Thirteen Strings: Vincent Lauzer stands up for the recorder

Vincent Lauzer

Quebec’s Vincent Lauzer has a passion for the recorder, an instrument that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. Lauzer is an award-winning performer with a passion for music and for the recorder. Before his performance with the Thirteen Strings chamber orchestra on Dec. 4, he talked about his career and his instrument with ARTSFILE.

Q. Please tell me a little bit about yourself?

A. I was born on the South Shore of Montréal and grew up in a family where no one was a musician. My parents would listen to different kind of music, different genres including classical music and I developed an interest for music, singing and dancing at a very young age. My parents noticed this interest and I am glad they acted on it: they put me in music lessons at the age of 4. One year later, the teachers at the music school decided I was ready to start an instrument.

Q. When did you come to the recorder and why?

A. The music school I refer to was the Jocelyne Laberge Music School in Châteauguay, QC. At that school, recorder would be taught as seriously as the piano or the violin. It was not seen as a inferior instrument or as an instrument that would be an introduction to another wind instrument. It was taught by very good teachers, specialists in early music. I had the chance to study with Sophie Larivière who is a very active recorder player based in Montréal. After the initiation to music lessons I started at the age of 4, I had to choose an instrument. When I listened to the older students play in the concerts at the music school, it was clear for me: I wanted to play the recorder (even though the principal of the music school recommended violin to my parents). I will always be grateful to my parents who accepted my choice.

Q. Talk to me about the Vivaldi piece you will be playing on Dec. 4.

A. The concerto RV 443 is one of the three concertos that Vivaldi dedicated to the flautino. This recorder is, in fact, the sopranino recorder — the smallest of the recorder family. The original version of this concert is in C major. We will play a version transposed a fourth down and I will perform the solo part on a soprano recorder. We have evidence that this version was performed in the Baroque era. We found transposed scores for this concerto that would allow the soloist to perform on a slightly lower instrument. I must admit playing on a soprano rather than on a sopranino helps the ears of the recorder player who has to practice this very virtuosic work. The concerto RV 443 is one I like a lot. It is probably the most famous recorder concerto that Vivaldi wrote. The two fast movements are exciting and very well written for the instrument and the slow movement is very different,surprisingly still and very touching. 

Q. Is there a lot of repertoire for recorder available?

A. Of course, a lot of music was written for the recorder at the Renaissance and at the Baroque era. Great sonatas were written by famous composers like Händel and Telemann (Telemann probably is one of the composers who wrote the most for recorder). Vivaldi wrote seven concertos for the instrument. They are amongst the most technically challenging pieces written for the recorder.

In the Classical and Romantic periods the recorder fell out of favour. We wanted more powerful instruments that could play in big venues, as part of big orchestras. In the mid-20th century, there was an early music revival and the recorder started to be played again. We rediscovered the music written for the instrument but a lot of recorder players also asked composers to write new music for the instrument. I have done this in the past few years. I have commissioned Québec composers to write several solo pieces for the instrument. My hope is that we can create a Canadian repertoire that will be interesting and innovative. 

Q. Do people who are unfamiliar take the instrument seriously enough?

A. I think the biggest issue we face is the perception that people can have about the recorder is related to the role it plays in the world of music education. The recorder is taught to big groups of students by teachers who rarely are specialists. Children end up not liking the recorder and a lot of adults still have the perception that the recorder is not a serious instrument.

Q. Can you tell me about the recorder quartet you play with.

A. I play with the recorder quartet Flûte Alors! We are the only professional recorder quartet in Québec. The ensemble was created in 1999 to participate in a student exchange with children from Berlin in Germany. I was not in the group at that time but joined a couple years later. Over the years the ensemble has become professional. This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Montréal season. I work with three fantastic recorder players: Marie-Laurence Primeau, Alexa Raine-Wright and Caroline Tremblay. The four of us have been working together for a decade now and we are always happy to explore new repertoire. We play a lot of Renaissance and Baroque music, of course, but we also do a lot of contemporary music, some jazz and even some pop. When we give a concert, we usually have about 20 instruments on stage. A bit like the violin that has its family (violin, viola, cello, double bass), the recorder also exists in different sizes. We always have very high instruments (sopranino, soprano) and very low instruments (bass, great bass) with us on stage. 

Q. You clearly have a strong affinity for Baroque music. Why?

A. When you are a recorder player, you better like Baroque music! This is the time when most of your repertoire was written. Personally, I like Baroque music for the freedom it allows you to have. Unlike later composers, Baroque composers would not indicate everything in their scores. Performers would be free to make decisions about dynamics, phrasing, articulation. This is why I like early music in general … to be able to explore different ideas. Baroque music is also full of passion and I find it interesting to portray different emotions and effects.  

Q. Are you an early music “purist?”

A. Purist has a bit of a negative connotation, these days, I find. Of course, like almost all my colleagues specialized in early music, I like to perform according to the historically informed practice. We try to replicate what could have been heard in the 17th and 18th centuries. That is why we play on instruments that are made after models from the past. We try to follow the rules and conventions mentioned in different Baroque treatises. This being said, I think that Baroque music is absolutely fantastic, very interesting and accessible and I like the effort of ensembles that do not specialize in Baroque music to perform this great repertoire. I will always encourage this.

Q. Tell me about the festival you are connected to.

A. I am the artistic director of the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival. Held every summer in Acadie, in New Brunswick, the Festival will present its 44th season next summer. It is the oldest festival dedicated to early music in Canada. It is an honour for me to work for such an important event. I like being able to program concerts, to invite artists from all over the world to play in New Brunswick. The Acadian people are absolutely fantastic and very welcoming and I think the event is a real opportunity for artists and audience members to share their love for early music. I have worked for the Festival since 2015 and I sincerely hope to continue to do so for a long time.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. Maybe just a quick word about the fact that I also teach recorder and that I love doing it. I teach adults (Montréal Recorder Society, CAMMAC) and children (École des Jeunes de l’Université de Montréal). Sharing my love for the recorder with amateurs and young players is something I find very inspiring.

Thirteen Strings presents a Candlelight Christmas
Where: Dominion-Chalmers United Church
When: Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: thirteenstrings.ca

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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.