Thursday, January 12, 2012

Harpsichordist Ketil Haugsand (Norway-Germany) talks about his work and early music

On January 6th 2012, I spoke to Norwegian harpsichordist Ketil Haugsand on Skype. He was talking from his music room at his home in Cologne, Germany. No new face in Israel, Professor Haugsand will be conducting and soloing with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv January 24th and 25th 2012.

PH: Professor Haugsand, what were your first musical experiences?

Ketil Haugsand: Now I haven’t thought about that for a very long time! When I was very small, it would have been music heard on the radio, in church or at home. My father was the headmaster of a Norwegian folk college; these colleges for young adults are very special – the students board and there is a lot of culture in them. My father set very high standards and I think that that is my basis both culturally and musically. My father saw to it that great artists visited there; we had summer courses there – in chamber music, orchestra, etc. I think this formed me very well in my first years: it made me discover my musicality and my wish to become a musician.

PH: What was your first instrument?

KH: I actually started with ‘cello, but then began learning the piano more systematically at age 8 or 9. I played ‘cello for 8 years. My piano studies were in preparation for playing the organ – that is what I really wanted to do. The organ was my big love, and, indeed, I did become an organist.

PH: When did you start playing the organ?

KH: At age 10 or 12…and then, nothing could hold me back.

PH: Do you still play the organ?

KH: Yes, from time to time. Actually, tomorrow I will be playing a Sunday service at the Friedenskirche in Cologne, my first service in an evangelical church in Germany. (We moved to Germany in 1995.) I will both improvise and play organ chorales. The church has a very nice organ: built by a Dutch organ-builder, it is a very nice 13-stop 18th century-type organ with unequal temperament.

PH: Let’s get back to your later music education.

KH: I studied organ with the cathedral organist at the Trondheim Nidaros Cathedral. I literally grew up with the enormous Steinmeyer cathedral organ there and I loved it. (The organ there was built by Johann Joachim Wagner from 1738 to1740, and restored by Jürgen Ahrend from 1993 to 1994.) When I finished that part of my organ studies in Trondheim, I moved to the Oslo Conservatory to continue studies – these including piano pedagogy. In 1968 I went to an improvisation workshop in Haarlem, Holland.

PH: When did you begin playing the harpsichord?

KH: There, in Haarlem, a certain Gustav Leonhardt was holding a harpsichord master class; I was flabbergasted by a very interesting Skowroneck harpsichord that was standing around in that room and discovered that there were other people who were more up-to-date than I in my favorite music! (This was altogether a stormy time in Europe and here I was there being “revolutionary” on the organ.) At one of the students’ concerts, someone played on the harpsichord and there I found myself listening to a sound I had never heard before! That evening in July 1968 changed my life. Since then, I have literally, spiritually and physically been a harpsichordist. I started to use every opportunity available to play on a harpsichord – I could not get enough of it, I was devouring it, totally besotted by this instrument.

So, in 1970, I began five years of harpsichord studies in Amsterdam with Leonhardt. Of course, those years were the most important of my professional life. It took some time, though. This was “love at second sight”…but it was for real! We had chamber music courses; I had played in ensembles before that.

PH: In 1974, you completed your studies in Amsterdam.

KH: Yes, and I returned home to Oslo and started my job at the newly opened Oslo State Academy of Music. Chamber music was on the agenda right away and I had chamber music students. I played in the local Baroque orchestra.

PH: So it was the 1970s and you were now deeply ensconced in the world of Baroque music. Would you like to talk about the musical “climate” of that time?

KH: Yes. I considered myself a “Baroque musician”, which was probably true. The new Baroque “converts” in the 1970s were rather militant converts…like smokers who have given up smoking…Everything in the 1970’s was either very “hip” or militantly “newly convert”. I remember being shocked when a Baroque musician referred to (modern violinist) Arthur Grumiaux as “one of the pigs”! We have a saying in Norway regarding the Hardanger fiddle (a traditional Norwegian fiddle) - that on the normal fiddle you use catgut, but on the Hardanger fiddle you use the whole cat! I venture to say that you could apply that to Baroque violinists of the 1970s. We were all like that, I think. Take Leonhardt, who was very noble and a shining example to all of us around him; then there were musical barricade-runners like Ton Koopman, growing beards and looking more like Karl Marx (and perhaps thinking like him) than anyone else. It got marginally better in the 1980s when the Germans discovered early music (and thought they had invented it) with Rheinhard Goebel running the “barricades” here in Cologne, and the English started to be very active, too. It was interesting: the whole thing had generated in Holland and I was there as it did, and I am very thankful for that. It was very important for me.

PH: Do you compose?

KH: No…not on paper, but I improvise. Improvising nowadays is, of course, a totally different discipline from back then and I would not consider calling it “composition”, although you have to use your head in real time; what you play will probably never be heard again. It is interesting what you can do and what you can not do with improvisation. Of course, I play a lot of basso continuo, in which things are in a harmonic mould: the bass is written and the harmonic structure of the piece does not change. Chords do not lie, but the set-up, timing and realization will vary from performance to performance. So you, as a harpsichordist, are really inside the music, not merely listening to your co-players and accompanying them. You are a part of the music, a partner on equal terms with the other players. That is what I try to convey to students who are learning to play basso continuo. I tell them: “Yes, listen to your partners and see to it that they hear you, but do not “accompany” them because you will always be playing too late and you will be playing on the others’ terms. Listen to the piece itself. What is going on in the music is much more important.”

PH: What harpsichord do you play?

KH: That goes back to the Haarlem experience….that harpsichord that changed my life. In 1970 I visited harpsichord-builder Martin Skowroneck and begged him to put me on his long waiting list, which he did. I waited 17 years – and it was worth every day I waited - and finally took delivery of the harpsichord in 1986. However, during the years I was waiting, I built several harpsichords myself – either from scratch or from kits.

PH: Where are you teaching at the moment?

KH: Since 1994, I have been teaching at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, teaching harpsichord mainly but also chamber music, doing projects, concerts with the students, etc. It is a very nice school, although it does not look much – it is one of those concrete slabs from the early 1970s..come to think of it, I would say, willfully ugly. However, because of that, people tend to have a need to make things beautiful around themselves. The building is so austere; on the other hand, there is nothing disturbing around you and you only look into the music and use your listening senses. I have wonderful colleagues and we do a lot together and are in contact. The students work very well together; there are no elements of unkind competition and I make sure the students in my class work together in a good environment. These things are very important. If intrigues develop in that kind of environment, it is so vulnerable that it will just kill itself and very quickly. It is very important that the students all see each other as friends and colleagues and that they work with one another. The fact that we communicate on a very informal footing means that we have trust in each other; it does not mean we show disrespect or are sloppy in the way we go about our music. On the contrary, we are very strict about teaching and learning in depth and the students know they have to work hard. I think the school’s Early Music Department is a good example of how people can work together. Compared to mainstream music academia, where colleagues are still extremely formal, we don’t have the need to keep a distance from each other and I feel we work together very well together for that very reason.

PH: What about your own performing at the moment?

KH: It’s slightly slow at the moment due to the level of culture in Europe….and, perhaps, my not-very-sharp elbows. The telephone rings from time to time (and I occasionally pick it up). But, joking aside, it is all going well. Apart from solo recitals, there are workshops and summer courses, and, of course, I play with various artists and ensembles. We had some performances in Trondheim, Norway in the summer of 2011. I was then engaged to perform in the Oslo Chamber Music Festival in August; that was very interesting because they wanted a French slant to the festival and they wanted early music. And they were extremely taken with my recently issued Forquerey CD. So they wanted me to play Forqueray, Bach and Couperin. That was a wonderful week…I gave, I think, five recitals. That was the highlight of the summer. Since then, I have performed in Poland, Italy, and so on.

I also perform with a very dear colleague of mine - Dutch recorder-player Peter Holtslag, who is professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Hamburg University of Music and Theatre). In the Autumn, we really enjoyed the Bucharest Early Music Festival – an excellent festival, run by a people who are very eager and knowledgeable; I have been the musical director of it for a few years. They also work with a Flemish ensemble called “Il Gardellino”, Jan de Winne, Marcel Ponseele and Shalev Ad-El being among their players. I play with them from time to time: we played Brandenburg Concertos and harpsichord concertos, a Magnificat…it was all a wonderful experience. I conducted there. The female voices, by the way, were from the Romanian Radio Children’s Choir. Bucharest is an important venue; Eastern Europe is always interesting. It is a bit like Israel in the 1980s – it is “new territory” for this kind of thing; the Eastern Europeans don’t mind traveling to other places to study and perform, but it is when you meet them on their own turf that things become really interesting: they feel at home and do things they have always wanted to do. When I went home to Norway, it was also “new territory”.

PH: That brings me to the next question: how do you see the early music scene at the moment?

KH: In my opinion, the established early music world has long sunk a little into a mainstream routine. “Routine early music practice” can be extremely boring; although people may good players and singers, if they do not have a really good and cultivated background as performing artists, the quality of results of how they perform will be limited. Early music is so vulnerable that, as soon as you start to hear “good” beats and “smell” every bar-line, and nothing else really emerges, it is no thank you!

PH: You have made several visits to Israel.

KH: Why I came to Israel back in the 1980s was due to the fact that some Israeli people came to the Ringve International Summer Course in Norway, a course in existence since 1977. Actually, it is the longest-existing early music course in the world and is still going strong! I have been involved in it since 1982. As I mentioned, some Israelis attended the course – Idit Shemer, Netta Ladar, and others. Then violinist Daniel Fradkin came there and was ready to play concerts with me as soon as possible. He organized concerts and I came to Israel to play Bach Sonatas with him in 1986 in Jerusalem and at the Ramat Hasharon Music Club. I met Hed Sella, today executive director of the Jerusalem Music Centre, and he engaged me to come to teach at the Early Music Workshop. Hed Sella’s policy was very sound: as Israelis then did not yet travel much, there should be an influx of teachers and players coming to teach in Israel and influence young players. This must surely have been one of the most meaningful projects he has promoted; he bent himself over triple to make it exist. He laid some extremely valuable foundations for the whole field of early music in Israel, and the way he did it was very important.

PH: And you will be back in Israel again very soon.

KH: Yes, and I am extremely happy about coming to Israel as I love to work with chamber orchestras like the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. Musical director of the JBO David Shemer and I are colleagues and old friends and I was very flattered to be invited to do the concert. Actually, I probably know many of the JBO players, but just have not seen them for ten years. It feels like it’s time to be back in Israel.

PH: Would you like to talk about the works to be performed in the program titled “The Brotherhood of Peoples”?

KH: Sure. It is a program with an 18th century international flavor. We are going to perform this wonderful Telemann suite called “Overture of the Modern and Ancient Nations” , in which Telemann makes fun of the French, talks about the “ancient” and “modern” Germans (whatever that might be); then he talks about the ancient- and modern Swedes. And as if that were not enough, he also talks about the ancient- and modern Danes! Then he has a gavotte curiously titled “Les vieilles femmes” (the old women), typical Telemann…. Another work played will be an instrumental suite I put together of Rameau’s “Les Indes galantes” (The Galant Indians) in which he addresses what he believes to be the style of the Persians, Indians, Incas – very charming and typical Rameau. And then we have the C major Orchestral Suite of Bach and I will also play the F minor Harpsichord Concerto, the latter being the tightest-packed nine minutes in harpsichord history. It is very short, but so complex and packed so effectively and efficiently that you do not notice that it is only nine minutes long! There is so much going on in the piece that it gives the player and listener the impression that it is much longer! This concerto is very tricky to play and I am currently wrestling with it, a very sobering experience every time I take it up. I have played it a number of times, but it never ceases to be a challenge, and that is beautiful. And, back on the subject of the Skowroneck harpsichord, I will be playing on David Shemer’s Skowroneck harpsichord in the JBO concerts.

PH: What about future plans?

KH: Well, I am retiring from my professorship in Cologne this coming summer. I feel like quite a young 64-year-old and hope to have an “unrestful” retirement. I have lots of plans, ranging from finally getting around to writing “the book” on harpsichord technique and also to putting together my E-type Jaguar.

PH: Did I hear right?

KH: Yes. I am restoring a 1961 car. It is standing in the winter garden, waiting for me to dust it off, unpack it and start tinkering again.

PH: And other interests?

KH: My interests are very wide and varied! For years I was into flying, but gave up when people I liked lost lives doing so. That’s when I “moved down to earth” to restoring this car. We restored the house in which we live now – that took ten years. Then I plunged into being a Mac freak, but that has also waned, which is fine. Believe it or not, I am very interested in music and active on Facebook, where I see to it that some occasional political sidekicks pinpoint things running round my head. The latter takes up too much time; I use Facebook as a blog more than anything else. It gives me far too many friends whom I do not really know. I also make videos of records I have in the house and post them on YouTube. I try to spend my time wisely. My school and students are very important to me; my daughters are growing up and slowly leaving the nest. Life goes on. This is not the general rehearsal!

PH: Professor Haugsand, it has been fascinating talking to you. Many thanks.