Principal Flutist Karen Bogardus solos with the orchestra this weekend. We caught up to her for a few minutes to get her views on music director Jose-Luis Novo, the challenges of playing flute in Bach, and her favorite music making experiences.
So you’re relatively new to the orchestra. You won your audition very recently, didn’t you?
Correct, I think I officially found out I won in April 2015
Congratulations, and welcome to the orchestra! How do you like it here so far?
I really enjoy working with BPO. The musicians are very supportive and friendly. I love working with Jose-Luis, who is an excellent conductor and musician. I was especially impressed with him at our October concert. In other orchestras that I have played the conductors have frequently struggled with the pacing of the tempo changes in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Jose-Luis had amazing control of the tempi as well as a great sense of exactly what the orchestra could handle technically. It was an exciting concert.
Now you’re soloing with this orchestra for the first time, joining an exciting lineup of soloists plucked from our own ranks. Talk to us about some of the challenges of interpreting J.S. Bach on the flute.
The Bach is an deceptively difficult piece for many reasons. The flute is in unison with the first violins for much of the work. This is very challenging to tune, it is much easier to tune octaves than 2 different treble instruments that are in unison. My husband is an excellent violinist and we have practiced the Bach together several times to help me prepare. There is also the question of whether to double dot or not. It has for a while been expected that a French Overture should be double dotted. [EDITOR’S NOTE: the term “double dotted” refers to the practice of taking an uneven pair of notes, and playing the shorter note as short as possible, rather than as actually written] I played the Bach b minor suite in my Masters recital at Northwestern University and my teacher told me not to double dot. It did not occur to me to ask him why. This time I did a lot of research and found that scholars believe they were wrong about the double dotting and although it is still controversial most agree that the slow part of the overture should be taken faster and should not be double dotted. It is believed that double dotting was based on a mistranslation of a French text. So I decided to play it as I learned it in college without double dotting. I realize many musicians who know the piece may find this difficult, if they are used to double dotting.
Oftentimes when you hear works from this era, you hear recorders, which you never hear in more recent music. What’s the deal with that, are flutes substituted for recorders, or are the two instruments considered interchangeable?
The modern flute didn’t exist when Bach wrote this piece. Baroque flutes during Bach’s time were wooden and many times keyless. I believe during Bach’s lifetime a recorder would frequently play the flute part. There are many advantages to using a modern flute, mainly that it projects better than a recorder or wooden flute. That is another challenge of the piece. The range of the flute in the Bach Suite is mostly middle range which does not project well. One of my teachers said if the modern flute existed when Bach was alive he would surely have loved it
Interesting. Have you ever played a recorder in a performance of baroque music? Do you consciously try to imitate the sound of a recorder while playing music from this period?
I am not a good enough recorder player to play Baroque music. I have played the recorder on Broadway shows though about 600 times! I do not try to imitate the sound of a recorder, I actually prefer the sound of a modern flute which I believe has more warmth and colors than a recorder.
What goes into preparing the solo part for this overture? Does it vary much from how you would prepare any other piece of music for performance?
The main difference is that I asked string player friends of mine to get together with me to play through the whole piece. It was very helpful. I recorded our reading and realized I need to relax more and trust I am projecting and to be vigilant about keeping the pitch down (at least with that group – every group is different in that regard). Also as I mentioned I have been practicing the unison parts with my husband who plays violin. The other difference is that I added ornamentation, which you wouldn’t do in a more modern piece.
Do you have any “game day” routines that you find particularly helpful in finding a point of greater relaxation?
I regularly take Alexander Technique classes [EDITOR’S NOTE; Alexander Technique is a method that teaches students the importance of being aware of, and strengthening, the mind-body link] and think about AT directions a lot while I play. I forgot to mention another challenge of the piece is the exceptionally long first movement. It is actually physically tiring for a flutist to hold their arms up that long – it is much easier for string players who move their bows; when the arms are stationary they get very tired. There is no place to breathe, so many quick breaths are needed, which you have to do without losing time. I literally have only 5 bars rests in the middle and that is it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: the overture lasts about 7:30] Another problem is that saliva builds up in my mouth from tonguing so much and I do not have even a second to swallow it. For this reason playing the whole piece with friends or my husband has been great for me to figure out how to pace, stay relaxed and build up stamina to get through the piece.
Last question: who is your favorite composer to perform?
I really don’t have a favorite composer, but I love playing new music. My trio just recorded a CD of pieces written for us and premiered by us [EDITOR’S NOTE: for more on the Emerald Trio, which Karen is a part of, see here, here, and here]. I also love great orchestral repertoire – there is so much orchestral repertoire that I truly love from all periods. I love the teamwork involved in orchestral music as well as the glorious sounds that 60 people working together create. For me there is nothing more fulfilling than sitting right in the middle of an orchestra engulfed in sound composed by creative geniuses.
To see Karen in person, come see the orchestra this Sunday, January 24th at the Forum Theater.