Most instruments have a cliche, said Leonard Garrison, University of Idaho professor of flute and associate director of the Lionel Hampton School of Music. In his new album “The White Labyrinth,” produced with the IWO Flute Quartet, Garrison attempted to break the standard mold for his instrument.
“If you even think about when you learn about instruments as a child through ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ or something like that, you think of the flute as the bird and the oboe is the duck and each instrument has sort of a traditional character,” Garrison said.
Working with the esteemed Iowan composer and flutist Harvey Sollberger on pieces spanning Sollberger’s career, Garrison and the IWO Flute Quartet produced an album that showcases more than just the light-hearted bird range of the flute.
“(Sollberger’s) goal in writing his music was to expand the expressive range of the flute and not make it just a sweet little thing,” Garrison said. “It could be angry, it could be anything.”
The IWO Flute Quartet is named for the home states of its members — Idaho, Washington and Oregon — and features musical professionals from Portland State University, Pacific Lutheran University, Cornish College for the Arts and University of Idaho.
In the past, Garrison said the group has performed at each of the members’ universities and at the National Flute Convention.
“It’s a pleasure to play with other great musicians,” Garrison said. “We have the same goals and so we work well together.”
In the field of classical music production, that shared drive can be critical. The process of putting together a CD can take years — six in the case of “The White Labyrinth.”
It all began when Garrison arranged a retrospective concert highlighting his long-time friend Harvey Sollberger’s work for the National Flute Convention in 2012. The concert included the “Grand Quartet for Flutes,” a piece Garrison describes as “really difficult.”
The IWO Quartet rose to the challenge in the composer’s eyes, however.
“He was very happy with how we played that,” Garrison said. “So he said, ‘I want to write a sequel for you guys.’”
Sure enough, the IWO Flute Quartet premiered the “Second Grand Quartet for Sixteen Flutes” at the 2015 National Flute Convention.
The 16 flutes are divided evenly among the quartet members, so that each player is ready with a piccolo, flute, alto flute and bass flute.
“It gave the composer freedom to write a lot of different music in the same piece because he could choose any combination of those instruments he wanted at any given time within the piece,” Garrison said. “It’s really colorful, and (has) lots of different types of music in the same piece.”
The musical variety is evident between pieces, movements, and even stylistically within the same piece.
As part of breaking down the typical idea of how a flute should sound, Sollberger wove sounds into his pieces that aren’t usually attempted on a western flute. The solo piece “Hara,” for instance, is intended to stylistically imitate the Japanese “shakuhachi” bamboo flute.
“(Shakuhachi) do all kinds of sounds that we don’t make … or traditionally make,” Garrison said.
Sollberger enthusiastically broke the tradition, writing Garrison an alto flute solo that features the Japanese flute’s “bends and airy sounds.”
“(Hara) is in some ways the wildest piece, because it uses all kinds of we call them extended techniques, new techniques of playing,” Garrison said. “It’s really very difficult, very few people can play.”
The piece also uses percussive key clicks, explicitly marked “vibrato” notes and a technique of playing two notes at once to create a unique flute performance.
To release a classical album, the artists first have to perform the pieces several times to get the feel of the music, before spending upwards of 20 hours in the recording studio.
“You take a certain section of the piece, and you make six, seven, eight, nine, 10 versions of that and then you take the next section and you do the same thing,” Garrison said. “You have all of these different takes and you listen to them and say, ‘Okay I like take four from this section and we’re going to have take five from this section and then put them together.’”
The process of picking the best takes for the final CD can be a long and complicated one, as each musician involved has their idea of when they performed it the best.
After a back-and-forth with the label to determine the logistics of the CD booklet, cover artwork and release information, the album was released March 1, 2018. In addition to the physical CD format, “The White Labyrinth” is also available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.
“Now that it’s released, it will be reviewed in major publications,” Garrison said.
As “The White Labyrinth” marks his tenth CD release, the process of sharing the album with the world isn’t a stressful one for Garrison.
“I’m glad to have that done, and move onto the next one,” he said.
Beth Hoots can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org