In the seventies of previous century I was privileged to watch, the in 1944 in Dilbeek by Brussels born, Sigiswald Kuijken, at work in Den Haag giving fantastic classes. Already then you could see that a great master was at work. Also at the London Royal College of Music many people found this Belgian inspiring and a great person to learn from. Later Germany’s Musikhochschule could not stay behind. There as at many baroque festivals many people could become enchanted by the simplicity of this masterhand and his fellow musicians who were allowed to conquer the world with many beautiful recordings.
In 1972 Sigiswald Kuijken brought together some of the finest baroque players, originally for the one-off purpose of recording Lully‘s comédie-ballet, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, conducted by Gustav Leonhardt for the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label. Clearly this could not have stayed to that once only occasion. Though the players changed several times, according to the circumstances and the work which had to be performed, the orchestra could always convince the public that it was a group of musicians accustomed to each other as if they were playing already ages with each other. They formed ‘one unit’. Violinist Sigiswald his brothers Wieland, player of the viola da gamba and baroque cello and Barthold flautist and recorderplayer, naturally formed the nucleus of the company.
Sigiswald Kuijken studied violin at the conservatories of Bruges and Brussels, completing his studies at the latter institution with Maurice Raskin in 1964.
Belgium had in 1831 done already a big stupidity by letting the founder of that Brussels Conservatoire, Jean Antoine Petipa with his sons on their own, without any support to fulfil their artistic duties. Son Marius Petipa exchanged Brussels for Antwerp, but when they did not want to fund him, he looked for a new horizon. In 1847 he went to Sint Petersburg as premier danseur and was appointed maître de ballet in 1862 in succession to the veteran Jules Perrot. Like Belgium not wanting to know any more of Petipa, whose renowned works are now danced all over the world, they did the same thing again in 1987 with Maurice Béjart, the founder the Ballet du XXe Siècle in Brussels . He left to continue his work with the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, to get one of the most famous and successful dance companies in the world.
Today, if they are not careful, the Belgians once more shall loose a bastion of the Belgian art world.
2012 saw already the disinterest of the state for the Ballet van Vlaanderen (Royal Ballet of Flanders) and now it astonishes the world by taking away the funds for the Baroque ensemble La Petite Bande.
Once more several people who form a commission who has to decide of the future funding of an artist or a company do not notice how somebody, who worked so hard all his life to bring forward the best of some Belgian art projects, shall not be awarded for all his efforts, to bring the name of Belgium on the world-map of Culture.
Studying on his own, Sigiswald Kuijken gained a thorough knowledge of specific 17th- and 18th-century performance techniques and conventions of interpretation on violin and viola da gamba. His thorough search in manuscripts and old writings brought forward a technique which led to the introduction, in 1969, of a more authentic way of playing the violin, whereby the instrument was no longer held under the chin, but lay freely on the shoulder; this was to have a crucial influence on the approach to the violin repertoire and was consequently adopted by many players starting in the early 1970s.
In the music of La Petite Bande you feel the respect for the essence of the work. I do think it is necessary we also do have companies who go for that essence and do not explicitly search for novelty or shocking effects. In art we also need groups who go to that essence, not giving in to fashionable ways of doing it, or simply trying to please the audience. Not stepping on the roller-bed of fashion and popularity. With this company you can feel the breath of life, and the flow of music as a living stream. Being able to share the honest inner experiences of the musicians express themselves according to their beliefs gives the most value and experience to be drawn into the centre of the ‘old music’ having become music of today.
By several, Kuijken became considered as one of the “founding fathers” of the early music movement, playing a leading role in pioneering the re-establishment of Baroque violin playing techniques.
In 1972 he founded La Petite Bande, one of the first period instrument orchestras, an ensemble that went on to perform world-wide and make an impressive series of recordings that is still in progress. In addition Kuijken frequently guest conducts other period instrument orchestras, among them the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whose debut concert he directed in 1986.
His list of pupils is extensive and distinguished and, following 25 years at the Hague Conservatory, he continued to teach at Brussels Conservatory.
After all those years, still not being recognised by the State Office people, we can wonder how Kuijken shall retain a zest for life and enthusiasm and shall stay in Belgium.
It is not because he does not try to be modern or adjust to tastes and popularity that he would not be of value for the country. Demanding that he or any artist should be innovative, demands a justified definition. Johan van Veen also had to re-adjust his ideas about ‘innovation’. In 2009 just after it looked as if the government recognised the work of Kuijken by giving him the prestigious prize of the Flemish Community for his achievements “voor Algemene Culturele Verdienste van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap”, they announced the next day the company would not receive any funds any more from the government, because it was not innovative enough. According to the critic van Veen they as him had to revise their ideas. He wrote: “This recording” [(Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750): Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-1051) Accent – ACC 24224 (2 CDs) ] “shows that this is a serious misjudgement. This recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos is as innovative as one would wish. The director of La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken, is never satisfied with the state of affairs in regard to performance practice. He is always looking for new information and for solutions to still existing problems. “
I am sure that many in the world can agree that the playing of all members of La Petite Bande is of the highest order and should continue to present music lovers with some more new recordings, not only of the classics but also of the lesser played pieces of music, time has brought to this world, which is less and less interested in real artistic craft.
As in 2009, the splendid Baroque orchestra “La Petite Bande” once again threatens to lose its subsidies : exactly the same advisory commission as in 2009 has advised the Flemish Minister of Culture Joke Schauvliege to reduce their subsidies to zero from 2013 onwards.
Today there is still some time for people to react, as the Flemish Government will take the definitive decision by the end of June. For this reason I would like to ask readers on this platform to spread the news, to call a halt to such a slip. It is an error to think that, because La Petite Bande is worldwide renown company that, they do not need any support any more from the government.
Only a swift and strong call on the Flemish Minister President Kris Peeters can still turn the tide! I would like to invite you to sign the petition for the continued allowance of La Petite Bande, and also to send it to all your friends.
Please do find:
A Dutch article about this subject / Gelieve ook het Nederlandstalig artikel te vinden over dit onderwerp: La Petite Bande heeft uw stem nodig
Related articles (in the margin)
- Belgium – The Best Kept Travel Secret (solsticetravel.wordpress.com)
Belgium is one of those countries that finds it easier to describe itself by what it is not: it’s not French, nor is it Dutch, nor German. Belgium is a country with an identity crisis, in the most positive sense of the word, as its population speaks French, Dutch, German, Arabic, and even English, due to a large segment of expat foreigners. With all the variety, Brussels takes the mix in stride and pulls everything together into an offbeat, almost bizarre sense of place.