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Walfrid Kujala




Sometimes it takes the imminent retirement of a veteran performer for us to appreciate him anew. Chicago Symphony Orchestra flutist Walfrid Kujala, who's stepping down this June, joined the CSO in 1954 as assistant principal and began doubling up on piccolo three years later. (He's one of a handful of switch-hitters just as adept on both instruments.) He can be a team player one moment and a virtuoso the next, and this combination of discretion and valor has earned him the respect of flute sections in other major orchestras; Martin Lerner, formerly of the Cincinnati Symphony, once told me he thought Kujala was the best orchestral flutist anywhere. He's played flute concerti with the CSO under Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti, and Seiji Ozawa, among others, and in 1997 won a lifetime achievement award from the National Flute Association, an organization he'd helped found 25 years before. A master of breath control, Kujala is noted for the fluency, finesse, and expressiveness of his performances--as well as for his command of the modern French repertoire. This Sunday he'll be featured in a recital at the Art Institute, presented by the museum and the CSO to coincide with the exhibit "Beyond the Easel." The show focuses on fin de siecle French decorative paintings by Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and others--meaning works executed on folding screens, doors, or walls, meant to complement a particular room--and the three pieces on the recital program, all by Debussy, are intended to represent the kind of music heard in the salons of Paris at the time. Kujala should shine on the indolently sensual passages in Syrinx, scored for solo flute, and I look forward to hearing him carry the lead on the jaunty Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. (CSO violinist Russell Hershow and harpist Yumiko Endo, who's studying with the CSO's Sarah Bullen, fill out the unusual lineup.) Finally, Hershow joins three more of his colleagues--violinists Ronald Satkiewicz and Otakar Sroubek and cellist Donald Moline--for the lush, unsettling String Quartet, probably the most distinctive French chamber piece ever written. Sunday, March 25, 2 PM, Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, Art Institute, 111 S. Michigan; 312-857-7138 or 312-443-3600.


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