The LA Phil’s Catherine Ransom Karoly performs Luciano Berio’s jaw-droppingly difficult Sequenza I (1958) for solo flute. The Italian modernist, who was fascinated by both electronic music and serialism (repeating sequences of notes, or other music characteristics, in a fixed order), packed an amazing amount of music into this short piece that has become a popular rite of passage for flute players.
Although it may sound bewildering at first, there are a few ways to learn to love this influential work. The first is to focus on and appreciate the virtuosity required of the performer. Besides very fast notes at both ends of the flute’s range, Karoly is asked to play multiphonics (more than one note at a time), flutter-tonguing, double and triple tonguing, rapid changes in volume, and much more.
Or you could listen for patterns. There is one – a long note (usually soft), followed by a chirp of a couple of notes – that recurs throughout the piece and, in fact, provides the quiet ending.
Many listeners like to let their visual imagination run free when hearing a new piece. You could see Sequenza I as the flight path of a hummingbird over the course of a day. However you listen, we hope you find this an intriguing sonic experience.