Flight to freedom

Flutist Paolo Bortolussi and the Vancouver Island Symphony will perform Flight, the piece his wife, Dorothy Chang, composed about her family’s escape from China during the communist takeover.  - Photo contributed
Flutist Paolo Bortolussi and the Vancouver Island Symphony will perform Flight, the piece his wife, Dorothy Chang, composed about her family’s escape from China during the communist takeover.
— image credit: Photo contributed

It seems no coincidence. While Remembrance Day and commemorations to those who have fallen around the world for freedom are still fresh in our minds, the Vancouver Island Symphony features the dramatic concerto Flight in its Canadian premiere performance Saturday (Nov. 17) with Fusao Kajima conducting, and flutist Paolo Bortolussi as soloist .

In the late 1940s, while the West celebrated freedom and victory after the Second World War, China was being taken over by the Chinese Communist Army, and the Nationalist Party retreated to the island of Taiwan. Thousands of people fled, including the family of composer Dorothy Chang. With little food and no sign of rescue they stowed away on a small military cargo plane without knowing whether it would fly to the front lines or to Taiwan.

“Only when they saw water below did they know they were headed to safety,” explains Chang who is presently assistant professor of music at the University of British Columbia. “Written for my husband Paolo, Flight is a concerto for flute and orchestra, inspired by this dramatic event in my family history. It is a reflection of the personal stories and memories of my mother and my grandparents. The three movements attempt to capture the powerful imagery and emotions the story evokes, from sorrow and despair to bittersweet nostalgia, terror and triumph.”

Flight was first performed by Bortolussi with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York. They commissioned Chang to create the work.

“It was amazing,” says Bortolussi. “It was a rush. It is hard to identify the feelings when I am playing it; I get carried away. I just follow the waves of emotion and energy in the piece.”

Chang’s music has been recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to teaching at UBC, she is also composer-in-residence of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

Bortolussi is the Vancouver Island Symphony’s principal flutist. He teaches at Kwantlen University-College and performs as a soloist and chamber musician across Canada and the U.S. He is also artistic director of the Nu:BC Collective, a cutting edge new music and multi-media arts ensemble.

Such is the freedom we have here in Canada, to live where we please, shop where we please. While Flight captures the events of one evacuation to freedom, thousands, if not millions of flights and evacuations are still ongoing around the world.

“Although Flight is inspired by my family’s journey, ultimately it is meant to reflect on the broader universal themes of hope and perseverance,” said Chang. “The piece is, in a way, a tribute not only to my grandfather but to all individuals who find strength in the face of adversity.”

Also on the program are Idyla for Strings, by Czech composer Leoš Janácek; and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite.

Please call 754-8550.

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