Meet New Faculty: Timothy Hagen, flute

New to UW-Madison, Timothy Hagen, adjunct professor of flute, is an internationally acclaimed flutist, praised for his “technical virtuosity and musical sensitivity” (NewMusicBox).

With my friend and colleague, Brandon Rumsey, just before the premiere of Michael Mikulka’s Flute Concerto, written for me.

He has been a prizewinner at multiple major competitions, including the Myrna Brown Artist Competition, Australian International Flute Competition, and Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition. As a soloist, Dr. Hagen has appeared at New York’s 92nd Street Y and Lincoln Center in addition to multiple concerto performances with the Missouri Symphony. He was principal flute of the Missouri Symphony from 2009-2016 and has performed with orchestras across the country, including the Minnesota Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Eugene Symphony, and Dallas Wind Symphony. His experience as a chamber musician includes fellowships at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and Atlantic Music Festival, and his compositions are performed by professional musicians throughout the United States.

Before joining the faculty at UW-Madison, Dr. Hagen taught at Oklahoma State University and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lincoln Center Education, and Dallas Symphony. He holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, University of Southern California, and University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in addition to a professional studies certificate from the Colburn School.

Interview conducted by Kyle Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.

You are now a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet. What are some of your favorite works for wind quintet, and do you plan to program those pieces soon?

Performing with Wingra is one of the highlights of my job. Each of my four colleagues in the group is a superior musician, as well as a nice person, so everything we play together is a treat. That said, of the warhorses, I love Paul Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2. I also love newer quintets by Jennifer Higdon and Andrea Clearfield, which we consider programming in 2018, along with Gyorgy Ligeti’s Ten Pieces (something of a classic by now), and John Harbison’s quintet. Right now, we’re giving our fabulous horn player (Joanna Schulz) a little break and playing Elliott Carter’s Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for woodwind quartet. The music is not only excellently crafted, but it is also captivating and compelling. I’ve wanted to play it for years, and I’m fortunate that my first time is with Wingra.

You’ve composed many works for flute. What is the difference between writing more pedagogical works vs a concert piece?

When I’m composing, my primary focus is to create a work that is successful in expressing what it’s trying to express. That is true whether the work is pedagogical or for the stage. For teaching pieces, like my NarrEtudes (as in “narrated etudes,” each of which is a chapter of a story), I have to be very conscious of the level of student I am targeting. These pieces aim to teach expressivity at the same time young students are still developing technique, so I had to be careful to find the perfect level of technical difficulty—the Goldilocks spot, not too easy or too hard, but just right—to correspond to the expressive demands of the pieces.

To a degree, this is also true of concert works. If I am writing a piece for myself, the process is somewhat easier because I have a strong sense of my strengths and areas where I need to grow, so I will tend to write music that will capitalize on the former and stretch me in service of the latter. If I am writing a piece for someone else, then there tends to be an ongoing conversation about what they want while I am crafting the piece. Drafts get sent back and forth, and the process stays open. This is what happened on my latest piece, In a Yellow Wood for piccolo and piano, which was written for a consortium of students of the late, great Jack Wellbaum, former Solo Piccolo of the Cincinnati Symphony. The lead commissioner, Heather Verbeck, is a beautiful, sensitive player, and we became good friends through this project.

Sometimes, however, the two worlds come together: someone else commissions me AND I am left to my own devices. I was commissioned to write the required work for the Texas Flute Society’s 2017 Myrna Brown Artist Competition, and the contract had two requirements: the work had to use extended techniques (sounds beyond the traditional scope of flute tone), and it had to be sufficiently difficult to help the judges decide who should advance to the final round and ultimately win. This resulted in my piece Pop for solo flute, which was a ton of fun to write. It was the first piece I have ever composed where I was well aware during the process that it was possible, but it would take a LOT of practice to play (even for me, the composer). Because of this, I focused on making the piece fun and catchy, both for audiences and performers. Judging from the feedback after it was performed, I thankfully managed to get the balance right.

What do you offer to your students that is most unique – perhaps an aspect of teaching that came from one of your teachers?

I was fortunate in that my first teacher in college, Philip Dunigan at the North Carolina School of the Arts, was really from a different generation. He freelanced in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, when you would go to Juilliard until you started getting enough work to quit school (which is exactly what he did, leaving without even a bachelor’s degree). In my lessons with him, he would hold up great musicians of the past as sonic role models, especially singers, like the phenomenal Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, whose recordings I’ve recently come back to and whose voice was astonishingly beautiful. Dunigan would also strategically assign us copious amounts of listening. In my first year with him, he gave me Arthur Honegger’s solo flute piece Danse de la Chevre to learn, and with it came a list of Honegger’s other works to study, such as the orchestral tone poem Pacific 231, and the double concerto for flute and English horn. Absent from that list was the very piece I was learning, Danse de la Chevre, because his hope was for me to pick up on elements of Honegger’s style, not for me to simply copy professional flutists playing the same piece I was playing.

These two things I got first from Dunigan—sonic beauty and control and stylistic assimilation—came back in various guises through my other major flute teachers, especially Jim Walker and Marianne Gedigian. Walker would never, ever settle for anything less than my best sound all the time, and Gedigian has possibly the uncanniest ear for style of anyone I have ever met (and certainly of any flutist).

It’s no wonder that I view these same two things as the hallmarks of my teaching. Ask my students how much time we spend on sound in their lessons! (Answer: A LOT!) My philosophy is that for any musician to develop a voice worth listening to, they have to develop total control over their sound so that they have endless options to express what the composer is trying to express. This means doing a lot of listening—to singers, to violinists, to pianists, and occasionally, yes, to flutists—to build up huge sonic imaginations and a lot of practicing and experimenting to channel those imaginations through the flute.

As much as I have to say about sound, however, it, like all other aspects of musical execution, is subservient to style. I insist that my students spend a great deal of time researching, studying, and thinking about these aspects of music, because they determine how we proceed with everything else. Style is why the sound I use for Bach is different from the sound I use for Mozart, and why both are different from my sound for Brahms, for Varése, for Copland, and so on.

One final point I try to impart to my students that I learned from Jim Walker: being the best musician you can be is not a guarantee of success. There is nothing wrong with capitalizing on every skill you have. This mindset has not only led me to career success in areas outside playing and teaching the flute, such as community outreach, composing, and curriculum design, but it also has enriched my artistic life and my personal life.

What is one of your most memorable musical experiences? Most embarrassing?

One of my most magical memories comes from 2008, when my dear friend Greg Milliren (now associate principal flute of the Minnesota Orchestra) and I were each serving as co-principal flute in the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. Our gala concert that year featured the iconic film music of John Williams, conducted by the composer himself. The opportunity to play a whole program of this stunning music with wonderful friends and musicians, under Mr. Williams’ baton, was exciting beyond words.

As for embarrassing, I’d point to the 2006 Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition, a major competition in Southern California. I had advanced to the final round and decided to up the stakes by playing some of my program from memory. Big risk sometimes equals big reward, but I fell hard that night. Even worse was learning after the fact that the jury anticipated that I would win after the semifinal round, when I did not play from memory. Needless to say, that did not happen. I am still mortified when I think about that experience. Memory does not equal artistry; and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Timothy Hagen will perform a recital on March 18, 2 PM in Mills Hall.

For information or a sample lesson, contact:

See Prof. Hagen’s personal website:

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