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Westbrook native returns after Carnegie Hall solo debut
By EMILY PARKHURST  |  April 2, 2008

Roberta Michel | 8 pm April 6 | Master class at 5 pm | Corthell Concert Hall, USM, Gorham | $10, seniors & students $5; master class observation $6 | 207.780.5555
In the beginning, Roberta Michel sat in the back of the flute section in the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble. She was not a prodigy. But she was a hard worker. A Westbrook native, Michel took advantage of all the Southern Maine musical world had to offer. She quickly moved up the ranks to the front of the flute sections in ensembles and won solo competitions throughout the state. She studied with one of Southern Maine’s most influential flute instructors, Jean Rosenblum, and discovered how far her determination would take her.

Now, after her Carnegie Hall solo debut in March, Roberta Michel will return to her native soil to perform at the USM School of Music.

Her program will include pieces by C.P.E. Bach and Robert Schumann, and several of the works from her Carnegie Hall concert. The Sonatina for Flute and Piano by 20th-century composer Eldin Burton, which won the Composition Competition at the New York Flute Club in 1948, is an exciting opportunity to hear a work by a little-known modern composer.

In addition, Michel will perform a composition from her flute instructor at the City University of New York, Robert Dick. The piece is an unaccompanied work in which the performer must make the difficult switch between flute and piccolo during the performance.

“Flute is one of the most versatile woodwinds,” says Michel. “Modern composers seem to be taking advantage of that more than they ever have before.”

Michel is certainly referring to her friend and composer, Jeffrey Phillips, whose work will also appear on her April 6 program. Phillips composed a solo work for Michel that includes several types of “extended technique,” or sounds outside the usual pitches and tones produced by a flute. These can include pad-popping (slapping the keys down hard enough to be audible), air-sounds (blowing directly into the hole instead of across it), or even singing and playing at the same time.

“Some composers are very clear,” Michel says of these modern works. “But generally it is back to square one each time you perform. You have to learn to read music again because there is no standard for the way these techniques are written. But I really love the challenge of performing them.”

Michel says she has commissioned composers in New York to write works specifically with her vocal range in mind as she attempts to master the art of singing and playing flute at the same time. Although she has never considered herself a vocalist, Michel has been taking voice lessons to improve her ability to perform these modern works and to extend her vocal range.

If her Carnegie Hall performance is any sign, Michel is a promoter of modern works for flute. Nothing on her program was older than 50 years.

“Audiences in New York are more receptive to the modern pieces,” Michel explains. She adds, “I love it in New York. There are so many concerts and so many people to play with. I originally (went there) for school, but I stayed for all the opportunities.”

Michel may be right and Maine audiences may not be ready for an entire concert of modern composers who challenge the definition of classical music. However, there is no better way to warm them up to these works than by drawing a hard-working performer and classical-music visionary back to her humble origins for an eclectic concert of comfortable favorites and edge-of-your-seat new works.

“I’m really looking forward to returning home to perform,” says Michel.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at

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