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The perfect blend

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Gary Schocker doesn't know quite why, but the body of music for flute and guitar is not exactly loaded with masterpieces. "I'd say it's kind of a vast morass," Schocker says. "There's a lot of really bad 20th century music and a lot of really bad 19th century music and only a few fantastic pieces. It's one of those odd things because the sound combination of the two instruments is wonderful. Both have a kind of foggy quality. They blend beautifully."

The state of the flute-guitar repertoire is of more than passing interest to Schocker, a flutist who often performs with guitarist Jason Vieaux. The duo open the summer and fall chamber music series at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

"The best things are sometimes the lighter things," Schocker says of flute-guitar works. "Short pieces by Ibert or by a Brazilian composer named Celso Machado, a guitarist himself. A lot of things we do are transcriptions, but I think they work great. For example, if you're playing a Bach sonata it's so much easier to hear what's going on than when you play it with a harpsichord and you're up against that wall of sound. The guitar has the right texture and the volume isn't overwhelming."

This weekend, Schocker and Vieaux will play works by Bach, Bartok and Berio, among others. The program includes one of Schocker's more than 60 published pieces, Dream Travels, also the title of their forthcoming CD from Azica. The flutist/composer has musical theater dreams, and excerpts from his scores for two shows adapted from novels, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and The Awakening by Kate Chopin, are on the Original Cast Recordings label.

Schocker studied at the Juilliard School, where his teacher was one of his flute heroes, Julius Baker, principal flute for the New York Philharmonic. Another of his heroes was Jean-Pierre Rampal, the French flutist who died last year.

"I grew up listening to his records and was definitely a fan of his," Schocker says. "People don't play the flute like that so much anymore. It's gotten heavier and louder. They build flutes differently than they used to. Now they're built for power and speed. I really love Rampal because there was always this elegant quality to his playing."

Schocker and Vieaux have been playing together about three years, in a pairing suggested by their artist management firm, Jonathan Wentworth Associates. Schocker lives in New York, Vieaux in Cleveland. For the St. Petersburg engagement, they plan to arrive today, spend Friday rehearsing, then perform Saturday and Sunday. Their concert at the museum a year ago was a sellout.

"When we play together I feel like I don't ever have to think about anything, and he feels the same way," Schocker says. "It feels a lot like jazz. It feels very improvised and easy. It's not a studious classical event."