New Classical Tracks - Michala Petri

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
May 22, 2012

St. Paul, Minn. — "I don't remember having ever NOT played the recorder," Michala Petri recalls. "And I think what attracted me in the beginning was that it was so simple. I really have been playing since I was 3 years old. And that gives you a certain kind of connection with the instrument, I think." Growing up in Denmark, Michala Petri's career began as a member of the Petri Trio with her harpsichordist mother, and her cellist brother. Today, she may be the only recorder player who has managed to earn a living solely by giving concerts. That's because Michala Petri takes this simple instrument very seriously: "I do think the naturalness of the instrument is a very big attraction to me," she admits. "For one thing, it is a challenge to see how much music you can make out of how little. Playing the instrument is very simple because the moment you blow, you have a tone immediately."

Numerous composers have been inspired to write works specifically for Michala Petri and her very simple instrument, creating a wonderful legacy for the recorder. Her latest release, English Recorder Concertos features the world premiere of Richard Harvey's Concerto Incantato. It was commissioned for the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, with whom Petri performs on this recording. Richard Harvey is a recorder player himself, and he performed on the Harry Potter film scores. He calls this a concerto for the Harry Potter generation and Michala Petri says you can hear the "Harry Potter" influence in this concerto. "It's wonderful to play. He wanted to write a piece which was fun to play for the recorder player, and I think he has succeeded very well. It's one of the pieces where you feel you get as much back as you give immediately."

Richard Harvey also wanted to explore the different characteristics of each instrument from the full set of recorders. "They're surprisingly different when you think of them being the exact same instrument only in different sizes," Michala explains. "There is a very big difference in the sound from the small sopranino to the bass which is only two octaves lower but it sounds much, much lower when you play the bass. So the sopranino is very lively and very brilliant and very virtuosic sounding whereas the tenor, which is the largest recorder is this concerto has a beautiful, expressive sound, a little like the Japanese shakuhachi recorder. So I think he writes very idiomatic for the different sizes of the recorder in this concerto." Malcolm Arnold composed his Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra, Op. 133 in 1988 for Michala Petri. As it turns out, she inspired Arnold to begin composing again as he was recovering from a long illness. "He came with his close friend, to a concert I was playing Norfolk, in England," Michala explains. "And he heard the concert and he came up and said hello afterwards. And I didn't know anything about him not being well or anything so I just asked whether he would at some point like to write a piece for me? And immediately he said that he would like to do it and he invited me to come to his home the next day, and so I did and we talked a little bit and then he wrote this concerto after that." As a nod to Michala Petri, Malcolm Arnold wrote this concerto in the style of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, who composed with very clean, clear ideas. "You know, he took away everything unnecessary and made only very, very simple lines," Michala says. "Some people said at that time that it was too simple and they felt he maybe was too old to compose. But I'm quite certain that he knew exactly what he was doing." Two of the three concertos on this new collection — the concertos by Richard Harvey and Malcolm Arnold — were written specifically for Michala Petri. She says it's a wonderful challenge to be able to fulfill the intentions of the composer. "The feeling I have most is gratefulness," she adds, "that somebody creative as a composer can be inspired from what I'm doing and can use my work to create something that will be there for other people to perform in the future."

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