Child’s Play (India) Foundation is pleased to present the Bager Trio in a benefit concert at the Kala Academy auditorium on 2 April 2013 at 6.30 pm. (Donation passes are available at Furtados Music stores in Panjim and Margao). The ensemble is formed by Jonathan Bager (flute) and his sons Jeremy (bassoon) and Frederic (piano).
They spoke to the Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.
Let’s start with you, Jeremy! You seem to have had an interesting path to your chosen instrument, having begun with cello, then viola and finally bassoon. Would you like to tell us a little about this?
Jeremy: At the age of three, I became interested in music and I wanted to learn an instrument so I started playing the cello. But after a few years, the fact that my brother Frederic played the cello too started to bother me. I always liked deep-sounding instruments, so I was introduced to the bassoon. But being a bit too young to start this kind of instrument, I had to choose something else in between so I chose the viola, which I learned with my mother as teacher. When I was finally old enough to learn the bassoon, I started, and since then I have never stopped.
You began studying music at three! At what age did you pick up the cello? Was there an instrument that small for you when you started? I’ve heard that often one begins cello that young with a modified viola, with an end-pin stuck in at the tail-piece!
Jeremy: Yes I began starting the cello at three. In fact, I don’t remember very much of my playing the cello at this young age. But what I know is that, like you say, I started with a modified viola.
Are you planning on taking up the bassoon professionally? Or is it too early to say?
Jeremy: I would of course want to be a professional bassoonist. But it is very hard today to have a place in an orchestra because there are a lot of good musicians out there. I play a lot of orchestra and for now it is really what I enjoy doing. Actually, I have just been chosen to play in the Verbier Festival Music Camp Orchestra under the famous conductor Daniel Harding in July this year, which I am very much looking forward to.
And you, Frederic, seem to have decided upon the piano from the very beginning! Did you not feel tempted to experiment a little, like your younger brother Jeremy?
Frederic: My first music teacher was actually an organist. Later on, for some years I studied the organ alongside the piano and my organ teacher taught me harmony. This was also a chance to learn early music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I also played the cello at one point, which allowed me to participate more fully in my school orchestra, although that only lasted two years.
Both of you began very young. Having a musician father must have helped. Did you both need some prodding to keep at daily practice in childhood, or were you self-driven?
Frederic: There was a bit of prodding at times, although most work was done spontaneously. I did a lot of improvising and listening to records, and used to save up to buy recording equipment.
Having begun your piano education in Switzerland, how was the adjustment to the way it is taught in England? Is there a huge contrast in terms or style, discipline, manner of instruction, etc?
Frederic: The contrast was stronger between teachers than between countries. I have always preferred a more liberal and broad style of teaching and loved going beyond the piano and discussing the music, its history etc. I hated exercises such as scales and arpeggios and didn’t do much of them. One of my early piano teachers in Switzerland was an old Jamaican pianist and when we had enough of playing pieces, we played four-hand piano duets together. I was always a somewhat unusual pupil and was fiercely independent and often unwilling to do what I was told unquestioningly. Although teachers appreciated me they didn’t always know how to handle me, so to speak. I usually wanted to figure things out for myself. I worked the hardest at the piano when I was 16 to 18 when I was at school in England. There is a difference between the countries in the exam system, which is more developed and flexible in the UK. However, due to the unusual nature of my educational path, I did not take so many of these.
Finally over to you, Jonathan! Was it always the flute for you? You were obviously an influence to your sons, but who inspired you to be a musician? Did you start young as well?
Jonathan: It all came about from my attending a Cathedral School in Lichfield, England from the age of 9. Not only was church music in our ears nearly every day but we all had to choose an instrument to play and for me, almost randomly, it was the flute. My brother chose the oboe and, from then on, there was always music at home.
Your teacher Sebastian Bell seems to have been a true Renaissance man, with interests ranging from playing the instrument, to restoring old flutes to a very high standard of workmanship; to boating, ceramics, to say nothing of his phenomenal reputation as a pedagogue. What was it like, studying with him? Did his love of contemporary music spill over to you as well?
Jonathan: In fact I chose my teacher Sebastian Bell because of my own interest in contemporary music. I had just received the centenary box set of Arnold Schoenberg’s complete chamber works for my eighteenth birthday. It was performed by the London Sinfonietta and Sebastian Bell was the flautist. He was a great teacher, entertaining and instructive, often drawing on his hugely wide-ranging interests to make a musical point. But also demanding and uncompromising. I spent my first term at music college on a diet of long notes before he would even let me play a melody!
Tell us a little about the concert programme in Goa. It’s an interesting mix. The Donizetti trio for flute, bassoon and piano sounds intriguing, seeing as we know him principally as an operatic composer. Is there much repertoire for the combination of flute, bassoon, and piano?
Jonathan: Well there is not a huge repertoire for our combination. But we are lucky that Beethoven wrote his trio. Actually it’s a rather big piece, a little too long for us to play it all in this concert. We’ll save the other movements for next time! As for the Folk Song Variations, they are in fact originally written for Flute and Piano. I took the liberty of adding the bassoon part, doubling notes in either the piano or flute. (No new notes of my own!) It works rather well, so I don’t think that Beethoven would have disapproved too much. Donizetti’s party piece is a kind of miniature opera overture. Great fun and very much composed in his effortless style. The piano pieces are of course classics of the repertoire, but the Reinecke flute sonata is too in its modest way, being the only such romantic sonata for flute and piano from the era of Schumann and Brahms.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 26 March 2013)