Interview by Laura Palotie
Finnish-American flutist Anna Urrey has built her career – and a solid reputation – in New York and beyond. The Manhattan School of Music alumna has performed, among other ensembles, with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Symphony in C in Philadelphia and Le Poisson Rouge’s new orchestra in Manhattan.
This Friday, May 10th, Anna will perform alongside distinguished South Korean pianist Soyeon Kim at the Salmagundi Club (see our events page for more details). We recently caught up with Anna to talk about her career, her sources of inspiration and her life as a classical musician in New York City.
Q: You have a Finnish mother and an American father. How would you characterize your own connection to Finland – and your experiences of performing with Finnish musicians?
A: Both of my parents are musicians, and met while studying voice in Vienna. I’m proud to be American, but also feel a strong connection to Finland. I love learning about my mother’s culture and the country’s history – and let’s be honest: pulla is one of the best things ever created. I feel a particular connection to Finland as a musician, too: my first Finnish musical experience was several years ago at a small summer festival in Riistavesi. I quickly learned that there was a depth to the Finnish musical approach, an understanding of the music that was incredibly inspiring. Finns have a serious work ethic and they feel deeply, and it all comes across in the music. It feels honest and not superficial. They want to do things right, not half-way, all of which appeals to me as well.
Q: As a performer, how would you describe the Finnish music scene?
A: It’s busy, and performances are given at a very high level. This is rather amazing, considering the fact that the population of the country is smaller than that of New York City. The high level clearly reflects the country’s serious commitment to their musical education system.
Q: You have also performed with a Chinese music ensemble. Tell us about that experience.
A: I love working with musicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. The Chinese East-West ensemble, for example, combined western instruments, like the modern flute and the piano, with traditional Chinese instruments, such as the pipa and the erhu. My Chinese colleagues have so much pride in their traditional music and are true masters of their instruments. They are also passionate about finding ways to expand their repertoire through contemporary music.
Q: Is there something in particular that draws you to multicultural collaborations?
A: Much of my interest stems from my childhood. I saw my father travel all over the world for concerts, to places like Turkey, Japan, Spain and Portugal. In high school, I also began to travel and perform in Italy, Finland, Germany, France, and most recently, Oman. Whenever possible, I take advantage of opportunities to share my love of music and be inspired by others. I hope that music will continue to help me explore the world.
Q: What has been the most memorable moment in your career thus far?
A: This past November, I went on tour with Maestro Lorin Maazel and his Castleton Festival orchestra to perform Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman. Puccini’s music is beautiful, Maestro Maazel is a musical genius, and going to such an exotic location was a surreal experience. Because I was making music with such amazing musicians and friends, it really didn’t feel like work at all.
Q: New York is, obviously, a musical mecca. What is it like being a classical musician in the city today?
A: On just about any given night, one can attend an opera, orchestra concert or Broadway show, hear a jazz combo, check out an indie singer in the West Village, go salsa or swing dancing…you name it, and NYC has it. As a freelancer, I experience a great variety of work. I could perform at an opera one evening, play the Brahms Requiem with a large chorus and vocal soloists the next day, and then a couple days later give a solo recital! It’s hard work, but also extremely gratifying.
Q: What are the downsides to being a classical musician in this city?
A: Unfortunately, classical music in general is decreasing in popularity. Especially since the recession, work opportunities have been significantly reduced. Even seemingly well-off, large orchestras are experiencing financial struggles. Today the classical musician must be creative and an active entrepreneur to create his or her own “niche.” It’s no longer enough to simply play well and hope that someone takes notice. While this career involves hard work, it forces each musician to take ownership of his or her craft. I find that empowering.
Q: Any upcoming performances you’d like to share with us?
A: I’m part of Ensemble LPR, the new resident orchestra at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) conducted by Tito Muñoz. Our debut concert with violinist Jennifer Koh will be on June 14th. The next day I leave for the Castleton Festival in Virginia to work with Maestro Maazel for six weeks. This season we will be performing three fully staged operas: Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West,” Verdi’s “Otello,” and Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine.” There will also be several orchestra concerts with substantial programs, including Mahler’s 4th and 5th Symphonies and Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony. I’m looking forward to it!
As for post-summer plans, pianist Ritva Koistinen and I are already planning another recital at Finland Center. I’m also part of a flute-harp duo with Kristi Shade, and we will be performing on November 17th as part of the Concerts on the Slope concert series in Brooklyn. There will definitely be Finnish works performed at both of these recitals.