Ethereal harmonies echo within the cavernous interior of St. Josaphat’s Basilica. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has ended its rehearsal – but five woodwind players have remained, sitting amid a sea of empty chairs. MSO principal flutist Sonora Slocum is guiding them through a slow passage from the Act One Prelude to Richard Wagner’s liturgical opera Parsifal, nodding along with the slow beat.
“It’s very tricky to get the clarity that’s required,” says Slocum, “especially in here with the extreme reverberation. We just have to trust that it will come together, and it always does.” That kind of leadership and attention to detail has distinguished Slocum’s four years with the MSO. Her 2012 appointment at the young age of 22 was her first full-time gig with a major orchestra.
She grew up in a family of successful professional musicians in New York City. Her mother plays bass on Broadway, her father is a jazz drummer, her grandfather was a horn player and orchestra conductor. Naturally, she started playing at an early age: first in a Suzuki violin program, then piano and then flute, which obviously “stuck.”
“I picked it up in school, and it was just one of those moments,” she says. “You pick it up and it just plays.”
When pressed, she laughs and explains: “My mom really didn’t want me to play the flute, so that made me want to play it more. But really, it’s a lot to do with your anatomy. People are built to play different instruments and it just kind of works.”
Slocum’s “song” is always part of the mix in the MSO ensemble, but recently she’s stepped forward as a soloist and chamber musician as well. In February, she gave a thoughtful and muscular reading of Carl Nielsen’s formidable flute concerto. And she’s a regular with the Frankly Music concert series.
This month, in addition to a busy orchestra schedule, Slocum will go completely solo with Frankly Music, playing Pierre-Octave Ferroud’s 1920 “Three pieces for solo flute,” along with other chamber music for wind instruments.
“I really love playing the solo repertoire,” she adds. “It’s very freeing. You have to be very disciplined playing in an orchestra because you’re playing with so many people. When you’re a soloist, you’re disciplined, but you’re creating for yourself – challenging yourself with what you can do. You don’t have to worry so much about fitting in.” ◆
Go See It
Winds and Strings (Jan. 23). Wisconsin and Lutheran College’s Schwan Concert Hall. 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwatosa, franklymusic.org.