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'Me, Me' Stillman? It's So Much More About Others

October 21, 2010 By:
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How sweet the sound of the Dolce Suono Ensemble.

And how sweet the sincerity of Mimi Stillman, the Philly flutist with a filigree of fame spread worldwide since founding the ensemble five years ago.

For a flutist who flaunts an impressive bio that includes being the youngest wind player ever admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music -- she was 12 at the time, coming here from her native Boston -- Stillman at 28 still has the quiet reserve that ripples regally through an interview.

But then, listen to her music, and the ripple radiates into a roar of talent, taking a listener on a sweet yet soaring swirl of a ride, where this performer -- winner of the Young Concert Artists honor (out of more than 500 contestants worldwide) at 17 -- teems with florid feelings and aggressive finesse.

Hear for yourself this weekend as Stillman and her ensemble premiere Grammy-winner Richard Danielpour's musical memoir, "Remembering Neda: Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano," deemed "a reflection on his Persian-Jewish heritage" and of the countless crises in contemporary Iran.

As for contemporaries, Stillman counts among her best buddies the "lifelong friends I made at Curtis," where she earned her bachelor's degree at the cymbal-crashing age of 17.

In the Stillman of the night: There are rehearsals, concerts, making of CDs -- her latest a two-disk set of "All-American Premieres" -- and a look back while this forward-thinking musician has the time.

The Write Stuff, Too
She has a history -- with history: Working on her doctoral dissertation in history at the University of Pennsylvania, Stillman still gets excited by topics of ancient eras and anxious decisions made eons ago by world leaders that reverberate to this day. Her multiple writings and encyclopedic grasp of time gone by have found a present-day home in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World.

And much of that interest connects to what she calls her seeking a "Jewish kinship, taking on projects that enable me to explore my Jewish identity musically," efforts she deems "important and meaningful."

She has found meaning as well in the pursuit of heritage by other performers, such as the Persian composer Danielpour, who has poured his emotional perspective and perspicacity into the piece premiering this weekend at the Trinity Center for Urban Life in Center City.

Three times the charm for the charming entrepreneur, who also discusses a music project of Holocaust works projected for the ensemble's next season, as well as their commission of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran ("a great mentor and friend," says Stillman), which will incorporate the Israeli's Hebrew poetry into a composition set for next year.

"Music is a mirror of history," and the fairest of them all, says Stillman, is that which connects people to their past successfully.

Which is why she proudly points out how the Holocaust "is shaping some of our future projects."

But it's not all a hallelujah chorus to history. There are paeans, too, to those composers who worked through their own emotional and spiritual pains -- which explains the "Mahler 100/Schoenberg 60 Project," a two-year-in-the-making examination of these two "Jews with conflicted feelings about their Judaism."

(Gustav Mahler had converted to Catholicism to be eligible for the prestigious position of director of the Vienna Court Opera, which did little to staunch the anti-Semitic attacks he still incurred or his music's ban by the Nazis some 30 years after his death in 1911; composer Arnold Schoenberg embraced his heritage more fully after escaping Germany and the then-Nationalist Socialist attacks on him in his position as composition professor at Berlin's Akademie der Künste, leaving for the United States in 1933.)

One could understand if Stillman's stand toppled over from an abundance of sheet music. But for all the claims and accolades she has heard through life about her prodigious efforts and her being a prodigy, she remains startlingly -- normal.

"I've always taken it in stride," she says of the scores of compliments and awards, and the notes in the hearts of educators she has struck for her outreach work with public-school music students through Dolce Suono.

But then, scholarship has always been a musical muse; indeed, she earned her own -- the Margret B. Rice Scholarship -- from the Federation Endowments Corporation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as a teenager.

Giving back? It's far from just being all about "Me, Me" for Stillman.

"It's all about cultivating audiences for the future," says the Yamaha Performing Artist/flutist, whose fluency in Spanish has proved muy importante in her class teachings.

Important enough that she concedes that "what's in the works is more exploration" and performance of "Sephardic music."

Still, Stillman has time remaining for being with family -- Mom Ronni Gordon and Dad David Stillman, textbook authors and former Harvard professors, proffer her encouragement, and "are huge influences," with support also coming from her younger brother Alex-- as well as enhancing her "love for cooking, travel and movies."

And anyone doubt there's a role crying out for her in any remake of "The Magic Flute"?


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