Mindy Kaufman has been performing the duties of solo piccolo with the New York Philharmonic since 1979. Her first professional job was playing second flute with the Rochester Philharmonic, and she also substituted as principal flute with the Milwaukee Symphony for one season. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, she credits her many great teachers with her success. “My biggest mentors were my flute teachers, Walfrid Kujala, Bonita Boyd, James Galway, Margaret Jackson, and Harold Jones.
Kaufman began playing piccolo for a Rochester Philharmonic audition. The job was mostly second flute, but there were a few piccolo excerpts on the audition list. “At that time, I had very limited experience and could barely play the instrument. I worked very hard and finally managed to get the notes out and win the audition. I was also inspired by an Eastman classmate, Dan Gerhard, who sounded fantastic on piccolo. I don’t really think of myself as a piccolo specialist, but simply as a flutist who plays the piccolo.”
Kaufman has appeared as piccolo soloist with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of both former music directors Zubin Mehta and Kurt Masur. Next season she appears as a soloist in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #4 with the orchestra’s current music director, Lorin Maazel.
Kaufman is a disciplined musician who uses the kitchen timer to help her focus during intense practices. “Six times a day, I set my timer for 30 minutes so I can practice without distraction for that period. Otherwise, I could easily putter around, cleaning up or making phone calls. When a big concert is coming up, I try to play at least three hours every day.“
She starts her daily routine with Taffanel-Gaubert #4, slurs and intervals from Moyse, diminuendos from C above the staff to highest C, and then solos. “If I have more time, I do some tonguing work and low register exercises. This is all on the flute. Then I go to the piccolo, which I practice a lot less. I do a scale-type warmup, diminuendos, and then practice the orchestral repertory.”
Kaufman enjoys playing chamber music and collaborates with her orchestral colleagues at Merken Concert Hall. “It is a very different experience to play in an orchestra, where your focus is much shorter – for only one phrase perhaps. I find that a recital or chamber program requires more energy and a more sustained focus. Orchestral playing is more like sprinting, whereas solo playing is similar to long distance running.” She just completed her first solo recording project, a piccolo concerto by Avner Dorman with the Metropolis Ensemble, which is scheduled for release on the Naxos label this year.
The piece was written for Lior Eitan of the Israel Philharmonic. His major influences for the work were Baroque, Classical, ethnic music, jazz, and popular styles. Dorman says that “since the piccolo’s first octave sounds very similar to Middle Eastern shepherd’s flutes, I emphasize this similarity by using characteristic modes and ornamentation from that region.” Many of the solo motives sound improvisatory, and the use of fugues, canons, and sequential patterns provide an homage to 18th-century music. The piece is written in the typical three movement fast-slow-fast pattern.
When asked about her favorite works for the upcoming New York Philharmonic season, Kaufman mentioned some of the piccolo repertory highlights: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and the lesser known but beautiful L’enfant et les Sortiliges. “I’m also playing Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony a lot on tour. I practice the Tchaikovsky up to about quarter note =180, just to be ready for a super fast tempo. And, of course, I’m looking forward to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto.”