Clef Notes

Julia Escobar’s Graduate Recital


John Frayne Classical Music Graduate Student Fellow Julia Escobar fills us in on her upcoming graduate recital. Escobar will perform the works of Béla Bartók, Amanda Harberg, Lowell Liebermann, and Bob Thiele and George David Weiss with pianist Ieng Ieng Lam at Smith Memorial Hall on Saturday, November 11 at 10:30 a.m. Read on to learn more her repertoire selections and the personal significance behind them.

Can you tell us about the repertoire you will be playing? 

I’m playing four pieces in total on both the flute and piccolo. The program is as follows:

  • Béla Bartók, Suite Paysanne Hongroise (flute & piano)
  • Amanda Harberg, Hall of Ghosts for Solo Piccolo (unaccompanied piccolo)
  • Lowell Liebermann, Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra (piccolo & piano)
  • Bob Thiele & George David Weiss, "What a Wonderful World" (flute quartet)       

I will share some details about these pieces, serving as my program notes:

Béla Bartók’s Suite Paysanne Hongroise is an arrangement for flute and piano by Paul Arma. Bartók originally wrote the piece for solo piano, called “15 Hungarian Peasant Songs” (or in Hungarian, 15 Magyar parasztdalok). Bartók also did an orchestration of his piece, which is more known by its Hungarian name. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók is also known for being a founder of the study of ethnomusicology—the study of music of different cultures. This piece is an example of that; these are 15 folk songs that Bartók collected and transcribed. They form short movements that are like little vignettes. When Paul Arma arranged the piece for flute and piano, he chose 14 of the original 15 movements. Something unique about this performance is that I’ll perform all 15 movements that Bartók wrote. The sixth movement in particular, “Ballade,” was arranged by Hungarian flutist Anna Garzuly-Walgren.  

Amanda Harberg wrote on her piece,

Hall of Ghosts was composed in April 2020 as a ‘thank you’ gift dedicated to the wonderful community of flutists who participated in my Prayer Project—a virtual flute orchestra project that I produced during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Hall of Ghosts was inspired by piccoloist Gudrun Hinze, who recorded her part for the Prayer Project in the empty Gewandhaus Chamber Music Hall. This hall would normally be full of musicians rehearsing and performing, but now, due to COVID-19, the hall lay empty and filled only with echoes and memories. The image of Gudrun’s solitary piccolo inspired in me a musical invocation, imploring the spirits to let the music return.”

The third selection is the Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra by Lowell Liebermann. This is the most standard piccolo concerto, aside from the soprano recorder concertos by Vivaldi, which are often performed on the piccolo. As the longest piece on my program, it is in three contrasting movements. The music reminds me a film or video game score with its lush melodies and colors. The first movement is both soulful and driving. The second movement is more intimate, demonstrating the range the piccolo can offer, with two cadenzas. The third movement is a wild ride, and not meant to be taken too seriously. You’ll also hear some quirky musical quotes from Mozart, Beethoven, and Sousa. Lowell Liebermann wrote the following on writing this concerto:

“I agreed to write this work for an instrument that has had virtually no concerto repertoire since the Baroque era. In doing so, I was eager to stress the lyrical and expressive qualities of an instrument which is too often stereotyped as being useful for only brilliant and ornamental flourishes.”

The fourth piece is two arrangements for flute quartet performed back-to-back of the classic song “What a Wonderful World.” It was by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, and it has been sung by many famous singers, such as Louis Armstrong. It’s short, so we’ll play the song twice. The first time will be my own arrangement, and the second version is arranged by John Wernega.

How did you choose these pieces, and how long have you been preparing them?  

Julia with her father, Dr. Sergio Escobar.

Each piece was chosen for different personal reasons. I am also preparing some of this repertoire for competitions. I decided to feature arrangements on this recital as that correlates with my doctoral project. I’ve been preparing the Liebermann since summer 2022.

The final piece was chosen straight from the heart. “What a Wonderful World” is in tribute to my father, who tragically passed in February 2023. He loved this song, particularly the Louis Armstrong rendition. I wanted to end the recital tunefully. While I was in Italy this past summer, I started working on this idea to arrange this song for flute quartet. I’m grateful to play this with dear friends, Jay, Brynna, and Abby. My arrangement is an interpretation of Louis Armstrong’s version of the song. I included the alto flute to provide a more well-rounded sound. The second one we’ll play is a more upbeat, jazz-influenced arrangement that I found online by John Wernega. This and the Harberg have been prepared since the start of the fall semester, and I started preparing the Bartók earlier this year.

What are you most excited about playing? Have you performed any of these pieces in the past or coached them during your summer programs in Italy? 

I’m partial to the flute quartet, but I think I’m most looking forward to playing the Liebermann piccolo concerto. It just doesn’t get old for me, even though it’s such a standard piccolo solo. I’m grateful to have played it in a lesson/masterclass with world renown piccoloist Nicola Mazzanti during the International Piccolo Festival in Grado, Italy. I felt inspired hearing several Liebermann performances at that festival.

In Italy, I was also lucky to meet and study some with Gudrun Hinze, the piccoloist who inspired Amanda Harberg to write Hall of Ghosts. Gudrun is solo piccoloist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Germany, and a special soul. She performed this very piece at a salon concert at The Complete 21st Century Flutist in Mondovì, which inspired me further. 

How many recitals are you required to do as part of your degree? 

I am required to do two recitals for my doctorate (DMA) degree. After that, the final project recital requirement varies based on the length of the doctoral project paper.

Could you tell us more about your doctoral project?

My doctorate project is in two main parts: a written thesis and an accompanying recital. The topic is on studying and creating a set of transcriptions/arrangements for piccolo and piano from music of the 19th and 20th centuries. It will feature all women composers and also represent minority composers. As Liebermann said about writing his piccolo concerto, there is not much repertoire written for the piccolo between the Baroque eras and the mid-20th century, especially in concerto and chamber settings. Despite the piccolo’s connotations and high range, it can effectively be melodic and expressive. The thesis will include historical information and a performance guide, and my final doctoral recital (date TBD) will showcase the pieces. I hope to meaningfully increase options for the piccolo repertoire while uplifting under-represented composers throughout history.

Do you enjoy giving recitals, or do you prefer chamber/orchestral music?

I would say both, but there’s something special about playing with a group of people, especially with a group who gets along well. It makes music more of a shared experience, and less about the individual. I’d be grateful to get to continue to perform in either format after graduating.

Is there any other information you’d like to share about your recital? 

This is part of culminating my journey studying flute in college, so I am reflective of all who helped me get here. I’m beyond grateful for my flute teacher and mentor for my graduate degrees, Dr. Jonathan Keeble. I also cherish the formative years spent with Dr. Adah Jones at Texas State University, and my first flute teacher, Sara McGarry.

I want to give a special shout-out to collaborative pianist Ieng Ieng (Kevina) Lam, who has been a wonderful musician and person to work with over the past four years that I’ve been at Illinois.

On a personal note, my recital is dedicated with love to my dad. I can’t fully explain how supportive he was of me, especially with anything music related. It will be difficult for me to speak about him at my recital, so I’m including it here. To try to sum things up, my dad, Sergio Escobar, immigrated from Colombia to the United States with his family as a child and became a successful dentist. He loved his family more than anything; he couldn’t have been prouder of his family—especially his four children. My pursuit of becoming Dr. Escobar, like my dad, now bears an unexpectedly significant honor.


Illinois Public Media Clef Notes

Clef Notes

Illinois Arts Council Agency

These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.