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Meet the SLSO: Mark Sparks, Principal Flute

The flutes sit very much in the middle of the orchestra—what is that like?

To sit in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is an honor and privilege which I think of every day. Being in the center is great because we can see the conductor very clearly. Some other sections do not have that luxury, and at times they need to really work to interpret the conductor’s motions, especially when the conductor is directly facing a section like the violins. I am very happy in the flute section; my colleagues are the finest!

What’s your concert day routine? Any rituals or superstitions?

Often on concert days we have a dress rehearsal, so I usually get up early and warm up a bit at home. I try to get a nap in the afternoon when it’s possible. On other concert days I practice orchestra or solo repertoire for the next week, teach or exercise a bit, but try to take it easy. I have a practical approach, and no set rituals, but superstition sounds fun!

The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra is celebrating its 50th anniversary season this year. What are some of the most valuable things you learned as a YO member?

I am so thankful for the YO, where I received a first-rate introduction to the career which became my dream job. As a young player, I had no idea how much I really loved music and orchestral playing, but from the first moment I entered Powell Hall and sat in the orchestra, I was hooked. It was challenging for me, and I was rejected from my first try at the audition, but at the next audition I came in with lots of fire, and (after rather unceremoniously calling me a “show-off”) the conductor gave me a spot. I am grateful for that chance, and always keep a special place in my heart for Gerhardt Zimmermann and the Youth Orchestra.

What other creative endeavors do you have in addition to performing with the SLSO?

I enjoy teaching, and I spend time teaching at DePaul University every week, at home in St. Louis, at the Aspen Music Festival in July, and giving a 10-day master class in Tuscany during August. Also, I am currently writing and self-publishing two ongoing series of practice books for flutists, as well as quite a few arrangements for flute and piano. I do some writing for Flute Talk magazine, give master classes and recitals, and regularly visit Oberlin Conservatory (where I graduated) to coach the flute studio in their orchestral studies. That takes much of my time, but with what’s left I enjoy traveling with my wife, Valentina, exploring the Central West End, and keeping up my sporting passion, cycling.


This interview appears in the January 2020 edition of Playbill.


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