Brandon and Mahan
Brandon Patrick George, Grammy-nominated flutist, member of Imani Winds, and faculty member at the Curtis Institute, is an important voice and a formidable force for good, leading discussions on how to create more inclusive communities in classical music. Twofold, Brandon’s new album out Sept. 15, 2023 on In a Circle Records, is a particularly joyful meeting point of these facets of his career — bridging genres, drawing potent connections, and encouraging conversations between contemporary compositional voices and the classical music canon.
*In his own words about mentorship and outreach: “I am very fortunate to have had several mentors who took me under their wing and encouraged me along the way. I also had some negative experiences, but they were learning experiences nonetheless. Each experience taught me about the kind of artist, teacher, and mentor I wanted to be. When I was struggling the most as a young player, Lorna McGhee, principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, became a trusted mentor and friend of mine…. she told me to believe in myself and project that belief when I play. Lorna challenged me to understand that the world needs beauty and that what I had to say mattered. No one had ever told me this so directly! It completely shifted my mindset when it comes to performance and mentorship. Learning to believe in yourself and project this belief is empowering! This concept is not to be confused with arrogance; it comes from a place of sincere kindness and a desire to speak directly to the souls listening to you perform. It is about valuing yourself, the healing power that your artistry can bring to those who might need it, and the young students who might realize their potential by seeing you on the stage.
This philosophy is at the core of the mentoring that I do. I try to live it every day. Empowering people to believe in themselves and encouraging them to use their gifts to change the world is extraordinarily beautiful. We all possess talents and have a place in the world, and we must use our gifts to uplift one another. What would the world look like if we instilled this philosophy into every child from a young age?
Next June, my Community Concerto Project will launch. Musically speaking, the project was inspired by John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy for flute and orchestra. In this work, a student flute ensemble joins in the performance, following the soloist throughout the hall, recreating the legend of the Pied Piper through music. As a Black musician, I am often asked what performing arts communities can do to combat inequity. I believe my response can be heard loud and clear through this initiative. It allows me to visit cities, immerse myself in the community, mentor young artists from underserved communities, and prepare them for a performance with me and their symphony orchestra.
I’m a proud product of K-12 public education. Between the ages of 12 and 18, I received six years of private flute instruction because of my public arts magnet school. I take the role I can play in supporting music education in underserved communities very seriously. The work that the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel have done to serve the L.A. community with YOLA [Youth Orchestra Los Angeles] is powerful. Before joining Imani Winds, a group that has placed equal value on mentorship, commissioning, and virtuosic performances for over 25 years, I played many weeks in the L.A. Phil flute section as a guest in 2018. I had the great honor of encountering the phenomenal talent in the YOLA program and witnessing the sheer joy that the Philharmonic and Maestro Dudamel spark in young Angelenos. That experience has never left me, helping me to see the true impact we can have as musicians. My concerto initiative represents who I am as a flutist, mentor, and citizen who believes in the power of music to transform communities.”
*About this collaboration with harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani: “In 2020, I released my debut album that features important compositions for my instrument, including the Partita for solo flute by J.S. Bach. Among all of the wind instruments in existence during Bach’s lifetime, the flute has the richest literature, and certainly the most solo music by the composer himself. I had always hoped to find the right partner to collaborate with on the sonatas for flute and harpsichord, and little did I know, I would find that in Mahan.
Mahan and I became friends during a visit I made to Munich shortly before lockdown in 2020. He was performing with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, including works by Györgi Ligeti and Frank Martin. Hearing Mahan’s incredibly virtuosic playing of this baroque instrument, with contemporary compositions and a modern symphony orchestra, made me wonder if perhaps we would collaborate on the Bach sonatas with myself playing modern flute. Not everyone possesses the openness and curiosity of modern repertoire and instrument collaborations that Mahan has, so it seemed to me that this would be an excellent match. As fate would have it, after becoming friends, exchanging messages and video calls during 2020, we would be paired together by the 92nd Street Y in New York to close out their Bach and Mendelssohn Festival in 2022. I like to think that our very natural musical chemistry, friendship, as well as a bit of luck, brought this project together. It remains one of the most meaningful collaborations of my musical career, and I am grateful to the universe, and the 92nd Street Y for bringing this partnership to life. It is an honor to bring these masterpieces to audiences everywhere.”
Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord superstar, first studied the piano with his father and as a teenager went on to explore an interest in the harpsichord and organ. After his Wigmore Hall solo debut in 2009, the Daily Telegraph exclaimed “the harpsichord comes out of hiding … magnificent!” In recognition of his outstanding musical achievements and contribution to Wigmore Hall, Mahan Esfahani was awarded the prestigious Wigmore Hall Medal in July 2022, becoming the youngest ever recipient of the Wigmore Medal. The citation for the Wigmore Medal award read, ‘Mahan Esfahani is now quite rightly recognized for his outstanding qualities as one of the world’s pre-eminent harpsichordists. Mahan is particularly known for his exceptional performances across a very wide range of repertoire. He is a performer of star quality, whether playing ancient or modern works – many of them newly commissioned by him. And he is a musician of strikingly broad intellectual interests: he challenges preconceptions of what a harpsichord recital can be. His unstinting advocacy for the instrument has been nothing short of extraordinary.’
“Controversial artist” is not one of the images that a professional harpsichordist tends to conjure. It cuts against the grain of countless stereotypes involving restraint, uptightness, dusty academicism. But flipping stereotypes is one way of characterizing the remarkable career of Mahan Esfahani, who makes his Seattle Symphony debut …as the soloist in a program juxtaposing two generations of the Bach family.”– Thomas May, The Seattle Times
“He seems to be on a mission to demonstrate the expressiveness of his instrument – and judging by his remarkably fluid, fresh, almost improvisatory playing and rhythmic suppleness, he’s pretty much succeeded. It was as joyful as it was revelatory- and, it goes without saying, deeply expressive.”– David Kettle, The Scotsman
“With an instinctive sense of rhythm and a gift for interpretation, Esfahani has firmly established himself as one of today’s most thrilling harpsichordists.”– Martin Cullingford, Gramophone
NPR’s All Things Considered
‘How to Annoy your Dad: Play the Harpsichord’
Mahan Esfahani had a whale of a time talking with Robert Siegel from NPR’s All Things Considered. The pair traded friendly jabs — and a lot of laughter.
You can listen to the interview here