), and Marlboro is the place where I really get to explore this concept.

PB:  You’re originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but you spent quite a bit of time in Philadelphia as a student of both Julius Baker and Jeffrey Khaner at Curtis. Is there a particular place you always stop by when you come back to town–maybe a coffee shop or restaurant?

JB: Alas, I'm not sure the places I most strongly identify with Curtis (Day's Deli, Sabra, the huge apple pie place on Pine) are still there. That said, Rittenhouse Square has some great options now. I'm looking forward to being back.

Joshua Smith, flute and Christina Dahl, piano perform on Sunday, February 8, 2015 at the American Philosophical Society's Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, please visit the concert page.

For more information on Joshua Smith, visit his website.