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Paolo Bortolussi, Flutist, and Dorothy Chang, Composer

Flight to Freedom

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, Fall 2007

Paolo Bortolussi - Canadian Flutist

Paolo Bortolussi - Flutist

UPDATE: It's been over ten years since this "Flight" performance and since then both Paolo and Dorothy have excelled in their careers. For more information visit Paolo Bortolussi's and Dorothy Chang's websites .

“It was amazing,” says Paolo Bortolussi, Canadian flutist, about his first performance in public of the composition Flight. “It was a rush. I was playing in Albany, New York, with an orchestra that supports emerging composers and gives opportunities to artists like me.”

Flight, which was commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York and was composed by Dorothy Chang for her husband Paolo, was getting its Canadian premiere performance with the Vancouver Island Symphony in November 2007.

“It is hard to identify the feelings when I am playing it,” says Paolo. “I get carried away. I just follow the waves of emotion and energy in the piece. It traces the story of Dorothy's parents when they stowed away in a plane to escape from Mainland China and the Communist take-over. They flew to Taiwan, then to the US. And so the title Flight.”

Dorothy and Flight

In the late 1940's, while the West celebrated freedom and victory after the Second World War, China was being taken over by the Chinese Communist Army, and the Nationalist Party retreated to the island of Taiwan. Thousands of people fled, including Dorothy’s family. With little food and no sign of rescue they stowed away on a small military cargo plane without knowing whether it would fly to the front lines or to Taiwan.

Dorothy Chang - Composer

Dorothy Chang - Composer

“Only when they saw water below did they know they were headed to safety,” explains Dorothy who is presently Assistant Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “Flight, a concerto for flute and orchestra, was inspired by this dramatic event in my family history. It is a reflection of the personal stories and memories of my mother and my grandparents. The three movements attempt to capture the powerful imagery and emotions the story evokes, from sorrow and despair to bittersweet nostalgia, terror and triumph.” The listener can hear and feel the journey, the soaring flight, and the freedom, almost like watching it on a movie screen in front of us.

Dorothy’s music has been recognized through honours and prizes from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and ASCAP, to name a few organizations. In addition to teaching at UBC, she continues her role as appointed composer-in-residence of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

Paolo and the flute

Just as a single action took Dorothy's parents into Flight, so too did a single action change Paolo's life. “My first instrument was a recorder. My mum put me on it. When I was eight I went to a concert in Halifax of Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, with solos for two flutes. I told my mum I wanted to play that instrument. We went up to one of the flute players after the concert and I asked if I could try the instrument. She said 'No.' I went up to the other flute player and he said, 'Yes'. He became my teacher for the next seven years.”

And the flute became Paolo's life. “By Grade 9, I couldn't think of anything else as a profession. There was a strong music program at the junior high school in Halifax and it had an orchestra. It was like the TV show Fame; they had their own building. I then went to the University of Ottawa and to Indiana for post graduate studies.”

Paolo, besides being principal flute with the Vancouver Island Symphony, is known as a passionate and provocative performer of a wide range of musical styles. He teaches at Kwantlen University-College and performs as a soloist and chamber musician across Canada and the US. He is also artistic director of the Nu:BC Collective, a cutting edge new music and multi-media arts ensemble.

A move to the West Coast

“Dorothy and I moved here from Indiana four years ago,” explains Paolo from their apartment on the 14th floor in a high rise near UBC. “We had been in Indiana for seven years. It takes a little time to work into a new city and let people know who you are. Here it is gorgeous, peaceful. We are facing directly towards Nanaimo. When we were looking for a place to live we wanted a concrete building. Even so the piano does vibrate through a bit but we haven't had any complaints yet.”

Recreation in Vancouver

In their spare time Dorothy and Paolo go to a lot of concerts. “And we also take in the Vancouver pass-time of finding cool, inexpensive and fantastic restaurants,” adds Paolo who also enjoys the creative aspect of cooking, and his balcony herb garden. “My favourite dish to prepare is lamb. I've got to know the local butcher and fish guy. It's old world – where it's great to know the individual vendors and shop owners.”

Such is the freedom we have here in Canada, to live where we please, shop where we please. And while 'Flight' captures the events of one evacuation to freedom, there are thousands, if not millions of flights and evacuations still ongoing around the world.

Says Dorothy, “Although Flight is inspired by my family's journey, ultimately it is meant to reflect on the broader universal themes of hope and perseverance. The piece is, in a way, a tribute not only to my grandfather but to all individuals who find strength in the face of adversity.”

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