Emi Ferguson on Vivaldi's "Il Gardellino"

The flute was given a radical redesign in the late 1600’s by musicians in the court of Louis XIV, but it took more than a few decades for the instrument’s popularity to spread across the European continent. It wasn’t until 1717 that at 32 year old Johann Sebastian Bach heard a flute for the first time, and not until 1728 that the first works for the instrument would be published: Antonio Vivaldi’s Op.10. Vivaldi spent most of his life working at Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà - the famous Venice girls boarding school and orphanage, for whom he wrote most of his music to perform. Audiences would flock to the Ospedale della Pietà from around Europe to hear the young girls’ virtuosic playing of Vivaldi’s thrilling and technically challenging music. I’ve always enjoyed Vivaldi’s dazzling Op.10 flute concerti and especially love that they were championed by young women at a time in history when female performers were not common or encouraged, and rarely celebrated the way they were at the Ospedale della Pietà.  

For me, Vivaldi’s Op.10 hold a special place as "La tempesta di mare" (Op.10 no.1) was the first concerto I ever performed with orchestra at 16 - the age of many of the Ospedale della Pietà's soloists. I’ve performed these pieces with many wonderful groups since then on both modern flute, and on the flute that Vivaldi would have known, the baroque flute. They are brilliant on either instrument, but Vivaldi’s original scoring for minimal strings and continuo (harpsichord and cello) can create balance challenges when using modern instruments as the modern flute is significantly louder than the baroque flute. I thought it would be fun to see these challenges as an opportunity to “recompose” Vivaldi’s famous concerto "Il Gardellino” (The Goldfinch) for full modern orchestra - taking advantage of the full string section and the wonderful colours that a wind section can add, reimagining what this piece might have sounded like if Vivaldi were living today and writing the same piece for a modern orchestra and modern flute.

Vivaldi’s original score is quite minimally scored (to allow for the baroque flute to project over the ensemble) but has marvelously clear and strong harmonic structure, which I used as a solid foundation on which to add new material. Op.10 was written only three years after Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, and as such, there are a lot of similarities in the writing, especially his use of bird calls which he accentuated here to mimic the songs of the European Goldfinch. I wanted to accentuate these culturally familiar sounds, taking quotes from Vivaldi’s Spring and embedding them into the movement, while also augmenting with quotes from composers like Messiaen and Prokofiev who were also inspired by bird song in their writing later in history. While my first and third movements roughly maintain Vivaldi’s original flute line (with some seriously heavy ornamentation) the second movement strips away all familiarity save Vivaldi’s harmonic progression. In Vivaldi’s original, the movement is scored for solo flute and continuo only (one cello and harpsichord). With a full orchestra at my disposal, I wanted to create a radically different texture - one of rich warmth with the solo flute floating on top of the most beautiful orchestral landscape like a bird soaring over the sea. Overlapping lines obscure the harmony changes that gradually shift, always following Vivaldi’s original progression, culminating in the energizing opening unison flourish of the third movement that turns into a tropical inspired jam anchored by pizzicato strings with bird interjections that compliment the flute’s bird calls throughout from the winds and solo violins. I am so excited to get to premiere this 21st century goldfinch with Mitchell Klein and the Peninsula Symphony.

-Emi Ferugson