Carlo Jans is a well-known flutist, conductor, and teacher throughout Europe. Currently a professor of flute and conducting at the Conservatory of Luxembourg, he is regularly invited as a jury member and orchestra conductor to many notable flute competitions and Festivals: Krakow, International Dutch Flute Competition, Fürstenau, and Moyse International Flute Competition in Bulgaria to name a few. Besides appearances as a solo flutist and conductor Carlo has recorded an impressive amount of recordings, releasing more than 50 CDs.
We met with Carlo after his masterclass in Riga and wanted to know more about his upbringing, the most notable teachers, and what he could share with others at this point in his career.
How come you have become a flutist? Most parents try to persuade their children to pursue more tangible and useful professions rather than a less predictable artistic career.
Well, perhaps my story is a bit different from the others since I got my job when I was only 18 years old. That somehow messed up my intentions to study law, but since I had this rather well-paying and secure position in the Grand Ducal Military Orchestra, my parents were quite content with that. At that time I played violin as well, taking lessons with the concertmaster of the RTL Symphony Orchestra (now OPL Orchestra) So, that’s how I started my musical career.
Can you name some encounters in your life that have made the biggest impact on your professional life?
Some people pushed me in the right direction, so to speak. One of them was the conductor of this Military Orchestra who asked me once: “Do you know Aurèle Nicolet? I’ll do everything possible to make sure you will be able to study with him”. Well, at that time I wasn’t good enough, but it made me realize that it may be possible one day and that I should practice seriously and look for some opportunities that may come up.
And that opportunity came later on when Nicolet came to Luxembourg to play a concert. Since the concertmaster of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (then RTL) was my violin teacher I asked him to help to arrange a meeting with Nicolet. The same evening he called me and said: “Tomorrow, at 08:00 in the morning you have to be in the theater.” So, I was there half past seven, practicing in a garderobe, when five minutes past 08:00 Nicolet showed up saying “I heard someone was playing the flute”. I remember I played Bach’s Partita then.
So, he gave me a lesson from eight to eleven. Then the director of the orchestra came and asked him to come to rehearsal, I think he played C.P.E. Bach’s G-Major concerto. Then, after half an hour he returned, and we continued practicing until one in the afternoon. The director came again and asked Nicolet if he would like to go to lunch but he responded that he doesn’t have time for that and he has something better to do, and we continued to play and talk until three in the afternoon. Then he asked, “ Are you coming to this evening’s concert?” I said, “Yes, of course!”. He said: “Be here at seven”. So, I came an hour before the concert and we continued to practice until eight and then he said: “Ok, now I need half an hour for myself”. Then I asked him “What can I do for you, for these lessons, what do I owe you?” He replied: “I need a book to read on the train tomorrow. If you could just find the biography of Boulez, it would be nice.”.
So, the next morning I met him and gave him the book as his fee for my lessons. Then I went several times to Switzerland to see him again and we worked for three, or four days in a row. These lessons in his garden house were amazing! Nicolet was that personality that made me think about music. To live with a passion for music.
Then I remember I met him in Bern where he gave a masterclass. I met him on the street, and he asked me to bring some cigarettes backstage and my flute, so I could play for him even before the masterclass.
Do you know how amazing he was? There were around 200 people in that hall and Nicolet said: “Today I’ll give a lesson to everyone. Everybody who wants to have a lesson, has some minutes. You come with one problem, and I will try to solve it”. And it looked like he was giving medicine to everyone. Unbelievable, changing people like that (snapping fingers)!
From all my encounters with Aurelé Nicolet, one sentence really stuck in my mind: “The first moment when I met you I knew that you could be a good flute teacher.” I have no idea how he came up with that because at that time I wasn’t so sure about that. Before that, I really didn’t like to teach that much until that very moment. Then he said: “What I am giving to you, I’m not giving only to you, I give it to your students, whole generations after you. So, you have to share it”. That really changed my life. That was one of the key moments. Even though I haven’t studied with him for years it was enough to inspire me for the rest of my life.
How was it to study with Raymond Guiot?
Guiot was so organized: his system for practicing – that’s what stuck for me as well. So, in one way he was different from Nicolet. Nicolet could find a reason – why you can’t play something right. For Guiot was – you just have to practice: “I’ll show you the way how to practice, and, if you have no result, then maybe you should do something else”. So, they were similar in a way since they both studied with Moyse. I think Guiot was so talented, he could play everything, also including jazz piano, so everything was easy for him. Nicolet usually said that he was a mixture of German and French school. Talent plus ability to analyze, and hard work – everything combined.
I know that you were the first student of Andràs Adorjàn at Köln Musikhochschule in Cologne. What can you say about him, and his teaching methods?
I read that Adorjàn was coming to teach to Cologne, so I applied. There were about 130 candidates for 5 student spots. What was touching for me was that he called me the same evening to congratulate me: “Congratulations and see you next week”. No formal letter, just a phone call, it was very nice.
What I like about Adorjàn is that he was very believing in his students. You had to work very hard to be in his class, to earn that trust, though. For example, we had to prepare Lorenzo’s studies for every lesson, one study for every lesson: 6-8 pages you needed to learn by heart.
What was special about studies with Adorjàn – he never wanted to listen to the same program twice. He remembered very well what you played in one of the previous lessons, and he remembered exactly what he said in the previous lessons. Unbelievable memory!
As opposed to the French school approach where you have to imitate your master without a real explanation of how to do it, Adorjàn is very clear about how to practice, how to breathe, how to do the phrasings, how to get to play like that to achieve a specific goal. And he didn’t like wasting his time, always straight to the point. And even now, when he is retired, he still gives masterclasses and performs from time to time.
Last year was a very special concert, organized by Renata Penezic, solo flutist of the Zagreb Filharmonic orchestra. She was the last student of Adorjàn at the Köln Musikhochschule. So, she invited both of us – Adorjàn and me as the first of his students in Cologne. They both played Doppler Double Concerto and I was conducting that concert. Besides Prokofiev and Schubert Symphonies, the program also included the European Premiere of Ian Clark Flute concerto with the composer as a soloist himself. That was really an event to remember!
Now when you mentioned conducting. How did you become a conductor?
At the age of 30, I was at the point where I felt I need to do something more. And I was thinking about three things: jazz, traverso, or conducting. Jazz – immediately no, it’s not for me, I’m not flexible enough. As for the traverso – maybe, but no. I always try to be perfect and how can I be perfect on two different instruments? I have to find time to practice twice as much then. And I’m afraid to end up playing not very well flute and not very well traverso. So, that’s how I came to conducting.
During the first four years of my conducting studies, I didn’t conduct much, I was opening my mind to how conducting really works, and how the orchestra machine is working, and used it for my flute playing. I didn’t see myself conducting at that time yet.
I had a wonderful teacher, Jan Stulen who was the principal conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the guest conductor at the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne at that time. And then I had a chance to come to Riga and work with the fantastic Latvian Philharmonic Chamber orchestra. We did many recordings and concert tours together and then gradually conducting took off. Now I am a professor of conducting at the Conservatory of Luxembourg, I conduct opera projects at the conservatory and go to conduct abroad, mostly in Europe.
So, I can say that Nicolet, Adorjàn, and Stulen were the three most important teachers in my life. All three were artistic and analytic at the same time, they knew how to identify a problem and how to solve it. And now, when I conduct quite a lot and see how things are working from the other side I can tell that I haven’t been the easiest flutist to work with.