Artist Interview: Julietta Curenton, flute

By Patrick Burke on February 23, 2014

Flutist Julietta Curenton made her PCMS debut on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In advance of her performance, Ms. Curenton was kind enough to answer a few questions about her program, her musical upbringing and her time in Philadelphia.

Patrick Burke:  Your program features two Bach Cantatas bookended by works from the mid and early 20th century, as well as the Philadelphia premiere of Amanda Harberg’s Feathers and Wax. Could you tell us a little more about this program, in particular the Harberg work?

Julietta Curenton:  It is my hope that this program will serve as an example of where the flute repertory has been, is now and also where it might be going in the future. I also like to think of all my programs as a celebration of music of many styles. This program is the perfect example. It includes two "warhorse" sonatas  (Gaubert and Martinů) and a Passacaglia by Dohnányi–a piece that is rarely performed most likely due to its complexity. It's a 12 tone work brilliantly written for the instrument and showcases and demands everything from the performer. The cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach are simply lovely. Pure chamber music. I included the set of spirituals since one rarely hears the flute play authentic African American spirituals. These pieces will be improvised by Marietta Simpson and me. Feathers and Wax, written by my good friend and very talented composer, Amanda Harberg, is a great addition to the program. Its title is based on the story of Icarus with his wings made of feathers and wax. Mrs. Harberg will delight the audience with more of her insights prior to the performance.

PB:  This program is but a small sample size of not only your playing, but your musical interests in general. You’re an avid proponent of adding jazz, gospel and spirituals to classical programs. Could you talk about your musical upbringing and how this shaped your love for so many different genres of music?

JC:  My background is probably a bit unusual when compared to typical classical musicians. I was never taught one genre is better, more sophisticated or even more important than the others. It was all just music to me. We'd wake up to gospel music playing in the house, have a full day of classical rehearsals in orchestras, chamber ensembles, etc., go to sleep to the sounds of my parents playing old jazz standards on horn and piano. Even now, on holidays, we sing holiday music by pop artists, holiday standards and even the messiah (from memory.) It is tradition to sing/play at every family function. My love for many genres and styles has certainly seeped into my programming. I believe every program should have a little variety.

PB:  You are no stranger to Philadelphia, having received the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia’s Career Advancement Award in 2012 and been a member of Astral Artists from 2010-12. Could you tell us what this performance means to you? And what are some of your fonder memories of the city?

JC:  It is an honor to be presented on such a prestigious series. I've been a long time fan of PCMS concerts and its ability to engage both the Philadelphia community and more national audiences. I have many fond memories of the city. My time with Astral has been wonderful. I just love performing in Philadelphia and running into someone who may know a member of my family. It warms my heart.

PB:  Continuing the local theme, you will be joined on this program by your aunt, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson. Could you tell us how her career has inspired your own musical ambitions?

JC:  Marietta Simpson, my aunt, is an inspiration in so many ways, not only to me but to many aspiring young artists. Her career has taken her around the world to great opera houses, symphony and recital halls. I would say her commitment to excellence in her performances is what inspires me most. She encourages me to be an even better artist when we collaborate. It's a joy to work with her.

Julietta Curenton, flute; Marietta Simpson, mezzo-soprano; and Lydia Brown, piano appear on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on Julietta Curenton, please visit her website.