Celebrating Women's History: Q&A with Mimi Stillman (Flute '99)

The internationally acclaimed flutist, chamber musician, teacher, recording artist, media host, and founding artistic director of Dolce Suono Ensemble attended Curtis from 1994–99

“Mimi Stillman is not only a consummate and charismatic performer, but also a scholar. Her programs tend to activate, ear, heart, and brain.” —New York Times

Praised for her “exquisite purity of sound and depth of emotion” (Diario de Yucatán), internationally renowned flutist, composer, arranger, educator, and scholar Mimi Stillman (’99) has appeared as a soloist with major orchestras and chamber musician at prestigious venues throughout the United States and internationally. At age 12, she was the youngest wind player ever admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with the legendary Julius Baker and Jeffrey Khaner and earned her Bachelor of Music degree. She was also the youngest flutist to win the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and Astral Artists.

Ms. Stillman is the founder and artistic director of Dolce Suono Ensemble, an acclaimed chamber music ensemble based in Philadelphia, that has given 69 world premieres in 19 seasons. Her concerts and recordings are broadcast globally, and she is the host of the popular “Tea with Mimi” livestream show. Ms Stillman is a published author on music and history, a composer and arranger, and a Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician. She holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania, and is the artist-in-residence on faculty at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance.

As a soloist, Ms. Stillman has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán; recitals at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Verbier Festival (Switzerland); and taught masterclasses for the National Flute Association, Eastman School of Music, École Normale de Musique de Paris, universities and conservatories throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Visit Mimi Stillman’s official website HERE.

What were some of your fondest memories of attending Curtis, and were any specific moments or performances that stood out to you as most memorable?

During my fruitful years at Curtis, I made lifelong friends and musical partners. My friendship with Zhou Tian (Composition ’05) grew with our many collaborations over the years, culminating in his Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, written for me and commissioned by a consortium of seven American orchestras. I premiered Zhou’s marvelous work with the Marine Chamber Orchestra of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in 2022, and my recording with the ensemble was released recently. Working with Zhou on this project is one of the highlights of my musical life, and it all started as a Curtis friendship!

I studied with two extraordinary teachers, the legendary Julius Baker, who brought me to Curtis when I was 12, and Jeffrey Khaner. All my studies and performances at Curtis gave me the critical experience I needed as I began my professional career. While I was still a student, at 15, Jeffrey Khaner brought me into the Philadelphia Orchestra as a substitute to play second flute to him in Brahms’s Requiem. I also got to play with my chamber coaches from Curtis: Richard Woodhams, and Donald Montanaro—an unforgettable experience on many levels.

My time at Curtis shaped my identity as an artist today in another significant way: I formed an ensemble with my friends, composers David Serkin Ludwig (’01) and Daniel Kellogg (’99), with Jennifer Higdon (’88) as our faculty advisor, to perform music by Curtis composers past and present. My first taste of running a chamber ensemble and the artistic planning and entrepreneurship that it requires inspired me to found Dolce Suono Ensemble as artistic director, now in our 19th season.

Watch Ms. Stillman perform Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” with the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra.

 Do you have any pearls of wisdom for current Curtis students and recent alums looking to establish their own careers?
My family and closest mentors encouraged me to find my path to be fulfilled personally and artistically. I encourage my students to think carefully about channeling their dedication and discipline to where their passion lies. While performing as a soloist and chamber musician after graduating from Curtis, I got my M.A. and did Ph.D. coursework in history at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s deeply rewarding for me to integrate music and history in my work as a performer, published author, and media host and in my curatorial vision for Dolce Suono Ensemble.

When you’re experiencing the intense rigors of conservatory training and building a career, it’s easy to lose sight of the wider world, but it’s important for students and young alumni to broaden their horizons. Explore art, literature, history, and science, and pursue interests that strengthen our humanity as well as our musicianship.

I feel blessed to share great music with others and to continually learn and grow while doing it. I strongly believe in the power of music to heal and bring people together, and love reaching communities who don’t have ease of access to concert music through outreach to people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. Growing up as a Spanish speaker with an affinity for Hispanic cultures led me organically to launch “Música en tus Manos” (Music in Your Hands), Dolce Suono Ensemble’s engagement initiative with Philadelphia’s Latino communities highlighting music by Latin American and Latino composers. I urge young musicians to embrace as many musical experiences as they can, to listen for those moments when something—a style, a genre, an interaction with another person through music—resonates with your inner voice as an artist.

Q&A with Mimi Stillman by Ryan Scott Lathan.

Watch Ms. Stillman perform Aaron Copland’s “Duo for Flute and Piano” with pianist Charles Abramovic.

Please visit the Curtis Institute of Music Open Archives and Recitals (CIMOAR). Learn more about Curtis’s library and archives HERE.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 7, & 8.) Portraits and performance images of Mimi Stillman courtesy of artist’s website. Photo 3 features archival image of Ms. Stillman with Julius Baker and Jeffrey Khaner at Curtis. 5.) Zhou Tian’s concerto world premiere, with Mimi Stillman, Dr. Zhou, Col. Jason Fettig courtesy of “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. 6.) Mimi and Zhou discussing his concerto at rehearsal with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra; Ronni L. Gordon.

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