Sonata Scintillante by Chuck Holdeman

Chuck Holdeman

On Sunday, November 11, flutist Joan Sparks and I will be performing a new work, Sonata Scintillante by Chuck Holdeman. We commissioned this work and premiered it at the University of Delaware on February 21, 2012.  This post is about this exciting new piece, and includes notes about the work from the composer as well as some video links. If you would like to attend the performance, you will find information at the end of the post.

 My flutist friend Joan Sparks and I have been performing together for over two decades. In that time, we have premiered and commissioned numerous works, among them Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Flute and Harp.

In May of 2011, we were considering another commission and decided to ask a colleague close to home. We have collaborated with Chuck Holdeman in many concerts and performed his works often, and we knew we could expect an exciting addition to the flute and harp repertoire.

Chuck was enthusiastic about the project, and one of his early ideas caught Joan’s fancy right away. Chuck wanted to incorporate the C flute, alto flute and piccolo, giving Joan the opportunity to showcase her versatility. I was glad to be working with Chuck, too. He has written other works for harp, and he is knowledgeable about the complexities of the instrument and open to working with me to resolve any performance issues in the part.

The three of us met several times at various stages in the work’s composition to test out his ideas and give input about the parts. We video recorded some of those meetings, and it is interesting to hear the piece in these intermediate stages. You can see the videos on my YouTube channel.

Sonata Scintillante is a virtuoso work that showcases both performers brilliantly. One of the things I admire about all of Chuck’s writing is his use of color and texture, and the Sonata is a fine example of that. As a performer, I love the opportunity this gives me for artistic expression, and I enjoy communicating those colors and textures to the listener. The harp part is fun to play, too. It uses the entire range of the instrument, and although the part is difficult, it is not dauntingly so, and it is well worth the effort.

Here is what Chuck has to say about the piece:

I was delighted to receive this commission from my old friends of SPARX, with whom I have been collaborating for many years as a bassoonist. To take the additional step of writing for them has been a great pleasure, enhanced by the ease with which I could imagine them playing the music as I wrote it. Like my Concerto tre d’uno, which uses three members of the oboe family, Sonata Scintillante uses three flutes: the alto flute, pitched a fourth lower than the standard flute, the piccolo, an octave higher, and then the flute. While it is in four movements, the third movement is a cadenza, first harp and then flute, preparing the way for the finale. The first movement was partially inspired by movie music, particularly by a mood that has cropped up in other works of mine, related to Carter Burwell’s haunting tune for the movie Spanish Prisoner. The second movement is a waltz, with its sardonic moments, as well as its charming ones. Flutists, and many others will notice a dash of Debussy which slipped into the flute cadenza. While the finale is primarily muscular, along with a sweeping long melody which appears twice, the movement is interrupted by a section of extreme calm. This section has long silences which challenge the listener either to fill in the gap with imagination, or to simply let the not quite silence of the room be, as John Cage might do.

Please join us for the performance on Sunday, if you are able. The details are listed below. You may wish to visit Chuck Holdeman’s website. To find out more about SPARX, visit our page at,  or come see us on Facebook. We hope to see you November 11!

SPARX in Concert
The Tempest: Music of magic, spirits and the sea
Sunday, November 11 at 4:00 PM
Church of the Holy City
1118 N. Broom St. Wilmington DE 19806
(302) 654-5014
Free will offering


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