Joseph Flummerfelt to be guest conductor for Kona Choral Society

  • Joesph Flummerfelt will be the guest conductor for the Kona Choral Society's concert May 19. (Kona Choral Society/Courtesy Photo)

Doctor Joseph Flummerfelt, world-renowned choral conductor, will be the guest conductor at the Kona Choral Society May 19 concert at Hale Hoaloha at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows.Approached by his former student, KCS Artistic Director Susan McCreary Duprey, the Grammy Award-winning conductor accepted the invitation to take the helm of the spring concert’s linchpin, the Requiem.

Mozart’s final masterpiece is one of Flummerfelt’s favorite works and one he has prepared and conducted many times over for orchestras and philharmonics around the country.

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“I very much look forward to sharing with the Kona Choral Society and our audience my understanding of what gives this great work such expressive power,” Flummerfelt said.

Hailed as one of the “world’s greatest conductors,” by the late American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, according to his website, Flummerfelt, has for over 40 years, graced concerts halls and college classrooms with his musical artistry.

“He is able to find the deeper humanity of how music connects to people,” Duprey said of Flummerfelt’s noted style and technique, for which she sang for four years as a member of his highly distinguished Westminster Choir. “He gets out of the daily routine, to find the vulnerability in and accessibility to music.”

Flummerfelt’s celebrated approach and methodology began through his extensive educational background. First, as an undergrad at DePauw University in Indiana, where he later returned to become the director of choral activities from 1964-1968, as well as a masters student at Philadelphia Conservatory and through his doctoral program in musical arts, choral conducting from the University of Illinois.

Flummerfelt began his 33-year tenure as artistic director and principal conductor at Westminster College in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1971, where he led the widely recognized prestigious choir until 2004. Simultaneously, according to the website, he was the responsible party for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic for 37 years as their choral master as well as the founder and conductor of the New York Choral Artists. It was with the Philharmonic that Flummerfelt had his conducting début in 1988 with Haydn’s Creation and conducted the world premiere of Stephen Paulus’ Voices of Light with both the Philharmonic and Westminster Choir. Additionally, during the past four decades, the conductor ran the choral activities for the annual Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, until 2013 and for 23 years was the maestro del coro of the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.

His distinguished knowledge and esteemed performance standards have been sought by many choral/orchestral performers, allowing Flummerfelt the honor of guest conducting at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and Julliard Symphony Orchestra, among others. Moreover, as an active member of the academic community, holding five honorary degrees and traveling to numerous universities around the country as a visiting professor, Flummerfelt has taught master classes, held workshops, and conducted performances at such institutions as University of Texas, New England Conservatory, and Kansas City Conservatory.

He’s been credited as having conducted some of the most recognized and highly acclaimed symphonies in the past half-century; including the New York Times reviewed Singing for Pleasure, ranked the paper’s favorite existing choral work recording by Brahms. Likewise, his choirs have participated in over 45 recordings and he’s collaborated with many well-known musicians, leading to a Grammy award in 2004 for his recording on Best Classical Album with John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls with Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic. Flummerfelt and his Westminster Symphonic Choir were nominated twice before under Best Choral Performance for their collaborations in 1978 and again in 1986 on Haydn’s Mass No. 9 in D Minor ‘Lord Nelson Mass’ with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and later with Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliet with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

However, it is his extensive life experience that Flummerfelt believes has been the contributing influence in his own unique conducting style and sound. He explained in a collaborative book with former student Dr. Donald Nally, Conversations with Flummerfelt, about where his recognizable, signature choir sound emanates:

“…Every conductor, by nature of his or her psychophysical makeup and the sum total of that person’s life experiences, will create a sound that reflects the essential nature of that human being. For me that begins with breath. Breath as opening, as letting go, as the surrender to some inner source, an inner voice that will only speak if I am able to give up a kind of external control and allow for an internal connection.”

It’s what Flummerfelt goes on to describe in the book, a trust in self and a trust his singers that allows for complete vulnerability. It is through that openness that flows between that allows for a “gathering at the core of creative impulses” and an outcry that is the essence of human nature.

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Even some 20 years later, this is what Duprey, and many former students that have gone on to become successful conductors, carry with them into their own music. The ability, said Duprey, to get out of the way and keep the ego out of the conducting. Following in what Nally described in the book as the, “vocabulary of Flummerfelt’s art, to ‘invite, listen, and breath’.”

It is this musical awakening that Duprey notes will be an immeasurable experience for both her singers and the audience — a feeling shared by Flummerfelt himself.