Living a musical life: Andrew Burn is following the call of the Baroque and beyond

Andrew Burn, historical bassoonist and member of the ensemble, Our Very Own.

Ottawa native and Swiss-based historical bassoonist Andrew Burn is back home to perform three concerts with harpsichordist Marie Bouchard and soprano Marianne Moore. The concerts, at Carleton University, in Perth, Ontario and at Southminster United Church, will feature a program of music by composers of the Leipzig University Collegium Musicum 300 years ago. The performance will be played on period instruments. Beyond all that Burn explained his passion for Early Music to ARTSFILE. The following in an edited transcript.

Q. Tell me about your musical self and the ensemble Our Very Own.

A. I specialize in (what is known as) historically informed performance (and) the music of the 17th to 19th centuries with a particular interest in English music of the 18th century. Apart from my interests in performance practice, over the past five years I have been very active in (what) I can only call performance craft (that is to say, the development of the art of the delivery of a work). Part of this endeavour has been in developing a working terminology (often using ancient sources) to describe the stages of a performance, but mainly it entails an analysis of a live performance in a masterclass setting followed by an experimental phase with the goal to increase the effectiveness of a work’s presentation.

These days I perform frequently with Swiss-based Baroque ensembles with some forays into Europe. I was a regular member of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, which gave me a busy performing schedule with concerts across the continent. Exciting for me this year will be my first professional concerto appearances: one in April with Apollo Ensemble (Netherlands); and another in September with Musica Fiorita (Switzerland).

Our Very Own began while I was studying music at Carleton University. From my first year there I was very into Early Music and I soon got my hands on a period bassoon. There weren’t many opportunities to perform in Ottawa as a newcomer to Early Music, I took whatever arose. I was very lucky to meet Marie Bouchard (of the Ottawa Baroque Consort). She, in fact, put me on the path to historically informed performance. … We performed quite a bit until I left for Basel in 2012. Since then we’ve appeared periodically, but I’ve mainly been concentrating on my European career. Dies ist der Tag is our first multi-concert project, one I hope of many to come.

Q. How does a guy end up in Basel, Switzerlnd playing bassoon and making reeds?

A. Period instrument performance is not particularly common in North America. Though Montreal has a thriving freelance scene, and Toronto has Tafelmusik, the heart of the HIP movement is in Europe. During my first three years in the movement I had met a significant portion of the Canadian chapter, I was beginning to freelance in Quebec and I had had opportunity to meet and study with a number of North America’s leading Baroque bassoonists.

Basel is home to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the first school dedicated to the study of ancient music. Founded in 1933, most of the leaders of the Early Music movement studied there. It is the principal training centre for Early Musicians. The Schola seemed the natural place to do my graduate studies. After four years there, I was lucky enough to be allowed to remain. That was a year and a half ago.

Regarding reeds: I’ve always felt that a bassoonist can only ever be as good as his or her reed. With exceptions, one of the biggest problems today for people who wish to discover early bassoons is the fact that they don’t have a reed — or the skills to build one. 

Most Baroque players, when they get a new instrument, experiment their way to a functioning setup. I went through this with a number of different instruments. I also measure the reeds of bassoonists I work with and keep a record of what (works) for people across the professional domain. In the summer of 2015, I realized that I could mass produce my designs … so I’ve been gradually building that business over the past year or so.

Q. Tell me about the concert.

A. Dies ist der Tag is Our Very Own’s first project since 2015. It’s also our first multi-concert tour. Marie Bouchard and I got together about 18 months ago and agreed to continue the ensemble and put on something flashy. Marianne Moore is a soprano based in Toronto. We were contemporaries at Carleton University and, more recently, she has been diving into Early Music. 

A lot of the music focuses on the bassoon, but there is a variety of moods, instrumentations and styles. There’s solo keyboard music by Johann Kuhnau, the central figure of the Leipzig scene in the late 17th and 18th centuries; a sonata by Johann Friedrich Fasch which was written for virtuoso bassoonist Christian Klotsch; as well as a secular cantata by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, one of the leaders in developing the German cantata. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think it will be a fulfilling experience.

Q. What is the Leipzig University Collegium Musicum and why does this interest you?

A. Think of it as a music club for amateurs and aspiring professionals, most of them studying at the university. They met regularly, twice a week by some reports, and most likely made up an impromptu orchestra. By all accounts, the evening was a social occasion as well as a performance. Between its founding in 1701 and well into the 1760s that most of the main German musical personalities that passed through the city attended meetings. Collegia Musica was a popular center for communal music-making in 17th century Germany. Johann Kuhnau formed one in 1682 which involved university students and ran for a number of years; Telemann formed the university’s Collegium Musicum in 1701; Stölzel and Fasch participated in it. Though you might not recognize these names, they are acknowledged as major contributors to German music in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Q. How did you get hooked on Early Music?

A. I’m not really sure, to be honest, but I’m glad I’m where I am. I got my first Baroque bassoon at 19 and, as I had strong fundamentals from a musical youth (lessons with Jo Ann Simpson, Dr. Maya Badian and the music program at Canterbury High School), I think I got a few people excited. You get quite a rush when a musician whose CDs you collect tells you that you could go somewhere. The encouragement was infectious and I just kept going.

Q. Why explore a period 300 years ago?  

A. I think there are two reasons worth mentioning: the heritage position; and the communal experience.

From a European perspective, this music is part of our heritage. It’s an exploration of cultures and societies which developed into our own today. When it comes to music that we already know and love, I think the enquiry also is worthwhile.

This music is not simply entertainment, it is a complex product of an elaborate cultural establishment and I think we can deepen a performance if we acknowledge that, even if we may not find that establishment palatable today. Beauty can still exist when our view of the environment which created it might change. It’s the interplay of those elements which make the work, and our experience of it, evolve. 

From a North American perspective, HIP’s importance increases as we elevate the individual and the market in our culture, an action which I view as destructive. HIP provides a communal, human experience from an art form which upheld the skill of delivery as equal partner to the text. Where the canonical approach to classical music performances values the construction of a work, pre-romantic, rhetorical music was valued by its effectiveness to move. Witnessing a performer with a true present moment awareness can really be an adventure. If you’ve been to one of these events, you’ll know that it presents a compelling case for itself. That shared experience, both intellectual and emotional, has a value to us which isn’t quantifiable through the market paradigm.

Q. Where does this musical collaboration go from there?

I know that Marie and I enjoy working and performing together. She is an incredible personality and the residents of Ottawa are lucky to have her. I also want to bring my performances here as much as possible, so I hope we will be working together frequently in the years to come.

Part of the raison d’être of Our Very Own is educational. We want to give a platform to young Canadians interested in early music, a goal which is relatively hard to achieve when I’m based in Switzerland. However, you’d be surprised at how many of us live over there, so you never know what we will be able to achieve with enough support.

Our Very Own presents Dies ist der Tag
When: Feb. 16 at noon.
Where: Patrick Cardy Studio (Loeb A900), Carleton University.
Free Admission. This is a shortened performance

When: Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: St. Paul’s United Church, 25 Gore St W, Perth, ON
Tickets: $20 at the door

Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
Where: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
Tickets: $30 recommended.


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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.