Friday, November 25, 2016

Colin St-Martin, Baroque Flute Player

Colin St-Martin (Huntsville, TX) will join Catacoustic for the third time for our December 3 concert of French Baroque Christmas music. He has enjoyed a career as an orchestral musician, soloist, and teacher. Mr. St-Martin performs and records with many period instrument orchestras and chamber ensembles in both the US and Europe including: Arcanum, Opera Lafayette, the Washington Bach Consort, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Amercian Bach Soloists, The Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Cathedra, Ars Lyrica, Mercury Baroque, Arcanum, Bach Vespers, among others. In addition to his performance activities, he has many recordings to his credit, including the works of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Rebel, Lully, Monsigny, Gluck, and GrĂ©try, among others.

I recently spoke with Colin and asked him some questions, so Catacoustic's audience can know more about his musical life story. Colin's creative, elegant, and natural playing inspires me every time I hear him! 

Tell me about your musical journey. Did you start with flute? How did you learn about Baroque flute?

I've always been a music lover. I was very lucky as a kid because, in addition to my dad be an avid audiophile and my mom playing the piano, we had season tickets to the Kennedy Center, so I had the opportunity to attend concerts quite often. Baroque music has always been my favorite, which I first experienced through the organ music of JS Bach. Naturally, I suppose, I wanted to play the organ, but as a child piano had to be my first step. I played for a few years, but I didn't (and still don't) have any affinity for that instrument, so I let my music studies go for a while. Luckily, I suppose, my oldest brother was required to take a music appreciation class during his undergraduate studies, which meant he had to buy a recorder. I began to play it, and after a while my parents suggested that I take recorder lessons. I was extremely lucky to have found a great teacher who still comes to hear me play when I'm in DC! For my 14th birthday (I think?), my parents bought tickets for a recital by the renowned recorder player Franz Bruggen. I had no idea that he was also going to play the baroque flute on the same program which was quite the revelation for me, never having seen it performed before. The very next day I set about trying to find an instrument and a teacher, which I was very fortunate to be able to do. When it was time for university, I chose music over science, which I also loved. After an impromptu audition with Bart Kuijken, my musical idol, backstage at the Smithsonian Museum, he recommended that before coming to study in Europe that I get a firmer grasp of the basics (theory, history, etc.), which I did for one year at New England Conservatory. In 1982 I was accepted into Bart's class in Brussels, where I studied for three years and then returned to the States to study at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University School of Music, where I was both a graduate student and adjunct faculty.

What is a typical week in your life like? Do you teach, as well as perform?

These days I don't have a regular teaching position. I taught at Peabody 17 years, but I spend my time now doing research and getting ready for concerts, which takes up a huge amount of time.

What is your favorite type of repertoire to play?

Definitely French Baroque music, next to Bach. I love the French language, art, architecture, and science from the period before the French Revolution. As repressive as the Ancien Regime doubtless was, many artists and craftsman of France seemed to find the means to disseminate their work throughout the western world at the time making it perhaps the strongest cultural influence on thought and creativity at the time.

What do you think of early music in the US now? Audience perception? Playing level of musicians? How does this compare to Europe?

It is very hit or miss, as far as the level in the US. I think the sheer volume of musical genres that are available to presenters these days sometimes does not translate into a consistently high level of performance for an audience to enjoy. I've seen many concert calendars where there might be two early music groups represented in a season: one a highly respected ensemble with numerous recordings and the other a group of enthusiastic amateur performers. In my experience, I find that in Europe the average level of early music performance is higher, though I strongly believe that their best is no better than ours. In order for professional early music performance to thrive in the US, we need presenters and audiences that can appreciate it and who are willing to make the effort to support American groups, like Catacoustic!

Where do you see the future of early music in the US?

I have been thinking about this a lot. In attempting to build audiences, there is the very real temptation for early music groups to go the "greatest hits" route of music history, which can stretch the skill and knowledge of any performer to the breaking point. My interest in going into this field in the first place was to be able to get as much as possible from the repertoire and instruments that I love most and not "do the best I can" with as much repertoire and as many instruments that a music director can throw at me. A very good thing is that more and more universities and conservatories offer early music performance as a course of professional study which can only serve to improve things and help create ever more discerning audiences.

What should someone do, if they are interested in beginning or playing Baroque flute more seriously?

My advice is to listen to lots of recordings and get in touch with a player/singer that you have heard and really like. Get their advice on a recommended course of study. Early music is a tiny little world compared to the music industry in general, and most players/singers are happy to help out those just getting started. Even the most well known among us are not celebrities in the common sense of the word– it’s not like trying to get an interview with Meryl Streep!