Pei-San Chiu had solid reasons for picking the flute when she joined her elementary school band.
"I always thought the girl played flute — it's so beautiful, so elegant — so that's why I picked flute," Chiu says in the lobby of the Singletary Center for the Arts.
More than two decades later, Chiu is reasserting the beauty and elegance of her instrument of choice on Singletary's concert hall stage as the principal flutist for the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
With a repertoire that has regularly featured works that spotlight the flute, Chiu has regularly played solos that have maestro Scott Terrell motioning to her to stand during the ovation. But Friday night, Chiu truly gets the spotlight to herself in John Corigliano's Voyage for flute and string orchestra.
Well, she'll be a bit more modest about the gig.
"I don't really see myself as a soloist with the orchestra," Chiu says. "This is a transcription from string orchestra, and I am just one of the people in the orchestra; I'm adding a little color to the string orchestra."
That's something Chiu has done for a couple years now, having won an audition that attracted more than 50 flutists vying for the Philharmonic's first chair.
Terrell says, "That first year, we just happened to have pulled out all the major works that feature flute — Midsummer Night's Dream, Afternoon of a Faun, Petrouchka — so people heard her immediately."
Chiu says, "I did not know this piece until Scott programmed it. Scott asked me to check out this piece, and I love it."
After Monday night's rehearsal of Voyage, Terrell says, Chiu asked, "'What can I do better?' And that's the attitude you always want to have in an orchestra musician."
He says principal musicians such as Chiu and trumpeter Stephen Campbell, who also is a featured soloist with the Philharmonic Friday (see story, this page), are affirmation of the orchestra's steady improvement. He says that Lexington's position near two major music schools, Indiana University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, make auditions for Philharmonic chairs particularly competitive.
Chiu is finishing her doctoral work at Indiana. During Philharmonic concert weeks, she usually stays in Lexington, rather than put in a six-hour round-trip commute.
Chiu grew up in Taichung, Taiwan, attending a Catholic school where music was emphasized. Before she took up the flute, her family wasn't very musical. Her parents own a pork shop, and she inherited their love of cooking. After she took up flute, her sister, I-Ping Chiu, took up horn and now is in the National Taiwan Symphony.
Both she and her sister came to the United States to study at IU. Because Taiwan is a small country, she says, most musicians eventually leave to at least study, if not pursue careers.
She says she chose the United States because music education is broader here, exploring wider fields of music philosophy and education, as opposed to a strict focus on the instrument.
Chiu did undergraduate work at Taipei National University of the Arts and came to Indiana in 2009 to earn a master's degree.
She was one of five flutists from Indiana to audition for the Philharmonic's principal chair.
"There are so many flutists in the United States, it's pretty competitive," Chiu says. "I was very lucky."