Several years ago, flutist Jeffrey Khaner came off stage at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual summer residency in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He and the orchestra had just performed a piano concerto by Behzad Ranjbaran, and he was still in its glow when he bumped into the composer.
“I sort of said off the cuff, ‘Why don’t you write a flute concerto?'” said Khaner. “He said OK.”
That chance request finds fruition this week at Verizon Hall, as Khaner and the Orchestra premiere Ranjbaran’s newest work as part of a set of three new commissions written for three of the orchestra’s musicians. The micro-festival, which began Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday, is presenting them round-robin style, pairing the pieces with each other over three different concerts.
Khaner has been preparing to perform the new flute concerto since he received the sheet music over the summer. He had no input on Ranjbaran’s composition — except for one thing.
“I prefer to let composers write what they want to write,” said Khaner. “I confess, I do have one request that I make of composers who are writing for me — that is that they don’t use what we call extended techniques, which are things like multiphonics, whistle tones, and making funny noises that aren’t traditional musical things.”
Khaner prefers to keep things simple, but not simplistic. The piece has elements of Persian flute, or nay music (Ranjbaran is Iranian), and long melodic phrasing.
“I think it has to be more accessible in order to be successful as a performance piece, and this piece is that,” said Khaner. “It’s not only very beautiful and lyrical but it is also technical — very virtuosic and impressive to hear.”
Khaner, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, will debut Ranjbaran’s “Flute Concerto” Friday afternoon with “Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women” featuring harpist Elizabeth Hainen, and again Saturday evening with “Pictures from the Floating World” featuring bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa.
Khaner hopes that will not be the last of it.
“I think it is going to be one of the major repertoire pieces,” said Khaner. “It’s really a terrific piece.”