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A Flute Concerto That Expresses What It Means To Be Human

Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner

An instrument dating from ancient times, the flute turned out to be the ideal voice to express what was in the heart and mind of composer Samuel Jones. Here's the story of his Flute Concerto, premiered in 2018 by The Philadelphia Orchestra.

On Sunday, September 26th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, September 27th at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2,The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Jones' Flute Concerto with soloist Jeffrey Khaner.

Samuel Jones
Courtesy of the artist
Composer Samuel Jones

When writing the work, Jones was grieving over the recent death of his brother.  The concerto begins with a lament, using a progression of notes with a falling half step, which he calls 'the Phrygian sigh.' "It’s that dee ah, dee ah," he says, singing. "In every culture, it’s an expression of grief.”

Grief is part of being human; so is the desire to play, laugh, and dance. 

Composer Samuel Jones talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the inspiration for his new flute concerto.

Jones wanted to show the beautiful virtuosity of the flute, especially when played by Khaner.

“The second movement is sort of a waltz, which is sort of playful and a little twisted,” says the soloist, Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner.  “It’s fun and funny  … There are spicy elements you might not expect that make it so much more interesting and playful.”

Jones wanted to show the beautiful virtuosity of the flute, especially when played by Khaner. He also wanted to tap into the role Philadelphia has played in the evolution of this country. 

Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the new flute concerto written for him and The Philadelphia Orchestra by composer Samuel Jones.

And so the concerto explores human yearning on a larger scale, in the third movement referencing tunes of social change, from the days of revolution through the Civil War, and civil rights era to the present.  “Recognizing, with the choice of these pieces," says Jones, "we are still struggling to make this a more perfect union."

Jones imagined a military field review. The drum major of the field review reminded me of Martin Luther King’s saying:  “If you want to call me a drum major, say I was a drum major for justice. So the flute plays the role of the drum major.”

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.