Meet the Musician: Principal Flutist Adria Sternstein Foster

Photography by Danielle Cho

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY.

Are you from a musical family?

No musicians in my family - my father was a professor of American History at Brooklyn College and my mother taught art in the NYC Public Schools. Now she is a full-time artist and devotes herself to her own work.

When did you start playing flute, and what made you choose the instrument?

I can’t remember why I chose the flute, although I think I must have been drawn to the sound. I wanted to play it since the age of seven. My fingers were too small to reach the keys, so I had to start on recorder. At nine years old I was able to begin the flute.

Me at age 11 with my sister Ava, on violin and my best friend - still to this day - Milina, on piano.

Where did you do your training?

I loved music from an early age and my parents supported my musical interest by providing flute lessons and taking me to concerts. My mother took me to see The Tales of Hoffman at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of four and I sat transfixed, much to the relief of the gentleman next to me who was bracing for an evening of constant disruption! But, none of us had any notion that I would pursue music professionally until 11th grade. I had decided to attend LaGuardia High School for the Arts in Manhattan because I didn’t want to go to my “uncool” local high school. At LaGuardia I had my first experience playing in orchestra. The thrill of playing in an orchestra turned me on to music even more, as did meeting other kids who were serious about music. Two of my friends decided to audition for the Juilliard School Pre-College Division (a Saturday music program for young people). We all walked over to Juilliard, which is just a block away from LaGuardia at Lincoln Center, and picked up our applications. I practiced all summer, took the audition and got in! The next thing I had to do was choose a teacher as there were two flute instructors. I picked Bonnie Lichter because her bio said she had also attended LaGuardia. Studying with her was the best thing that could have happened to me. I would not be a flute player today, if not for her. I had a lot to learn – and not a lot of time - being already a junior in high school when I joined the Pre-College. I practiced fiendishly, at least four hours a day. Bonnie’s exceptional teaching helped me fix many issues and she was the guide I needed to prepare for college auditions. I applied to nine different schools, but my dream was to go to Juilliard for college. When the legendary Julius Baker accepted me to be his student at Juilliard it was the best day of my life! The most beneficial part about studying with him was learning from his example and listening to his glorious sound when he played in my lessons. 

When did you join The KCOHO?

I joined the KCOHO a year after graduating Juilliard. My final year there I switched to study under the fabulous Jeanne Baxtresser who was at the time the principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic, Baker’s previous position. She offered just what I needed: detailed focus on my musicianship and meticulous training on taking orchestral auditions. A couple of weeks after graduation I won my first position as 2nd flute/piccolo in the Charleston Symphony in South Carolina. A few months into the job, the principal flute position in the KCOHO came open. A year earlier I had won a competition and performed the Mozart G Major Concerto with the National Symphony. I think that experience and familiarity with the Kennedy Center put me more at ease at the audition than I otherwise would have been. I will never forget the feeling of elation when I won the job. This music thing was actually going to work out!

                            After my performance with the NSO at the Kennedy Center

You’re married to National Symphony principal violist Dan Foster. How did you two meet to begin your Kennedy Center love story?

Dan liked to read the back page of the local musicians’ union newsletter which listed new members and especially those who failed to pay their union dues! He saw my name as a new member and remembered that a mutual friend had told him to look up this new flute player in town. He sounded nice over the phone and we hit it off! We realize how lucky we are to both have careers in music in the same city – let alone the same building! Another plus is having such a fine musician like Dan to play for when I need another set of ears. I have learned a lot from him. 

How do you combine family life and performing?

Dan and I have two children. It is a team effort, and we are very organized and luckily have help from my in-laws who live 10 minutes away. Our kids go to many concerts at the KC and both play the violin. Our house is a cacophony of practicing sometimes – we love it.

Any favorite moments from your time at the Kennedy Center?

The 2016 Ring Cycle was phenomenal. I feel a wave of nostalgia when I hear music from the Ring now because I long to play it so much. I hope we do it again. Other favorite operas/moments are Pique Dame with Maestro Fricke conducting and Domingo singing, Rosenkavalier, Elektra with Eva Marton and Fricke, Salome, Jenufa, and the operas of Mozart.

What have been your favorite ballets to perform?

I love the Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky ballets and enjoy many of the 19th century story ballets we do as the flute parts are usually challenging and fun. This season we performed ABT's Whipped Cream with music by Richard Strauss originally titled Schlagobers. There is a marvelous and enormous flute solo in Act I, perhaps the most difficult solo I've ever played. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to perform that part. 

What musical activities do you do outside of the Kennedy Center?

I’m honored to be collaborating with my mentor Jeanne Baxtresser on Volume II of her best-selling flute book Orchestral Excerpts for Flute with Piano Accompaniment. My contribution involves editing and writing about the ballet and opera excerpts included in this edition. Working with her on this project and thus deepening the connection we’ve had for so long has been especially rewarding. The book should come out within the next year!

For many years I have performed music for flute, harp and strings with the IBIS Chamber Music Society, a group co-founded by KCOHO Principal Harpist Susan Robinson. Susan and I have recorded a CD of our favorite works and are looking forward to its release in the fall of 2018.

Our CD cover.  Photo: Danielle Cho; Design: Gordon Jee

What do you do when you’re not playing?

I am continuing on my perpetual mission to improve my French. I have taken courses at the Alliance Française and get together as often I can with my French speaking friend/teacher. My interest in French originates from the many years I spent travelling to Paris to visit my aunt, Shirley Jaffe – a prominent abstract artist in France. She died at the age of 92 in 2016, but we were very close and she was and still is a source of inspiration through her unwavering devotion to her art.

                                                     With my Aunt in Paris

Any fun facts you'd like to share about flute?

It has been said that the flute takes as much air as the tuba, since one is blowing across a hole and very little of the air goes inside the instrument. I cannot personally vouch for that, having never played a tuba, but the flute certainly does take a tremendous quantity of air – more any other woodwind instrument. For me, staying fit with jogging and exercise is a necessity for having adequate breath control to play the flute. I also rely heavily on my training in Alexander Technique, a method for improving ease and freedom of movement and releasing unnecessary tension in the body.