Eager to share her sense of joy from music

Music: Flutist Paula Robison sometimes talks through her instrument. But tonight, she'll talk after playing at Goucher College.

February 05, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Paula Robison likes to talk.

Not just to the press -- though the famed flutist makes for an incisive and enthusiastic interview -- but to audiences, as well. "I've done that for years," she says, over the phone from her Boston home. "I think that kind of contact between performer and audience is particularly delightful. Some performers don't like to do that, but I do."

In that sense, Robison makes an ideal choice for Goucher College's 40th annual Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Lecture-Performance. Over the years, the Rosenberg series has attracted some of the biggest names in classical music, a group ranging from Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson to Marilyn Horne and Yo-Yo Ma. But the best thing about these concerts isn't the music, but the chance to ask questions of the artists after the performance.

"The idea of this concert series seems so wonderful to me," says Robison. "The length of the concert is good -- a little over an hour -- plus there's this other communication between performer and audience. It's just a delightful concept."

Talking to audiences about the joy of music isn't a new idea, of course. Leonard Bernstein, when he was the director of the New York Philharmonic in the '60s, was famous for speaking to listeners from the podium. In fact, his "Young People's Concerts" -- designed to open the world of classical music to youth -- were a national television phenomenon when they were broadcast by CBS in the mid- to late-'60s.

"Oh, yeah! I played in one when I was a young person," says Robison, with a delighted laugh. "That was my first big break when I was a young player." Robison was 20 at the time, and studying at the Juilliard Conservatory. Playing with Bernstein and the Philharmonic was just one of many honors for the young flutist -- she was also the first American to take first prize at the Geneva International Competition -- but in some ways, it had the most lasting impact.

"I guess it was an inspiration for me in the way I think about music," she says. "But then the way he spoke to audiences about music, and the way he spoke to young people -- as a young person myself, I was so impressed. Because he wasn't patronizing in any way. He spoke in a natural way, expecting a lot of the listener. Not expecting them, necessarily, to know a lot about the music, but to be able to use their brains and their ears, and be awake."

Being "awake" is an important issue for Robison. "What art does for people is to make them more awake," she says. "Not lull them to sleep, but make them more awake, more alive, to be able to look at their lives in a fresh way."

But, she says, a lot of listeners seek out the soporific in music, be it "relaxation" tapes or snooze-inducing new age albums. She refers to it as "this music that you listen to so you don't have to think," and frankly, the whole idea drives her nuts.

"You know," she says, "you can reach a high state of ecstasy or bliss listening to music, and still be quite awake."

Robison finds that kind of bliss in all sorts of music, from the classical repertoire to Brazilian folk music and jazz. Mainly, though, she finds it in the song form, something she has delving deeply into in her performances. For instance, when she plays at Goucher, besides such standard flute repertoire as Copland's "Duo for Flute and Piano," Bach's "Partita in A Minor," Mozart's "Andante in C Major," and Debussy's "Syrinx," she will offer flute transcriptions of five Debussy songs.

"I've always been fascinated with vocal music, because to me the flute has always been an extension of the human voice," she says. "Some other flutists are fascinated with the violin repertoire, and try to make a sound that's as close as possible to that. To me, it's always been more the human voice. So I've stolen songs forever. Early on, it was Faure songs, and now, it's Debussy and Mozart. Richard Strauss even, now.

"I guess it's because I always felt like I was talking through the instrument," she says.

Being awake

What: performance and talk

When: 7 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road

Tickets: Free, but must be reserved in advance

Call: 410-337-6333

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