Flutist  Mary  Stolper

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Mary Stolper is a frequent soloist and chamber music performer who has made guest appearances throughout the United States and Europe.

Currently, Stolper is Principal Flute of the Grant Park Symphony, Chicago Opera Theater, Music of the Baroque, and the new music ensemble Fulcrum Point. As an active studio musician, she has also played for hundreds of TV and radio commercials.

She traveled with the Chicago Symphony for the world-renowned tour of Russia with Maestro Solti, and over 15 European/Asian tours with Maestros Barenboim and Boulez. She acted as the principal substitute for the orchestra for over a decade.

Stolper performed with the Chicago Sinfonietta in Vienna, with a performance of Bernstein’s Halil for solo flute and strings. Also, with the Sinfonietta, she performed the United States Midwest premiere of the Concerto for Flute by Joan Tower. While in Prague, soloing with the Czech National Symphony and Maestro Paul Freeman, she recorded a CD called “American Flute Concertos”, on the Chicago based Cedille label. Other recordings include Voices for Flautist and Orchestra by Shulamit Ran, conducted by Cliff Colnot, and her second Cedille release called Chicago Flute Duos.

Stolper toured the former East Germany with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and received excellent critical reviews for her performance of the Nielsen Flute Concerto. This work was recorded with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra on the Centaur label, conducted by Maestro Dieter Kober.


See my interview with John Bruce Yeh

Stolper’s performance credits also include Chicago Chamber Musicians, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ravinia Recital Series, University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players, “Live from Studio One” WFMT radio broadcasts, American and Joffrey Ballet Orchestras, Contemporary Chamber Concerts at Orchestra Hall hosted by Shulamit Ran, Da Camera Chamber series in Houston, Texas, and the Old First Church Chamber Series in San Francisco, and the “MusicNOW” series at Symphony Center under Maestros Boulez and Colnot, as well as numerous concerts featuring her extensive skills of contemporary techniques and variety of flutes.

Dedicated to the performance of music composed by women, Ms. Stolper invited two Chicago Women Composers/Performers to perform with her at her Carnegie Hall recital debut. Several compositions have been written for her to show her outstanding versatility on the piccolo, flute, alto flute and bass flute. Stolper has been a frequent guest recitalist and lecturer on the subject of Women Composers. She produced and recorded the flute music of Shulamit Ran, former composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago for the Erato/Warner Classics label.

Stolper has served on the boards of New Music Chicago, Chicago Society of Composers, American Women Composers, Musicians Club of Women, and the artistic review panel of the Illinois Arts Council. She was one of the founding members, and a past president of the Chicago Flute Club, and has served on the board of the National Flute Association. As part of the flute and harp duo ESPREE, she toured for five years, and was the first-place winner of the first National Flute Association Chamber Music Competition. She was elected to serve the 2006-08 term as President of the Musicians Club of Women.

Stolper earned her Masters Degree in flute performance from Northwestern University, where she studied under Walfrid Kujala [piccolo of the Chicago Symphony]. She has also received instruction from Geoffrey Gilbert, Jean Berkenstock, Edwin Putnik, and Donald Peck [principal flute of the Chicago Symphony], as well as performance/master classes with William Bennett, and coaching from Samuel Baron.

As a singer/actor/musician, Ms. Stolper appeared in the 1999 Pocket Opera Company production of Don Quixote, in the character role of Sancho Panza. This was repeated again in 2000, along with the production of Golk, where her role was that of the President of the United States. In 2006, she appeared in concert with the Thodos Dance Company of Chicago performing the music of Shulamit Ran.

Her articles about various subjects relating to the flute and piccolo have appeared in journals around the world, and have been translated into several languages.

She is currently Chair of the Flute faculty at DePaul University in Chicago, and has been on that faculty since 1986.

==  Biography slightly edited from the Cedille Records website  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Being a mainstay on the Chicago music scene for many years, I had known Mary Stolper as a fine and versatile performer.  In December of 2002, we sat down for an interview, which displayed her knowledge and experience in the flute world.

Naturally, we spoke a great deal about the flute and its place in the musical firmament, but we also got into some pretty
heavy discussions, as we used to say back in the 70s!

Portions of the conversation were used several times on WNUR, and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.  Now, I am pleased to be able to present our entire chat.

Bruce Duffie:   We were just talking about programming music by a woman composer.  Do you feel that it’s special to play music by women composers?

Mary Stolper:   As you know, for so many years I devoted a lot of time to researching.  I still do, but not as much as I did in the late
70s and 80s.  I gave quite a few lectures on women’s music and I researched a lot.  One time, I found out a few days before a concert that one piece I intended to perform was by a man and not a woman.  [Laughs]

BD:   That didn’t spoil the concert, did it?

Stolper:   No.  At the time, they were trying to awaken the consciousness that women composers had been around for a long time, and they should be more mainstream.  So, doing an all-woman’s program is just as silly as doing an all-man’s program.  It’s just there’s just so much more out there that one can present.

BD:   Is it pleasing to you to know that now it’s not so difficult to find music by women composers and get it performed?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Virgil Thomson, Kent Kennan, and Elie Siegmeister.]

Stolper:   Oh, it’s fantastic.  What’s even better now is it didn’t ruin the concert.  It was a funny story, and it was a wonderful piece, so it was still a good concert.  But also, you can now get your hands on this music, and you can research it better.  You can find out about these people.  Before, it took a long time in some cases.

BD:   You’re a flutist and teacher, but you’re also a researcher.  How do you balance all of that into your busy life?

Stolper:   You don
t sleep much sometimes.  [Both laugh]  I look at the students, and they work very hard, and they are tired, but I would love for them to follow me for about a month, and have them catch how many times I’m practicing at 1:30 or 2:00 o’clock in the morning.  They wouldn’t last a week.  They’d say, “Get me out of jail.”  You plan, but sometimes you’re really busy.

BD:   I assume you like being busy, though?

Stolper:   I don’t know...  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my viewpoint as to what
busy is.  When you’re younger, you tend to take everything because you want to experience everything.  Sometimes, when it rains it’s not just pouring, it’s a monsoon.  Then, after a while, you can’t keep that kind of energy going.  It’s not because you don’t want to.  Physically you get more tired, and you begin to think that you don’t need to do ten things at one time when you’re really only interested in two of them, and that’s a good thing.

BD:   Do you get energized when you’re playing?

Stolper:   Oh, yes.  It’s wonderful.  I’d never played with Gamelan before the other night, and it was a beautiful concert. I didn’t get to play with the Gamelan, but it was part of the concert, and I was very uplifted by that.

BD:   Does it make you want to search music for flute pieces with Gamelan?

Stolper:   Actually, it does.  So, there you go.  One thing leads you to another, and I’m learning to follow my gut far more, and work with that almost exclusively.  So, I’m happy.

BD:   You have played with orchestra, and you have played with chamber groups, and you have given solo recitals.  Is there a major difference between playing a concerto with orchestra, and playing with a small ensemble?

Stolper:   It
s a huge difference.  This past October, I did the The Pied Piper Fantasy of Corigliano.  John was there, and I did the performance three times, including twice in one day.  It’s a very physical piece, and I was exhausted, but the energy is quite different because it is you, you, you.  You are selling what you have brought.  Whether that sounds too commercial for people, I don’t really care, but you have to sell that.

BD:   Are you selling the flute, or are you selling Corigliano, or are you selling the music?

Stolper:   You’re selling everything.  I see it as one total package.  I don’t see it as being cheap and commercial, but you are selling.  These people have come to hear this piece of music.  They’ve come to see a performer.  They may not know you, and they’ve come to see somebody do this piece of music.  So, you have the responsibility not only to yourself to play well, but to present this music in this hall with this orchestra to a really high standard, and represent that composer.

BD:   To an impossibly high standard?

Stolper:   [Smiles]  Well, the standards are always high.

BD:   Are they getting higher?

Stolper:   Of course they’re getting higher.  The flutists that are twelve now are playing far better than what people were doing five years ago.  The standards are always getting higher, and that’s great.

BD:   Are you keeping up with them?

Stolper:   My focus isn’t on perfection.
BD:   Where is your focus?

Stolper:   My focus is on presenting that music.  I’m not so worried whether or not I’m perfect at playing that concerto.  I’m worried about whether or not that music has been represented.  The standard is to stay as high as I can, but that’s a different viewpoint now.  If you’d asked me that twenty years ago, I don’t know what I would have said.

BD:   Is there ever a concert where you get it all just right?

Stolper:   Oh, yes.  The great performers have a consistency level that is so high, and they know when they are higher and lower in their own little sphere.  They never dip below a certain level, and that’s what makes them so great.  In that little box, sometimes you achieve nirvana, and you walk away knowing when it’s happened.  You also know that the odds of it happening again are slim, and it will never happen again quite like that.  To expect it every time is not realistic, but to be aware of it when it’s happening is absolutely sublime.

BD:   But, you always shoot for it?
 [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Larry Combs, and David Diamond.]

Stolper:   You must shoot for it because that’s what keeps your own consistent level high.  You must shoot for that... you must.  Even Michael Jordan, on a rare night, will have only six points instead of his usual more than thirty.  On those nights, someone might say, “Whoa!  Something’s going on tonight.  Maybe he didn’t eat well, or maybe he didn’t sleep well.”  Those nights do occur, but still, at just six points he was magnificent out there.  There was still something about it that you will still watch that man.  You can just tell he’s The One.

BD:   [Optimistically]  Maybe one or two of those points were the last of the game that made it a victory.

Stolper:   Exactly.  So, did he play poorly?  No, he played differently.

BD:   Speaking of playing differently, do you play differently when you have a small audience and a small hall, or a large audience and a large hall, or perhaps when you are alone with a microphone in front of you for a recording?

Stolper:   A small hall with a small audience is fantastic.  I feel like I could sit down and have a cup of coffee and have a little chat.  It’s wonderful.  That’s my most favorite.  With a large hall and a large crowd, you look out at the sea of people and you try and feel a warmth from them.  But it’s hard to communicate as well.  For a microphone it is scary.  Even this one that I’m talking into one now is very scary.  It is there in front of your face, and you never really get used to that.

BD:   The conversation we’re having doesn’t have to be perfect, but the recordings that you make of your artistry have to be at least very close to perfect, don’t they?

Stolper:   That’s a debatable fact.  There are certain flutists in the last twenty years who have decided through technology to make perfect recordings.  It’s like going to a rock concert and hearing your favorite rock band, and they don’t sound anything like their records.  That’s what happens in live performance.  They don’t sound like their records, and it’s a huge disservice to make a recording too perfect.  You are just being human, and accepting that you’re human.

BD:   There shouldn’t be two parallel things, the performance and the recording?

Stolper:   The recording should be a great representation, and yes, if you have a blatant wrong note, go fix it, whereas you can’t fix it in a live performance because it’s gone forever.  But little things here and there, no.  You should leave them.  That’s who you were at the time, and that’s what you were doing.  Don’t change it to be perfect every time.  That’s boring.

BD:   Would you want to put a disclaimer on the record, telling the buyer to play this once and then throw it away?

Stolper:   [Laughs]  Like Mission Impossible.  You buy a CD and then it blows up after it plays, so you could never hear it again.  Then everything should be recorded live, and it disappears.

BD:   Would you want all of your performances to be recorded live, and then you could sift through and pick the best ones?

Stolper:   My performances are recorded live, and the hard part about that is that you’re going to have such a varying degree of halls and pianos.  If you’re playing in a space that’s not making you very happy, you can be so distracted that it’s very hard.  It’s very hard to want to be really beautiful when you’re freezing, or when you’re so hot on that stage, or if it’s so dry.  Often it’s a better speaking-stage than a music-stage.  That’s a very good question, and I don’t know if I can answer it.

BD:   Do you make adjustments for that in your performance, or do you just try and plow your way through it?

Stolper:   When you’re not used to it, you try to make adjustments.  When you get more used to this kind of space, you just play the way you play and let the chips fall where they may.  What happens when you try and fix something for a hall, then you’re not playing the way you play, and everything you’re doing is if you’re having an out-of-body experience.  You’re not the person that just practiced all this for the last thousand hours.

BD:   You just you do your best and hope the acoustics will be supportive?

Stolper:   That’s all you can do.  Mentally, changing gets in your way.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You are now (2002) the Principal Flute of the Grant Park Orchestra.  Is that outdoor shell one of the most difficult or changeable places to play?

Stolper:  It’s changeable with the humidity, and the hot and cold has a factor, too.  When it’s beautiful and perfect, and everything is just right, you can play outdoors and feel great.  You don’t really feel like you’re playing outdoors.  But when that humidity is high, and the flute is slipping all over your face, you just really think, “Why am I here?  I’ll pay you to let me go home.”  [Laughs]  That bandshell was built so poorly.  If the wind off the lake is coming right at your face, and hits you right at the mouth, the air that you’re producing collides as it crosses across your face from left to right, or right to left, and you can lose your sound.  This is because you’re not generating it on the inside, like an oboe or clarinet or bassoon or anybody with a mouthpiece.  We’re the only ones that are generating the sound outside of the instrument.  It’s real funny because it’s happened.


See my interviews with George Perle, Ned Rorem, and Hans Werner Henze

BD:   Do you expect the audience to take that into account, or should they not even be aware of it?

Stolper:   They haven’t a clue, but you don’t want to sound like you’re making excuses.  It is a weird phenomenon when it happens... or when a bug flies into your mouth.  It’s different out there in Grant Park.  The stage is so small, unlike the Ravinia stage, which is huge, and has an air-conditioning pump on it.  They also have the awning overhang, so they’re not as much in the elements as a poor place like Grant Park.  I’m really hoping the new Millennium Park Shell will be better, and that they have considered those things.  Maybe having some kind of air-movement would help keep bugs away.  [To see photos of all three (!) Band Shells in Grant Park, click HERE.  Stolper played in the second one, and was looking forward to the third one, which opened in 2004. As can be seen in the photos, the orchestra is set more
inside, with greater protection from the elements.]  But no, you don’t want the audience know any of these problems.  They’re not aware, and they shouldn’t be aware.

BD:   What general advice to you have for audiences who come to either an orchestral concert or a solo recital?

Stolper:   Enjoy it!  Don’t sit there and wish you were someplace else.  Don’t come if you’re in a hurry.  Orchestra concerts take time, and it can be a down-time.  I see people when they get relaxed, and they might even fall asleep. They haven’t slowed down this much in a long time.  Audiences need to relax in a concert, and just be, and listen.  Don’t judge the piece while you’re listening to it.  Wait until later.  Wait until the next day to decide whether you liked it or not.  Just let it be, and let it sift through you.  Don’t be too fast to judge.  You may have liked it far better than you than when were actually listening to it.  You may have hated it, but decide differently later.  Give it a chance to just be.  Sometimes you can look at a painting and you say, “I hate it,” and then later you’ll think, “I don’t really mind it.”  We’ve all heard how audiences need to acquire the taste for new music, and I say, “Yes, it’s like acquiring taste for broccoli.  I hate broccoli.”  You have to try something enough to know whether or not you really like it.  Classical Music is still one of the few things that you have to know enough about before you can really decide if it is or is not for you.
BD:   [Mildly concerned]  It shouldn’t make a visceral impact immediately???

Stolper:   I don’t believe that.  It is a rarity when someone says, “I was eight years old, and I heard the Chicago Symphony, and I knew that’s where I want to be.”  That’s wonderful, but that’s not the norm.

BD:   Even if they didn’t think they wanted to be in the orchestra, shouldn
t they just let a piece of music hit them, and make an impact almost immediately?  Arent composers looking for that, as well as being heard again in the long run?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Gunther Schuller, and Charles Vernon.]

Stolper:   I don’t know if composers are looking for that or not.  The impact of what they heard in their head certainly impacted them kind of in that way.  Life is very different these days, and impacting an audience is also very different now.  We move very quickly, and we want everything decided fast.  As people on this planet right now, we are unaccustomed to just take note of what we did, let the information sit, and decide upon it later.

BD:   And yet, when something from one hundred or two hundred or even three hundred years ago is being played today, we still take it in, despite the fact that we’ve gone through all of these changes over all these years.

Stolper:   It says a lot about what was written two hundred or three hundred years ago that we can still grasp it.  You and I have listened to a lot of those pieces, and we’re still listening to them, and we still find moments in them that get us in the same place.  When I play certain pieces and get to one particular spot in them, I can hardly play my flute.  Or, if I’m in the audience and not playing the piece, I know it’s coming and I just can’t stand the anticipation.  Then, there’s always something you never heard before.  It’s still one of the few things left, and you have got to give it time to know whether or not it is something you want in your life.  You cannot make a quick decision on this.  You see these young players, average players now in middle school, and they’re computer-quick.  Practicing an instrument is one of the few things left where it’s going to happen when it darn well pleases.  You have got to put in a certain amount of time to know whether or not you like it.  You can’t be too quick to shut the door.  I have a little nine-year-old niece, so it
s very personal to me.
BD:   Is it worth all the time that you have put into it?

Stolper:   Oh, it’s been worth every moment.  There are five of us in my family.  I have two older brothers, a younger sister, and a younger brother.  My two older brothers are professional musicians.  One is Principal Horn in the San Francisco Orchestra, and has been there for a while.  Before that, he was Principal Horn at Lyric Opera here in Chicago.  Another brother is Principal Trombone in the Tonhalle in Zurich.  He’s been there for about twenty-seven years.  At age five, all of us were placed on that piano bench, and my mom was really smart... she gave us the summers off!  Even when we weren’t doing piano or another instrument, we always got the summers off.  I don’t know how that part of her allowed that to happen, but it did, and it gave us time to just get a break.  Then we actually looked forward to coming back to the music.  I don’t think my mother really thought that all through, but it
s just what happened.  If we wanted to practice, of course we could sit down and play, but she never put that timer on.  So, we got to run around like kids, and it was a really great thing.

BD:   Are we forgetting today to let a kid be a kid?

Stolper:   Let a kid be a kid, and don’t worry so much if they take a couple of months off.

BD:   Should we let music be music?

Stolper:   [Thinks a moment]  Hmmmm.  I need more clarification on that.  [Laughs]

BD:   Well, we’ve been talking around it a little bit, so let me ask the easy question.  What is the purpose of music?

Stolper:   Music is subjective, which we all know, and everything that’s subjective has become very hard for society to understand.  We need a winner, and a loser.  We need things to be hot or cold.  We need to know who’s right and who
s not.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  We can’t have all winners?

Stolper:   No, it’s not going to work that way.  My husband’s favorite is Brahms Symphony #4.  I love that symphony, but I can’t say I like it every single time I hear it.  So, to allow music to be music, I’m more in favor of letting the individuals speak for themselves, and allowing what they heard to sift through.  Just let them put it in their experience, and let it filter through.  They’ll decide about it later on.  Unfortunately, one thing which we have lost in this society is that music is not something that is easily understood without a musical education of some sort on a very basic level.  It’s not like going to a baseball game for your first time. You can figure out how the game is played in about a minute, and you understand the difficulties and excitement.  With music, that’s impossible to do without a basis of education, and that’s what we have lost.  [Pauses a moment]  Can we allow music to be music?  It is so very complicated, because if you want to talk about music, you have to talk about all of it, from the simplest to the most complex.  I’m very sorry about that, and I’m not sure how music can be treated as music unless we go back and get that basic education.  You must know something about this artform to be able to feel if you like it or not.  If you want to know more about it, bring it into your life, whether that’s every day or once a year.


See my interviews with Easley Blackwood, Leon Stein, John La Montaine, William Ferris, and Robert Muczynski

:   [With a bit of trepidation]  Are you optimistic about the whole future of music?

Stolper:   [Thinks again for a moment]  At the moment, no, I’m not optimistic, because of what has happened in the schools. We now have two or three generations who have missed it.  They started stripping the music out of schools in the early
70s, so in places they are going on thirty years with no basic music education, and I think it’s having a huge impact.

BD:   And yet, the kids have all kinds of music all the time on their CDs.

Stolper:   Yes, they’re getting the rock stuff.  That
s really the commercial field, but the basis of how it’s all done is like a game of tic-tac-toe.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to figure out how it’s put together.  Mind you, there is creativity with the best of the best.  The Beatles were great.  They had lyrics, and they had nice tunes.  There’s something to be said about all that, and we’re still playing it.  I like a lot of those tunes, as well as Gershwin and all those beautiful lyrics.  But the kids are not listening to that.  Its all that rock stuff, and the rap... I can’t even go there.  Im just sorry that noise is called music.  But they’re listening only to that because it’s so accessible.  They can get it immediately...
BD:   ...and it’s all pervasive.

Stolper:   Yes!  You can’t ever get away from it.  They are not understanding that it
s a choice.  If you told them they had to wear a uniform, they would die, but listening to the music they listen to...

BD:   ...that’s their uniform!

Stolper:   It’s the uniform they put on, and they haven’t figured that out yet.

I want to be a unique individual, just like everybody else!

Stolper:   Yes.  [Both have a huge laugh]  You are so right, and they haven’t figured it out.  They might, as their lives happen, and they learn to make choices as adults.  I’ve got a nephew who came back at about age thirty, and he said, “I had a Music Appreciation course in college.  What should I turn on now?  I don’t know what to do.  I would like that in my house now, and I don’t want to listen to that other stuff.  It’s too loud.
 It is upsetting to people that have screaming kids, and diapers to change, and jobs, and mortgages and everything.  They just want to sit and enjoy something when they don’t want to watch TV.

BD:   Concert Music as therapy???

Stolper:   [Smiles]  Well, we’ve all done a little bit of that, haven’t we?  Look at the CDs that are out... Music for Dinner; Music for Picnics; Music for Eating Chocolate.  Have your martinis by this music.  It’s funny to classical people to see this kind of marketing, but I have no problem with it.  If it gets my nephew to understand that he likes Mozart, and if he only gets the middle movements of every piano concerto, so be it.  He will at least have heard Mozart, and he will say, “I like this.  I like how this sounds.”  If that’s how he’s going to get it, I’ll take it.

BD:   Even though that’s just a third of each concerto?

Stolper:   It is only a third of it, unfortunately.  I don’t know how many people have ever read the entire encyclopedia, but we still go to parts of it.  We all love to play The Dictionary Game, and we want to be the one who knows all the words, but we don’t.  I’ll take it, as long as it walks the fine line of cheapening it, but also helping the big picture.

BD:   Is this the way we’re playing The Music Game in the Twenty-First century?

Stolper:   The big orchestras have done themselves a huge disservice because they did not do enough with education.  They didn
t see what was coming in the 80s, and I don’t think they did enough with helping people understand what they do.  When the players sit up there, they don’t look like they’re working.  I’ve worked my entire life to look like I’m not working hard, but I am working really hard.  I’ve just practiced enough to make it look easy.  It’s almost been a disservice.

BD:   We should go back to the Michael Jordan analogy, because he’s worked so hard to get that wonderful layup.  It looks easy, but he obviously works at it, and has work still for hours and hours.

Stolper:   You can imagine how many layups that man has done.  It’s in the millions, I’m sure, and it does look easy.  Orchestras sit up there, and you can’t keep score...  It would be kind of funny if you had a scoreboard going...

BD:   ...like the Beethoven Fifth
‘broadcast by P.D.Q. Bach!

Stolper:   Exactly, in a funny way.  People would go, “Oh, wow! They got 98% of all the notes in that symphony that lasted 45 minutes.  The odds of that happening are unbelievable!”  Just once I would like somebody to be on the sidelines when I am playing, going, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Whoo!”  [Both laugh]  They need to show that what we do is very hard work.  They needed to understand that what we did needs to be understood in a different way.  But orchestras sat there, and played these pieces, and didn’t say much.  They know they’re working hard, and they expect to be paid more money.  I think we have done a disservice to the community.

BD:   That’s what I’ve been doing all my life
being an orchestral cheerleader, or being a Classical Music cheerleader.

Stolper:   Absolutely you have, and a huge one at that!  Many audiences have come around, but orchestras need to have people understand why you get a hundred people trying to play The Rite of Spring.  Why is that piece so hard?  Why did ballet originally fall apart?  People back then didn’t understand, and they still don
t know how hard it is to get musicians to do all that stuff perfectly together.  If you don’t pass the baton perfectly on a four-person relay race, you could lose the race.  They understand things like that, but they also need to understand that those violins over there have to play with those trombones, and they are fifty feet apart from each other.  This is where the education is needed.

BD:   And when the orchestra does it, we should all stand up and cheer.

Stolper:   Yes!  Maybe we should have done concerts where they can hear the difference
when it falls apart versus when it’s perfect.  Then everyone would understand why the best of the best orchestras can keep The Rite of Spring going great from start to finish.  That’s why it’s so wonderful.  The players are sweating, but they’re not sweating so that people see it.  They’re mentally sweating.  We’ve been trained not to sweat, but mentally we’re exhausted when we finish, and people in the audience don’t know that.

BD:   Is there ever a chance that you’re putting too much of yourself into it?

Stolper:   Playing-wise?

BD:   Playing, and concentrating, and just being in the music.


See my interviews with Jennifer Larmore

Stolper:   No!  Absolutely not.  Then why play?  Then why do it?  I should just go get a job at the plant store.  I love plants, so I could do that, I suppose.  [Laughs]  When you’re playing with the big group of people, your job is to make sure that all your energy is to help that big group go from start to finish.  You put in a hundred and fifty percent, and you’re hoping everybody else is doing the same.  What
s so totally misunderstood is why it’s so difficult to get that many people to all play together, with somebody upfront conducting.  It’s not all about that, it’s more than that.  As Principal Substitute for the Chicago Symphony, I’ve sat on that stage a lot, and Ive seen those people collectively do their part, and the audience doesn’t know those fine points.  I wish the audience had an opportunity to sit right next to the players, and let them see what goes on.

BD:   [Mildly shocked]  You want ninety-five orchestra players and ninety-five audience members on the stage together???

Stolper:   Try it one time.  Just try it, and give it a chance.  They should have a learning series where they’re going to tear apart a piece of music.  
Show them how it gets to work, and how it falls apart.  [There are a few open rehearsals where a small audience is present.]
BD:   Orchestra Hall now has that new Terrace Seating above and behind the orchestra.  Is that close to what you’re thinking?

Stolper:   It would be fascinating... you could use that in a way to make them feel they were actually part of the process, but a lot of people need to actually sit next to a player, and see physically what we’re doing.  Twenty feet away you still really can’t tell.  A soloist is moving around, and looks like he’s working a lot harder.  But when you’re sitting in a chair, you have reserved that energy for mental tasks.  So, when we’re next to our colleague, we all know what we’re doing.  We can tell by how they’re breathing.  You can just feel that.  So I think an audience should sit right next to the players, and see what it’s like when that conductor looks at you like, “Why did you do that?”

BD:   [Laughs]  I hope most of the time the conductor looks at you and says, “Thank you for doing that.”

Stolper:   [Smiles]  Then it’s beautiful.  But this is the way for education.  We need more hands-on experiences.  We have that kind of society now, and we desperately need it to understand the communication.
BD:   Is music communication?

Stolper:   Of course, it is.  I’m going to Italy in May to do my very first masterclass.  I don’t speak a word of Italian, but I don’t have to speak any Italian.

BD:   You speak flute!

Stolper:   I speak flute.  I know that I’m not going to have any trouble.  You can put me anywhere in the planet and I won’t have any trouble, and that’s the way it should be.  That’s the kind of communication which is music.  We can disagree
you can hate that piece of music, and have a reaction, but you can still communicate.  That’s where I would like to see music go.  With small groups it’s different, because you can get really close to people.  Even better yet is when you’re in a home, and you’ve got maybe fifteen or twenty people.  You’re right next to them.  You’re even worried that you’re going to spit on them!  I’ve been in a situation like that where, in the middle of the concert I can say, “What do you think?  How do you think it’s going?”  I’m bringing them right into my world, and they’re so surprised that somebody who is playing would actually talk to them, that might even break that wall.  Why not?  That’s what a lot of contemporary pieces are meant to dobreak down some of these walls.  It could be the most horrible thing on the planet, but it made you react verbally.  You said, “I hate that piece!” and I think that’s great.

BD:   Have good strong reactions.

Stolper:   Yes.

BD:   You don’t want everything to be beige.

Stolper:   Oh, no.  [Laughs]  My mother painted every wall in our house beige, bless her heart.  My dad passed away a couple of months ago, and my mom is making some changes in their little condo, and lo and behold, she painted the bedroom beige.  [Laughs]  It makes her happy, so it’s okay.  She comes to a lot of my concerts...

BD:   In the end, I hope music makes you happy.

Stolper:   Music makes me really happy when people are working for the music, and they’re not bringing all the stuff that happened at their house, or something that went wrong.  You have got to leave that stuff at the door.  When they talked about the making of We Are the World, that thing which sold a gazillion copies, they said they posted a sign above the doorway as you entered the studio, Leave Your Egos Here.  That’s where music should be, leave the egos and work together.  Sure, some people say, “But to be a great player, you’ve got to have that ego.”  No, you don’t.  I don’t believe that one bit.  When you’re playing a concerto, that’s another matter, but when you’re sitting with a hundred people on stage, leave it at the door, and just be the best you can.

BD:   Are you where you want to be at this point in your career?

Stolper:   I never set out to be anything, but I wanted to be a really good flute player.  I never thought about wanting to be in an orchestra, or being a soloist.  I had teachers that really helped me not get too steadfast on something that may or may not happen.  A couple of times I have gotten where I thought I should go, and then it doesn’t happen, and I got really disappointed.  I’ve quit the flute twice in my life when I thought I failed.  I come in and out of groups, but in my twenties I put it in the case for almost ten months.  I didn’t take it out.  Then, a good friend called me up and said a few things like, get off your behind and go back to work!  [Both laugh]  Then, the second time was a rebound, and I didn’t stay away quite so long.  So, am I where I want to be?  Right now I’m actually in a great space.  I’m really happy where I’m at right now, but if you’d asked me a year-and-a-half ago, I would have said, “Oh, my goodness, I don’t know.”  But things have worked out really well.

BD:   I’m glad.  [At this point I checked her list of current recordings and future sessions, all of which are shown on this webpage.  She also added this item...]  I’m on a little portion of The Wooden Prince that Boulez did with the CSO.  Louise Dixon (the Second Flute of the CSO for forty-two years) got sick, and I had to come in and sight read for the recording.  Talk about scary...  [Both laugh]

BD:   Thank you for bringing your musical artistry to us for so long.

Stolper:   Thank you very much for having me.  I really enjoyed this very much.

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© 2002 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in in Chicago on December 20, 2002.  Portions were broadcast on WNUR in 2004, 2013, and 2019; and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio in 2010.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.