The Flute Concerto was composed for flautist Alexa Still in 1993 while Ritchie was Composer-in-Residence with the Southern Sinfonia. Unlike the Symphony “Boum”, written in the same year, this Concerto is a generally happy and open-sounding work, and reflects aspects of Alexa Still’s personality as well as her playing. She first performed the concerto on September 4th, 1993 in The Glenroy Auditorium, and subsequently recorded it with The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
The first movement is energetic in style, with a bubbling first theme. This is contrasted by a darker and slower second theme, exploring the lower register of the flute. The music accelerates back to the main theme before heading into a percussive middle section. The flute then presents a lyrical idea that is related to earlier themes, and this leads to a cadenza. A brief recapitulation drives the music to a forceful ending.
The slow second movement is lyrical and improvisational in style, and begins with a solo for bass clarinet. A warm and gentle theme appears, followed by a short cadenza for flute. The orchestra returns with a fuller version of the theme, but it soon fades into anxious repeated chords on the oboes and bassoon while the flute plays nervous, flickering gestures. As the tension dissolves the clarinet introduces a laconic theme, interspersed with little cadenzas on the flute. The music builds to a climax where the main theme returns in a contrapuntal version, again fading into the anxious chords. A brief and mysterious coda contains references back to the opening cadenza, and the movement ends unresolved.
The third movement is like a sequence of dances with different characters, bound together by a buffeting crotchet rhythm. After a flourish from the orchestra, the flute introduces a sprightly theme, followed by a quirky, subsidiary idea. The buffeting rhythm from the start is transformed into a pop-styled ostinato pattern, and the flute plays a lyrical melody above it. This theme was inspired by the composer attending a performance by The Muttonbirds, a well-known NZ rock group. The quirky theme returns in a more subdued setting, the music slows, and unexpectedly becomes a dreamy and child-like waltz. This distraction is swept away by a loud chord, and the main theme returns with renewed purpose, leading to an exciting conclusion in which all the elements of the movement are combined.
The Flute Concerto was recorded by Alexa Still and the NZSO in 1996, on the Koch CD 3-7345-2-H1, entitled ‘Kiwi Flute’. The second movement of the concerto was published in a special version for piano and flute by the Centre for NZ Music, in their 1998 publication Little Dancings: A Selection of flute music by New Zealand Composers.