It sounds so natural, perhaps the only surprise is that it took so long. The pairing of Bob James on piano and Nancy Stagnitta on flute makes for an alternately evanescent and invigorating evening, even if the only proof thus far is the brief three-song set the duo performed at the City Opera House February 4.
Those songs found the Grammy-winning pianist and Interlochen flute instructor accompanying one another at the conclusion of the Collage Concert celebrating the Opera House’s 125 years. On March 4, audiences at Interlochen will get more of the duo when the two debut their recording In the Chapel, in the Moonlight for two shows, one at 2:30 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. Appropriately enough, the shows will take place at Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall. “We considered Corson, but felt it was not right for the intimacy of a duo,” says James. Plus, as Stagnitta says, “It’s in the chapel in the moonlight.”
The two musicians were aware of one another, and when the opportunity to work together presented itself they jumped at it. “I am a longtime fan of Bob’s, and it is fulfilling for me to combine classical and my love of playing jazz,” says Stagnitta. James echoes that sentiment. “I have a chance to show the classical side of my playing,” he says. Oh, and one more thing: “My granddaughter is at the academy, and I was looking for an excuse to find more time with her,” says James with a smile.
The two take pains to label this a team approach. “It is really a duo,” says Stagnitta. “There are so many different aspects of it,” says James. He notes the differences between it and playing with the smooth jazz group Fourplay or even his other excursions, such as his quartet show at Milliken in 2014 or his performance with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra last year. “I’m more exposed – in a duo there’s no place to hide. It’s a little scary and exciting. I think any of us need stimulus to get excited.”
The program will follow the sequence of the recording. It will include the world premiere performances of two James compositions, “Moments Musicale” and “Iridescence,” and attendees will have the opportunity to purchase autographed CDs of the album following the performance. The recording is also divided into two “sides” with the anticipation that it will be eventually released on vinyl. They are also looking at labels for release and distribution, though at this point it will be an independent release.
The recording was done at Interlochen. They say the plan was to involve students, but the scheduling made that difficult. “The goal was to bring students in to show them the recording process,” says James. “They keep the kids really, really busy. We’ve only done that a little.”
“They observed from the control booth into the studio as it was happening,” adds Stagnitta. The two were pleased about one unanticipated aspect that did involve an IAA student. “One of my flute students designed the cover art for the CD,” Stagnitta says.
Their set at the City Opera House found Stagnitta playing one piece on flute, one on alto flute, and, most surprisingly, one on piccolo. The two managed to find ways to complement the piccolo’s potent high notes with the piano, a trick James says they managed to pull off on the CD as well. “On the recording, it was very challenging on the piccolo and piano piece to get the balance right, (depending on) how prominent or piercing we wanted it to be,” says James.
The two say the brief set helped them prepare for the upcoming concerts at Interlochen. “The opera house was quite good for us. In recording, you can do take two, take three, etc. In a live performance you get take one,” says James. “It’s a completely different energy. Two of the pieces are physically challenging to play. We still have two weeks to get it to another level.”
Besides previewing this show, the Collage Concert was notable for an unanticipated event at the end of the evening. Following their set, James was named the first recipient of the City Opera House Ambassador for the Arts Award in recognition for his contributions to the arts and City Opera House. They include performances for City Opera House Recherché benefits in 2003 and 2005. He also created a piece of artwork for auction at the first event. “It was very, very unexpected. I don’t take it lightly,” James says.
Tickets for the shows at Dendrinos are $32. They are available at tickets.interlochen.org.