Meet the Artist spoke to Adria Sternstein Foster, Principal Flute of Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, whose new album ‘Iridescence’ is out now
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I loved music from an early age and started playing the flute when I was nine. I didn’t have any aspirations to become a musician until I was in high school and attending the Juilliard Pre-College Division. My first experience in the orchestra was playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I fell in love with the thrilling “surround sound” of playing in an orchestra. Being around young musicians who were serious about music inspired me. Slowly it dawned on me that I could pursue music as a career.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My three main flute teachers: Bonnie Lichter, Julius Baker, and Jeanne Baxtresser. At Juilliard Pre-College, Bonnie gave me an amazing foundation for sound and technique. In college at Juilliard the legendary Julius Baker influenced me with his round, ringing tone, which I still to this day try to emulate. Later at Juilliard, my dear mentor Jeannie Baxtresser imparted her impeccable artistry and attention to detail to my musical education. As an orchestral flutist I am inspired by great conductors and singers I hear on stage. My husband Daniel Foster, principal violist of the National Symphony, is a major influence. I often play for him to get his feedback and I have learned a great deal from his outstanding musicianship over the years.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
When I first started out professionally, I was very driven and competitive. Because of this it was hard for me to settle down and just enjoy where I was and what I had. It wasn’t always easy for me to stop comparing myself to others and to not be so hard on myself. In learning to let go of this I have found much more joy in making music and have become (I hope!) a more authentic musician.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
My orchestral colleague Principal Harpist Susan Robinson and I recorded IRIDESCENCE, a CD of music for flute and harp. The works on this recording are those that we have performed together for years, and we know them like the back of our hands. I am so glad to share this music, all of it written in the 20th and 21st centuries, by wonderful composers such as American Stella Sung and New Zealander Gareth Farr among others. The theme of the disc is music depicting the natural world.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Kennedy Center Opera House! This is where my orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, performs for the Washington National Opera, ballet, and musical theatre all year long. The hall is beautiful and has very fine acoustics. When I first auditioned on the Opera House stage I looked up and saw the exquisite chandelier and was captivated. Now I look up at that chandelier each night and feel awe and gratitude. I enjoy the camaraderie of being in a pit orchestra. The musicians have a special bond. Operas and ballets are long–we spend a lot of time together in that hall and backstage in the musicians’ lounge. The Kennedy Center itself is a grand and impressive place with six theatres plus additional performance spaces, but the Opera House is like home to me.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 2016. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. The orchestra rehearsed and performed this music for three months straight. I just loved being immersed in it day and night—I couldn’t get those leitmotifs out of my head! It was a thrilling, moving experience that I will treasure forever.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
My definition of success is being able to have a career in music–in an orchestra (my dream), as well as a fulfilling family life (we have two children), friends, and time for other interests. I love living in Washington, DC, and I feel very fortunate to have landed a job in such a wonderful city. As I get older, spending time with my family and friends means more and more to me. I don’t like the term “having it all” because it is an unattainable ideal, but I would say success for me is having a good work-life balance.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
My advice is to seek out the best possible teacher. A great teacher makes all the difference. Learn from everyone around you. Be open-minded, be appreciative of the talents of others, and accept loss and disappointment as an opportunity to grow and improve. Try not to be defensive in the face of criticism. Maybe there is validity to it, or maybe there is not, so take the time to figure it out. If you are a musician pursuing an orchestral career, be persistent. I have sat on many juries listening to auditions. The “best” one doesn’t always win. There are many subjective factors, including taste, style, and the jury’s particular preferences. If your teachers and people who you respect believe in you, keep going and you will succeed when the stars align in your favour!
Adria is the Principal Flutist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra — the resident orchestra of the Opera House of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. It is the only orchestra in the country dedicated solely to the performance of three musical genres: opera, ballet and musical theater. In this role she performs for the Washington National Opera and has played for virtually all major national and international ballet companies, including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and many more.