Today Ned McGowan enjoys a reputation as a world-class European flutist and composer. Most believe he’s Dutch, but he grew up in Carmel Valley and went to Carmel Middle before hightailing it to Amsterdam decades ago.
Yet it was an early experience here that has proven most telling to his transition from flute player to becoming a cutting-edge composer of very modern “new music.” When he was 9, McGowan’s first flute teacher, Gary Stotz of Pacific Grove, not only began to teach the youngster classical flute technique, he also taught him how to improvise. “Typically you don’t get to learn both those things, you usually get either one or the other,” McGowan says. “While I always studied classical music, I also played improvised jazz on the side.” Developing those trajectories side-by-side is how he explains his emergence as an avant-garde composer.
But it is his love affair with the contrabass flute which has most defined McGowan. The flute itself is immense. “It is actually taller than me,” the 5-foot-9 McGowan says. When he first moved to the Netherlands, McGowan joined the Dutch Flute Orchestra. They asked him to play the contrabass, and he was hooked.
“As a flute player you’re playing the soprano line floating over the top of everything,” he says. “But with contrabass you have this rich, low register. It was as if the whole bottom half of the music opened up for me for the first time.”
McGowan has also been heavily influenced by the rhythms of southern India. “Their concept of rhythm is very different than ours,” he says. “It helped me to see new musical possibilities which I now explore in a Western European context.”
McGowan will appear here with his wife, pianist Keiko Shichijo, herself an acclaimed soloist. The centerpiece of this program for McGowan is Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s work, Come Vengono Prodotti Gli Incantesimi (“How do we produce incantations”) which employs keypad clicks, just blowing air through the flute, overblown harmonics and other devices. “It’s a solo piece which creates a whole new world of sound with the flute, using the flute in new ways to create what turns out to be a percussion piece for contrabass flute.”
Experimental is one word that applies.
“Innovation is something which is close to my heart,” McGowan says, “so I’m always thinking about what is new. But I’m not trying to be new; I’m not trying to be ‘avant garde.’ I’m just trying to make the music which I like.”
NED McGOWAN and KEIKO SHICHIJO 3pm Monday, Jan. 2, Church in the Forest (Erdman Chapel at Stevenson School), 3152 Forest Lake Road, Pebble Beach. Donation appreciated. 624-1374, www.churchintheforest.org.