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An exercise in counterpoint

Flutist Catherine Landmeyer returns to professional performance having been altered, and enhanced, by her hiatus from music to concentrate on being a mother.

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published October 26, 2003

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Catherine Landmeyer, center, with daughters Hannah, 5, left, and Sarah, almost 3, resigned as principal flutist of the Florida Orchestra in 2000.

Since she was a teenager, Catherine Wendtland dreamed of being a professional musician, and the dream came true in 1988 when she won the audition for principal flute of the Florida Orchestra. For more than a decade, she was one of the orchestra's most prominent players.

Then she got married - taking the last name of her husband, Perry Landmeyer - had two daughters and decided motherhood was more important than music.

"I'm a very focused, passionate person, and when I had kids, I thought, well, this is what I have to do, focus my energy on being with them, especially when they were babies," she said.

Now Landmeyer is returning to the concert stage, as the featured soloist in this week's season-opening program by the Tampa Bay Symphony, a community orchestra with players who range from retired professional musicians to people whose performance careers peaked in high school band. She's playing a concerto by Armenian Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian.

Jack Heller, the symphony's music director, first asked her to play Khachaturian's concerto - actually a violin concerto reworked for flute by flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal - six or seven years ago when she was in the Florida Orchestra. But she didn't have the time to do it. He asked again last summer.

"In early August, I came home from somewhere with the kids, and there was a message on the machine from him saying, "Hey, would you like to play the Khachaturian with us at the end of October?' " Landmeyer said.

"Before I even gave myself a minute to think about all the reasons why I shouldn't do it - I've never heard the piece, don't know it, have no time to practice - I just picked up the phone and called him back and said I would love to do it. I just went with my first reaction, because I've been missing playing."

Landmeyer, 37, decided she was ready to begin performing again now that her daughters, Hannah, 5, and Sarah, 3 next month, are older. She also was encouraged by a stint she put in last spring as substitute principal flute in the Sarasota-based Florida West Coast Symphony.

"It was wonderful," she said. "It was like I had never left playing in an orchestra. I was shocked by how happy I was to get back in there."

But being the soloist is another matter. The last time Landmeyer did that was in a Mozart flute concerto with the Florida Orchestra in 1993. About a week after accepting the offer from Heller to play the Khachaturian, she called the conductor with second thoughts.

"I almost backed out of it," she said. "The piece is very long, 25 pages, some 40 minutes, and it's very difficult. But he was real supportive. He just didn't want to take no for an answer."

Her main problem was finding the time to practice. When she was in the orchestra, Landmeyer practiced four or five hours a day in addition to rehearsals and concerts. That sort of routine was impossible with two little girls. Hannah goes to kindergarten, and Sarah is home all day.

"For a while, it was very frustrating, because my first notes of the day were at 9 o'clock at night once the girls were in bed," she said. "I was exhausted. I get up at 6 in the morning to get Hannah off to school, and by 9 at night I was so tired, and that was my first opportunity to practice. I was very worried."

Then a friend in her Westchase neighborhood north of Tampa, Jen-Jen Hall, came to the rescue. "She has been my angel," Landmeyer said. "She offered to watch Sarah for me during the day or both girls after school so I could practice. It has been incredible. I've been able to get a practice session during the day almost every day thanks to her. She is the reason I've been able to learn this piece."

Landmeyer's husband, Perry, is a trumpet player who went into business, working as a financial adviser with Raymond James in downtown Tampa.

Landmeyer, who studied four years at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and a fifth at New York City's Juilliard School, resigned from the orchestra in 2000. But it took her two years, which included a sabbatical, to reach the decision. The last time she played with the orchestra was in 1999.

"She was always a wonderful player," said Heller, a music professor at the University of South Florida who has led the Tampa Bay Symphony since 1986. "Very musical, technically sure, a beautiful sound. To give up a principal position, that has got to be tough."

Landmeyer, who has continued to play chamber music and teach, doesn't regret leaving the orchestra, but she misses the sense of accomplishment she got from being part of an artistic team.

"I enjoy being home with my kids, but it's definitely a challenging and lonely life," she said. "I don't have the adult interaction that I had before. Talk to any stay-at-home mom: It can be very isolating. And I have a hard time really connecting with other people who aren't musicians."

Landmeyer said she used to be "a maniac" about practicing, but her approach has changed - out of necessity.

"When you have the time to become neurotic, it's easy to get neurotic. Now I don't have the time. I decide when I sit down what I'm going to practice, I've got an hour and half to do it, I focus on it, and then I put it away. My kids need me. The concerto is always there in the back of my mind, but it's not this huge, looming cloud, because I have so much else to do. It's actually good for me."

She's confident her technique remains intact. "It's pretty much the same. It hasn't gone away, knock on wood. Since I was 14 years old, I was neurotically practicing, and it just stuck with me."

Khachaturian's concerto gives her a good test. Because it was written for violin, finding places to breathe can be tricky for the flutist, and the range of the solo part is very wide. Heller likes the piece because it calls for a large orchestra and gives his enthusiastic volunteer musicians plenty to do.

"We have more than 90 players, and they all want to play," he said. "We have a hard time fitting on stages. It's a great problem to have. People come to rehearsal every week because they love to work on the music."

The program also has Copland's Billy the Kid and two movements from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

Landmeyer thinks the Khachaturian concerto fits her well. "The first movement is very intense. The second movement is beautiful but very sad and lonely. In the third movement, I actually think about my kids. They call it the skipping music, because it's in 3/8 time, it kind of clips along, and they like to skip around the house when I'm playing it.

"I almost feel like I'm living out my life through this piece."


The Tampa Bay Symphony plays its first program of the season at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Countryside High School in Clearwater, 8 p.m. Thursday at Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg and 8 p.m. Friday in Ferguson Hall of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa. $12. (727) 319-8383.

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