* "I am a privileged person"

"Reason is probably not my strength!"

Interview with Ulrich Halder, Chairman of GEFAM

Interview: Jörg Fiedler, Editor GLAREANA

Translation of an article first published in GLAREANA 1/2009

The Society of Friends of Old Musical Instruments (GEFAM) was founded in Zurich in 1951. It is an international organization with an emphasis on German-speaking countries. The purpose of the society is to promote the understanding for historical instruments in their broad variety. It seeks to achieve this through lectures, excursions, publications and inventories of instrument collections. In addition, its concern is to promote the exchange between specialists of museums and universities, instrument makers and private collectors. The journal GLAREANA published by the Society appears twice a year. For further information on GEFAM please visit www.gefam.ch.

Foto GEFAM (left) and ANIMUSIC (below)

Jörg Fiedler: Three showcases full of historical flutes, two pianos, music stands and shelves full of music literature: Ulrich Halder, does a biologist's study look like this?

Ulrich Halder: What did you expect: stuffed birds, an aquarium or a microscope? This was how it looked like in my office as director of Naturama Museum in Aarau. But here at home the music prevails, my second passion. I have collected all these flutes in the past few years, study them and play them regularly. The 100-year-old Steinway piano is a family heirloom and is used mainly by my wife Jacqueline. My musical partners have to accept to play on a keyboard, because it can be tuned exactly to my flutes.

JF: Why of all things did you chose the flute?

UH: The flute was the favorite instrument of my mother, so I started playing it with 10 years and enjoyed a thorough education. During college I studied at the Conservatory of Zurich with Jean Poulain and in a masterclass with Marcel Moyse in Boswil. I reached a fairly decent level, I think. But anyway I decided to study biology – one of my other interests – and kept the flute as a hobby. I never regretted this decision and can hardly imagine a better balance to the working day. Thus the flute has accompanied me for the last 50 years. That is to be taken literally: To the annoyance of my wife, I carry a plastic traverso with me on every voyage, even on our sailing trips.

JF: Has there been any relationship between your professional activities and music?

UH: Indirectly. For my theses, I spent a year and a half in the jungles of Java, where I studied some rare and threatened animal species. There the many beautiful bird calls have time and again tempted me to imitate the sounds on the flute. Still I have never really achieved to master „Le Merle Noir“ by Olivier Messiaen … My last exhibition in Naturama Museum was dedicated to the subject of „Wood & Sound“ – both phenomena are topics of natural science. At this occasion, my collection of flutes was publicly exhibited for the first time, together with many string and plucked instruments, of course.

JF: Have there been any decisive events on your way as a musician and collector?

UH: Oh yes! For example the lessons with Peter - Lukas Graf many years ago: He brought me to understand and to play the flute sonatas of J. S. Bach. And then, five years ago, the interpretation of one of these sonatas by Lisa Beznosiuk, whose wonderful dark flute sound finally took me for the historical flutes. Soon after I started with traverso lessons at the Schola Cantorum Basel as well as with collecting. About 80 instruments have come together since.

JF: What is your aim with your collection?

UH: My ambitious goal is to have a specimen of every important step in the long evolution of the transverse flute - if possible as an original, or, in instruments from the baroque period, as a good copy - originals of these flutes can hardly be found on reasonable terms today. I find it especially exciting to see how the sound ideal has changed over the centuries. Therefore my instruments should be in playable condition. Isn’t it wonderful to make a flute sound again, which has survived 200 years of history and six generations? Handling these instruments, made of precious woods, with ivory rings and silver keys, is a sensual experience. And then to play them for the first time…

JF: Now playing on a renaissance flute, on a baroque traverso, a multi-keyed romantic flute or a modern Boehm system instrument, is a very different thing. Nevertheless, you sometimes play recitals with up to eight different flutes. Is that not somewhat daring?

UH: That is even very unreasonable! I understand every serious flutist whose professionalism does not allow such a risk. Well, I just try something rather uncommon, and do not choose the most demanding pieces. A considerable difficulty is, of course, the change of fingerings, the often finger-breaking keywork and the various intonation problems with each instrument. But that keeps mentally fit. It is also difficult for me to let go of the 'Boehm-Vibrato', which I had carefully cultivated over the last 50 years. And the most demanding of all is, of course, the 'right' interpretation of music from the past four centuries. In Liane Ehlich at the Schola Cantorum Basel I found a highly competent and patient teacher for all this.

JF: How did you come to join GEFAM, and to become its chairman?

UH: This also I owe to Liane Ehlich. She just handed me a GEFAM registration form. The Annual Meeting of GEFAM 2008 in Basel convinced me to join its board – and thus quickly found myself on the presidential chair. You see, reason is clearly not my strength! But I like to do it, learn a lot and have many interesting encounters. That is well enough to pay the trouble.

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