San Diego Spotlight : Rampal, Maestro of Flute, to Appear at SummerPops

Contrary to popular belief, Jean-Pierre Rampal has not recorded every flute piece ever written. The 69-year-old French flutist, the most recorded in history, has made some 370 recordings over his well-publicized career. He is arguably the world's best-known flute player, although only professional flutists care enough to argue who is the best player. With all those recordings, Rampal claims that he still has not exhausted the repertory.

"It's impossible to investigate all of the flute repertory. And a lot of the music is not important, especially some flute music from the 18th Century. A flute concerto by an obscure Baroque composer is not always that fantastic. At that time composers were always publishing their compositions in sets of six, but everything in that set usually was not that good."

As part of the San Diego Symphony's summer pops series, Rampal will play a solo recital Monday at Embarcadero Marina Park South at 7:30 p.m. Accompanied by keyboard player and longtime associate John Steele Ritter, Rampal will perform sonatas by Mozart, Franck and Poulenc, as well as Debussy's "Bilitis" and Bartok's "Hungarian Peasant Suite."

Rampal has been associated with the Poulenc Flute Sonata, which he introduced to the United States on his inaugural North American recital tour in 1958. He performed it in Washington, where the benefactor who commissioned the work, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, resided.

"Before I left, Francis (Poulenc) called me. He told me he had been commissioned to write a chamber work, and that he had decided to compose a work for flute and piano. It turned out to be a pearl of the flute literature--if all the modern works would have been like that, it would be truly fantastic," Rampal mused.

Not only were Rampal and the Poulenc Sonata a success, but two then-prominent American composers were inspired to write for the French flutist.

"After that first performance, Ezra Laderman wrote a concerto for me, and in the year after the Sonata debut, David Diamond also did a concerto for me."

Rampal's ability to inspire composers to write for him not only augmented the repertory, but saved him a fortune in commissions.

"I never really commissioned works. Always when I knew some composers, I would suggest they write me a flute concerto. It seemed very normal. Usually they were interested to work with me."

Like many other solo performers, over the last decade Rampal has added conducting to his touring schedule. Although most American reviewers lament that Rampal's baton technique lags behind his flute technique, he is confident of his calling to conduct the orchestra.

"Conducting is something I began a long time ago, back in 1946. My first time was in Marseilles with a chamber orchestra. I did it a lot, then, although I never pushed myself. I always did like it. Now, when I conduct symphony orchestras, I usually am asked back."

Looking to the near future, Rampal is planning a 70th birthday celebration on Feb. 3, 1992, in New York.

"With my best friends (violinist) Isaac Stern and (cellist Mstislav) Rostropovich we will play trios by Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Anton Reicha at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center."

Rampal will spend his actual birthday, Jan. 7, in Paris with his family.

Peering further into the future, Rampal does not see retirement.

"I hope to be wise enough to discover for myself when I am no longer playing well. I know that my wife will tell me when that happens."

Kudos for Shaw. Last week Robert Shaw, principal guest conductor of the San Diego Symphony, was honored by Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Shaw was the sole classical musician among the seven honorees, which included dancers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, pop singer Roy Acuff and actor Gregory Peck.

Honorees are selected for their contribution to the country's cultural life through the performing arts. This year's honorees will be feted at a Dec. 8 Kennedy Center performance, which will be televised later, and a White House dinner the following night.

At 75, Shaw is considered the dean of choral conductors in the United States. For two decades after the founding of the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1948, Shaw ensemble set standards for professional choral singing around the world. He worked into orchestral conducting in the middle of his career, and his work as music director of the San Diego Symphony (1953-57) prepared him for posts with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony.

After 21 years with the Atlanta Symphony, Shaw retired from his post in 1988 and was named its conductor emeritus. The following year he was named the San Diego Symphony's principal guest conductor. His next appearance at Copley Symphony Hall will be Oct. 24, when he will conduct the orchestra and the San Diego Master Chorale in Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis."

Shaw's other honors include 13 or so Grammy Awards and four ASCAP Awards for service to contemporary music. In June, 1988, he was given the Gold Baton award by the American Symphony Orchestra League.

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