Encore Atlanta - March 2004, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Christina Smith with daughter
Diedre and husband Robert Cronin.

Wind Sprinter

by Mark Gresham

When Christina Smith was first approached about giving the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra premiere of Christopher Rouse's Flute Concerto, the ASO principal flutist had not planned on it being her first major solo appearance after becoming a new mom.

Deidre Eileen Cronin was born on December 16, Beethoven's birthday, to Christina and her husband, Robert Cronin, the orchestra's associate principal flutist. At 8 pounds, 12 ounces, Deidre was "a really big baby for me," says the petite Smith, adding, "We love her! She's healthy, and everything's going great."

Three years ago, the last time Marin Alsop was guest conductor of the ASO, she told Smith that she would like to perform the Rouse concerto on her next visit. "I said, 'Oh, I'd love to do it,'" Smith says. "I knew of it but had never performed it."

Alsop was true to her word, and put it on the program for her appearance with the ASO on March 11-13. Smith has been preparing to perform it during her maternity leave, with her time entirely divided between baby, Rouse, and sleep. On the one hand, Smith says, it has been nice to be able to focus on the concerto during her time away from the orchestra, but adds that it is also "daunting to come back after a three-month leave and have that be the first thing you do."

"The Rouse is probably the most difficult concerto I will have performed with the orchestra. It's challenging in so many ways," says Smith. "It's over 30 minutes long and fairly continuous. Movements 1, 3, and 5 are very lyrical and musically challenging; they require a lot of control and insight. The second and fourth movements are technically involved, with a lot of intense rhythms."

Although it is common for string players to play very old instruments, most flutists in orchestras today tend to play newer instruments, often made in the last 10 to 20 years. By contrast, the flutes that Smith plays are relatively old. Her main instrument, the one on which she will perform the Rouse concerto, is a Verne Powell flute made in 1935. "I really love the sound of those old Powell flutes," says Smith. "I'm really, really into them. They're a little bit harder to play than the modern flutes, but I like the sound quality so much that I feel like it's worth it. I grew up with old Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic recordings, when the players were playing old Powells at the time. They have a very nice, warm, ringing sound, especially in the high register."

Smith has dedicated her ASO performance of the Rouse Flute Concerto to the memory of the late Julius Baker, one of her teachers at the Curtis Institute and for many years the legendary principal flutist for the New York Philharmonic, who died in early August of last year at age 87.

[First published in the March 2004 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra edition of Encore Atlanta, ©2004. Used here by permission of Encore Atlanta.]