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Great Musicians Series: Barthold Kuijken

On Harmonia this week, the Great Musicians Series continues with an in-depth look at Barthold Kuijken, one of the pioneers in baroque flute performance.

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woman with flute and man with spool

Photo: Anonymous

Bart Kuijken teaching a student about the mysteries of playing the baroque flute.

The name Kuijken in the world of early music evokes, among many things, a triptych; each panel depicting a fine musician holding an instrument.  We see a violinist named Sigiswald, then the gambist Wieland, and, last but certainly not least, is the subject of this Great Musicians Series: Barthold.

The youngest of the three musicians from a large Belgian family, Bart, as he’s called by those who know him, is arguably the most prominent and well-respected historical flutist of his generation.  Recently, he was in our studios to talk about his latest recording of C.P.E. Bach’s complete sonatas for flute and basso continuo with fellow Belgian and early keyboardist Ewald Demeyere:

“I wanted to record all of C.P.E. Bach’s Sonatas with basso continuo…[a] couple of years ago we decided that we would do it, and I’m very happy I [recorded] did it with a young Belgian harpsichordist, Ewald Demeyere, who is an excellent player.  And I found it a good project, because, well, I love Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and you see through these sonatas his evolution from a gifted young musician—not yet entirely sure of the form he wants to write in [and] a bit experimental still and a bit unfocused—…towards the maturity of a composer who knows very well what he wants… and who dares to be new or unpredictable.”

For those of your familiar with the brothers Kuijken, it might come as a surprise to find out that there is now a younger generation of family members who are also professional musicians.  In the year 2000, the three brotehrs were joined by violinists Veronica and  Sara, and pianist Piet in a recording of Claude Debussy’s chamber music.  Not necessarily intended as an expression of historical performance, the musicians nevertheless played on instruments from Debussy’s day.  Barthold fills us in on some background about the project:

“[Debussy is] a marvelous composer, and he’s one of those composers I would love to listen to when I put on a record at home—very sensitive and clear at the same time.  At some point we had been asked to record all of Debussy’s chamber music with as many members of the family as possible.  The second [part] I found a wrong choice because whether we happen to have the same name or not, we are good musicians, so that was a kind of commercial argument I did not like.  I think we should play with people we want to play with.  But they played very well and we had great fun doing it.  So we recorded the cello sonata with Wieland and his son, Piet, who incidentally studied one year in Bloomington with Menahem Pressler.  And then, the violin sonata with Sigiswald and Piet, the string quartet with Wieland and Sigiswald and two daughters of Sigiswald, and then the trio for harp viola and flute.  There was no harpist in the family, so we had to rent one, and then finally I did this little solo piece, Syrinx, for flute solo.  And, I must say, we all had kind of forgotten how one plays this music, [but] we approached this music, more or less, as people approach any unknown, anonymous piece.  It was a very, very refreshing experience for me.”

Flautist and pedagogue aren’t the only titles that Bart has preceding his name.  Conductor is also a facet of his musicianship which he has practiced for over two decades, having conducted numerous ensembles in a variety of orchestral and choral repertoire.  Most recently, Bart was appointed artistic director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra.

Barthold tells of the beginning of his conducting career:

“The first time I was just asked, because somebody could not do it.  So, I remember, it was way back in the 80s, a wind group with friends of mine in Belgium [was] doing Mozart’s Gran Partita and the Octet, and they thought it would be wiser to have a conductor.  So at the very last moment they asked me, and I said “Well, why not?”  So that was the first experience and it was very nice because in fact it is the same thing whether you play or conduct.  You have an idea how you want this music to sound and you are trying to get exactly that either out of your instrument or with the collaboration of all the musicians who are there.  So the thing which is really important is knowing exactly what you want to do, and then seeing how far you can get in that direction.”

Let’s turn to the father Johann Sebastian, a particular favorite of Bart’s, so much so that he has twice recorded the composer’s complete sonatas for flute.  On his most recent release featuring the sonatas of J.S. Bach, Barthold Kuijken is accompanied by harpsichordist Ewald Demeyere.

The new release of the week  features the well-known viol consort Phantasm in their latest installment of the works of John Jenkins.  His five-part consorts are recorded on the Avie label.

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata in Bb major, Wq 130/H 560 (Hamburg, 1786), Allegro
Barthold Kuijken, flute, and Ewald Demeyere, harpsichord — The Sonatas for Flute and B.C. (ACC , 2006)
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Claude Debussy: SYRINX pour flute seule, [Lesure 129], 1913
La Familie Kuijken (with Sophie Hallynck, harpe) — La Musique de Chambre (Arcana , 2000)
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C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in E minor, Wq177/H652, I.Allegro assai
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra (Bart Kuijken, dir.) — Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, Ruth Lilly Hall, University of Indianapolis: Live Concert (January 29, 2007)
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Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034, 3.Andante and 4.Allegro
Barthold Kuijken, flute, and Ewald Demeyere, harpsichord — Flute Sonatas (ACC 22150, 2002)
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John Jenkins: Pavan in G
Phantasm — John Jenkins: Five-Part Consorts (AV 2120, 2007)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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