Three times in his youth he nearly quit music entirely, but artists have a creative imperative that usually speaks with a louder internal voice than all the ‘shoulds’ that come at them.
Henry Flurry was born in New Orleans to a musical family, so was always surrounded by music from an early age. His parents saw music as part of his education as opposed to an activity, and he took piano lessons throughout his school years. Already as a kid Henry spent time making up music on the piano, something which would be a central pillar of his life work.
In college he studied computer programming and music theory and composition. He later continued his music studies privately with a former student of Nadia Boulanger, Marianne Ploger. Her influence led him to a deeper focus on his work as a composer. In 1999 Henry won a competition to compose a fanfare for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, which he considered a lucky break. His first orchestral piece was well received.
Henry married Maria, a percussionist, and they started a family while living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but wanted to raise their family near at least one grandparent. Maria’s father had moved to Prescott, so in 2002 the Flurrys moved here, where they found a welcoming arts community. “After my training with Marianne, I credit my growth as a composer completely to the Prescott community,” he says. He was able to write music for local soloists, choirs (Prescott Women's Chamber Singers, Prescott Chorale, Camerata Singers), orchestras (Prescott Pops, Prescott Chamber Orchestra), and even the Prescott High School Wind Ensemble. He says he is unsure whether he would have had the opportunity to compose orchestral pieces and have them performed had they stayed in Michigan. He credits the Prescott music community for allowing him to create pieces for larger groups and grow as a composer.
In 2007 Henry and Maria had the concept of starting a music festival in Prescott to feature local musicians. They formed the nonprofit Chaparral Arts to create and operate the Chaparral Music Festival, which ran for nine years as a combination of concerts, community workshops and camps for kids and adults, including a camp for violinists and pianists called the Chapparal Suzuki Academy, which ran for seven years. Henry was a trained Suzuki piano teacher and has taught the Suzuki method for many years. He feels very positive about the teaching model, which he describes as a triangle between parent, teacher and student, grounded in love and respect. For Henry the Suzuki training influenced many parts of his life, including parenting and interactions with peers.
AZPhil is Born
For some years Henry continued composing and, with Maria, a concert-level professional percussionist, performing as the duo Sticks and Tones. He co-composed a concerto for Flamenco guitar and dancer with a Flamenco couple that premiered in St. Louis, and was also performed in San Tan Valley. This came to the attention of Dr. Craig Ralston of the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center, who said in 2014 they should bring the piece to YCPAC.
In 2017 Ralston invited Henry to present a concert of his orchestral music as part of the YCPAC season. Unable to successfully hire a professional orchestra to come to Prescott and perform this concert, Henry was faced with assembling an orchestra from scratch. Sensing an opportunity, Henry and the Chaparral Arts board invited local conductors and music leaders to a meeting where they asked themselves, “Do we want to have a local permanent orchestra?” Of course they did.
Six months and many meetings later there was a business plan. The initiative really started as a community effort by a number of leaders who shared a vision of what they could do with an orchestra.
The inaugural concert of the Arizona Philharmonic took place in 2018, presenting a program of music all composed by Henry Flurry. Peter Bey, an accomplished conductor and old friend of Maria’s, conducted the concert and has maintained a close relationship with AZPhil ever since. Musicians audition for AZPhil and come from all over the state to play in Prescott.
Henry is passionate about bringing classical music to the public. “One thing we like to do with the AZPhil is give people fabulous new experiences. We want people to go home and say, ‘You should have seen …!’” Equally important for Henry are fair pay for musicians and cultivating a culture of kindness on all levels of whatever group he is working with. When the pandemic struck indoor performing arts took a huge hit, but AZPhil managed to perform five concerts, several of them outdoors, all following recommended safety protocols. Among the musicians the group hired, nearly all said those were the only paid gigs they had in 14 months. “It was a hard time, but we discovered a resilience and flexibility,” says Henry.
Now entering its sixth season, AZPhil remains committed to fair wages for musicians, a practice that began with the Chaparral Music Festival. The idea is to get people to invest their livelihoods in our region. AZPhil coordinates with all other regional orchestras to make sure that schedules don’t overlap, making it easier for musicians who choose to live in this area to piece together an “income portfolio,” as Henry calls it. He can list five professional musicians who have moved to the area and specifically mentioned AZPhil as a consideration, and three of those are current orchestra members.
Another goal for Henry has been to increase the venue optionns for classical concerts in this area. Henry joined Dennis Houser, director of the Prescott Chorale, other arts leaders and Prescott Unified School District to look into upgrading Prescott High School’s Ruth St. Theatre. Henry championed bringing back recital opportunities for local musicians, modeled on the community-concert series that Prescott Center for the Arts ran till 2009. The pandemic put the kibosh on concerts there for a time, but renovations began and the theatre has now contracted with AZPhil to host its next several seasons. Other groups are also now seeing the Ruth St Theatre as a suitable, quality venue for concerts.
AZPhil’s culture of kindness originated with the philosophy of extending strong hospitality to the musicians. With most orchestras the musicians show up, play and go home. The job doesn’t create community. Musicians playing with AZPhil come from all over the state. To conserve funds and build connections, visiting musicians stay with host families and become close. There is always a common meal each time they come to town for a performance, so they get to know one another. Says Henry, “We have a strong reputation as a really fun orchestra to be involved with. I’m proud of that. We took that goal of kindness toward the orchestra and took it to the whole organization, so I like to say that we’re an organization grounded in kindness, from the musicians to the board.”
Additional projects that Henry is working on include a musical setting of parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls called Fragments, which he recently revised for performance by the Prescott Chorale in October. He is also thoroughly enjoying a collaboration with local pianist Jonathan Best. They have been trading lessons (Henry teaching Jonathan classical, Jonathan teaching Henry improvisation) and are working on a composition project for a smaller ensemble called Life, Liberty and Pursuit, which will be ready for public performance next year. Henry also plays with Dennis Garvey and the beloved local band Remedy.
AZPhil presents concerts both large and small. The goal is to eventually present four to six large orchestra concerts per year. Henry sees his involvement in AZPhil as an investment in his retirement, because when he is ready to retire (which he fully intends to do right here), he loves the idea of having a well established orchestra collaborating with the likes of the Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet and, sometime in the future, a locally based opera company. He feels these are things Prescott is fully capable of embracing and supporting, which will draw both tourists and local artists. His mind is full of possible connections and opportunities for collaboration.
Henry stresses that he doesn’t want AZPhil to be associated with himself. It will have a solid business and artistic agenda and a capable board to keep it moving forward once he steps back. The group has hired an executive co-director, Abby Coffey, with the goal that Henry will soon move into the exclusive role as artistic director. Henry emphasizes the imperative that it remain a team effort, with an infrastructure that is not founder-centric. Prescott has become musically stronger and more diverse since Henry and Maria Flurry joined the community, and we’re fortunate to be able to look forward to many more years of great music grounded in kindness.