Get to Know...Hannah Porter Occeña
Q&A with Hannah…
What about new music for the flute appeals to you?
I was hooked on new music because of its collaborative nature. I love getting to work one-on-one with composers! Although many of the pieces that I have premiered are "one-night-only" sorts of works, I have found a few gems that I perform frequently, and I thoroughly enjoy the back-and-forth work I get to do with composers while helping refine and realize their work.
Describe your musical background and current activities.
I knew I wanted to play the flute at age 2, and I started lessons at age 7 when I was finally big enough to hold the instrument properly. After about 10 years of claiming I wanted to be other things – teacher, orthopedic surgeon, marine biologist, astronomer, physicists/engineer, and lawyer – I decide to major in music performance and ended up at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory studying with Mary Posses. It was at UMKC that I got the new music bug – the school has outstanding composers (including Zhou Long) on faculty – and I continued to work on new music projects in my master's degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London and in the four years I spent working in Europe and the Kansas City-metro after my graduation. I am currently working on my DMA at Stony Brook University and performing with the Topeka Symphony in Kansas.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a number of upcoming projects. My duo partner, Belle Chen (www.bellechen.com) and I are collaborating on a new CD titled Reflection, Remembrance, and Resilience which features music by Robert Beaser and Aaron Copland. I am also in the process of commissioning five additional pieces, including two works for flute and strings, to premiere alongside the next FNMC commission work by Carter Pann in 2018. I also have three additional recitals and a lecture recital planned as part of my degree requirements at Stony Brook.
What advice can you give to flutists about approaching new music in practice?
Work first at the overall shape of a piece, and see if you can map the work before you start practicing it: Where is the climax of the piece? What techniques/motifs is the composer using frequently? Is this tonal or atonal? What do I know about the piece's story? Then spend time working on whatever part of the piece is the most demanding, always remembering to end practice sessions with something easy or particularly satisfying.
More about Hannah…
Hailed by the New York Times as possessing “rich tone and deft technique,” flutist Hannah Porter Occeña is the Principal Flute of the Topeka Symphony Orchestra (Topeka, KS); previous positions include Principal Flute of the Midwest Chamber Ensemble (Prairie Village, KS) and Associate Principal Flute of the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra (Bismarck, ND). The 2012 Irene Burchard prizewinner at the Royal Academy of Music, She has performed as an orchestral soloist, recitalist, and clinician throughout the Midwest and abroad.
Committed to the rich heritage and new horizons of the repertoire, Occeña strives to make classical works accessible and engaging to diverse audiences. Between her DMA studies, her orchestral performance and teaching responsibilities, and chasing after a two-year-old daughter, she performs informal lecture recitals—combining contemporary music, music technology, and standard repertoire—at senior citizens centers, participates in outreach concerts and programs for young people. Occeña was a commissioning member of the Flute New Music Consortium’s inaugural project, Confluence by Zhou Long, and will give a recital of newly commissioned works in February 2018.
Occeña is a DMA student at Stony Brook University, where she studies with Carol Wincenc, and she holds a Master of Music Dip.RAM from the Royal Academy of Music and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Ryan, and their daughter, Veronica, and can be heard on New Beginnings: American and Australian Duos for Flute and Piano and Voices from the Middle with the Midwest Chamber Ensemble. Occeña is a Miyazawa Emerging Artist and plays on a Miyazawa PA-402.