Vincent Lauzer – A Recorder Player with Wind in His Sails

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

In 2012 the young recorder player Vincent Lauzer won first prize in the Canadian Music Competition’s Stepping Stone division, trouncing pianists, singers and violinists. Who is this phenomenon who has confounded expectations and found a place among the greatest musicians of his generation?

As the Révélation Radio-Canada in 2013-2014, artistic director of the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival, recipient of the Fernand Lindsay career grant in 2015, Lauzer has many feathers in his cap. Most recent was his recording last month with the Arion Baroque Orchestra, playing Vivaldi flute concertos. This won a Diapason d’or awarded by the prestigious French magazine of the same name. Let’s find out more about Lauzer and the instrument that has defined him.

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Photo : Béatrice Cadrin

On the road

I managed to reach Lauzer in Nova Scotia on a rare day off from his marathon tour with Les Songes, an ensemble comprising soprano Samantha Louis-Jean, cellist Camille Paquette-Roy, harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour (replacing Mélisande McNabney) and Lauzer. For this debut Atlantic tour, the quartet are giving 16 concerts over two weeks, performing instrumental pieces as well as airs from operas and oratorios.

Les Songes have already toured twice with Jeunesses Musicales and are always charmed by their reception. “Audiences are always surprised by this combination, as it’s not one you see much in early music,” Lauzer said. “People often comment on the similarity between the voice and the recorder, the way they complement each other and are more alike than you’d think.”

Half of the concerts are aimed at young audiences, but the program will barely change. “Young people like the same music as adults, so we didn’t change the repertoire, nor the way we present the pieces and the instruments. However, we are emphasizing the lives of the composers and drawing a parallel with our own lives as musicians, to give a more human side to the concerts.”

Lauzer will also perform with La Cigale, a quintet led by theorbist Madeleine Owen and dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque music played on period instruments. They specialize in programming that links music with history and literature.

Highs and lows

In 1996, eight-year-old Lauzer appeared on Faites vos gammes playing an aria by Telemann. He has come a long way. With the support of recorder player Sophie Larivière, who taught him and introduced him to early music, he has single-mindedly pursued a musical career, from Cégep Saint-Laurent to McGill, where he completed his master’s in 2011.

Lauzer recalls three pivotal moments: “You always remember your first professional concert. I was only just 18, still at Cegep, and Luc Beauséjour called to ask me to play.” Two major concerts followed that allowed him to forge a reputation on the music scene. “Joint first prize in the 2009 Montreal International Recorder Competition was a big step. Experiences like that help you assess yourself in relation to other musicians and find out what they do.

“For the Canadian Music Competition’s 2012 Stepping Stone I had to rehearse over three hours of pieces and was competing with all the other instruments – piano, strings, voice, and they were mainly playing a romantic repertoire. It was enormously satisfying to win first prize on recorder with its more limited repertoire. It felt like winning an Olympic medal!”

But a recorder player’s life has its share of adventures and worry. Lauzer recalls his worst memory: “As a teenager, I had a beautiful wooden treble recorder. It was the apple of my eye and had cost a lot of money. One morning, it disappeared. I spent a week desperately looking for it, calling everyone, asking round at music school. Well, a few days later, my father found it down the back of the sofa!”

Ensemble La Cigale

Rehabilitating the recorder

Lauzer is a kind of ambassador for the recorder, which hasn’t had a very good press. People often remember it from interminable and cacophonous primary school music lessons. Its range and repertoire are limited; and in the early Classical period it was overtaken by the flute, in whose shadow it has since languished. No wonder the instrument has little appeal to the public imagination.

But if you share this prejudice, beware: You haven’t heard Vincent Lauzer! His playing is clear, precise and technically impeccable. The sound is lucid, direct, charged with emotion without being mannered, and seems inspired by the muses. It is quite simply staggering.

As for the instrument itself, it isn’t as limited as popular opinion likes to think. There is a range of recorders that complement each other, so a professional player will have several trebles, altos and basses. Each is associated with a repertoire, be it medieval, Renaissance, Baroque or contemporary. “Having several instruments of the same type ensures good sound quality. Recorders are very sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature, so you can’t expect to play them for hours on end and get the same quality of sound.”

The Stradivarius of recorders?

Unlike strings, antique wind instruments are not much played. They are museum pieces, and for obvious reasons: Firstly, they’re very fragile and rarely conserved in a decent state. Secondly, the hygiene of past centuries is rather off-putting to the modern player. And thirdly, today’s notions of precision mean that most of these instruments sound out of tune to modern ears.

Players are always seeking new sound qualities and new instruments to complement their collections. They consequently have a special relationship with the few contemporary recorder makers.

“Manufacturers use old designs but sometimes tweak them a little to meet modern needs,” Lauzer explains. “Today’s concert halls are much bigger, and the recorder is playing alongside instruments that didn’t exist before. Some recorders are made to produce a more powerful sound or have a more extensive upper range.”

Although recorder makers are rare in North America, Lauzer is lucky enough to be able to work with Jean-Luc Boudreau, a talented Blainville-based craftsman who sells recorders worldwide. Of Lauzer’s 17 recorders, 14 are by Boudreau. “It’s a real privilege to have Jean-Luc nearby,” Lauzer says. “If anything happens to an instrument, he can make adjustments or repairs. It’s a collaborative effort – he works for us and with us.”

Seeking the perfect A

Before it became set at A=440 Hz, tuning standards changed considerably over time. In the Baroque era, every town had a different tuning established by the local church organ. This was a headache for recorder players. Fortunately, Lauzer doesn’t have to find a new recorder for each town he visits, but he does possess instruments of different tuning to match the early repertoires.

“While the standard in Baroque music is 415 Hz, we play a lot of French music at 392 Hz, so one tone below A at 440 Hz,” he explains. “Or take Italian music: This is played at 465 Hz, so a semitone above.” It’s enough to upset a player’s ear. “I had perfect pitch as a child and teenager, and when I got my first recorder at 415 Hz, I heard every sound off by a semi-tone.” His perfect pitch finally surrendered and he admitted that there was no perfect A for a recorder player.

Hidden depths

The Baroque and the Renaissance are the richest periods for the recorder. However, the last century saw a resurgence of interest, notably with composers such as Edmund Rubbra, Louis Andriessen, Luciano Berio and Georges Aperghis. To extend this interest to Canada, Lauzer has been commissioning works. Since 2013 he’s been playing pieces by Matthias Maute, Jonathan Goulet, Maurice-G. Du Berger, David Désilets and Maxime McKinley, while also enjoying the existing repertoire with particular emphasis on the Japanese composers Maki Ishii and Ryōhei Hirose, as well as the German Dorothée Hahne. The recorder is undergoing a renaissance of its own and revealing hidden depths.

A virtuoso for our time, Lauzer is taking us on a journey through sound, through repertoire, and through Quebec. He’s one of the new generation of musicians keen to rekindle the sounds of the past and create a luminous and hope-filled present. He deserves all our attention, support and recognition.

Translation by Cecilia Graison

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Benjamin Goron est écrivain, musicologue et critique musical. Titulaire d’un baccalauréat en littérature et d’une maîtrise en musicologie de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, il a collaboré à plusieurs périodiques et radios en tant que chercheur et critique musical (L’Éducation musicale, Camuz, Radio Ville-Marie, SortiesJazzNights, L'Opéra). Depuis août 2018, il est rédacteur adjoint de La Scena Musicale. Pianiste et trompettiste de formation, il allie musique et littérature dans une double mission de créateur et de passeur de mémoire.

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