Golden flutes, gin and tonics, and orchestral experience abound! Get to know WSO principal flutist Jan Kocman in the latest edition of Meet the Musician.
WSO: How long have you been with the WSO?
Jan Kocman: I am celebrating my 46th year as Principal Flutist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I started in September of 1974; Piero Gamba was the Music Director. Two other present members of the WSO also started that year – Karen and Dick Bauch. I am now the longest serving Principal musician in the history of the orchestra.
Who or what inspired you to become a musician?
My father was a wonderful influence in my early years as he performed in an excellent community orchestra, taught flute and oboe privately, and in general simply loved music. Later, my university teacher James Pellerite brought a level of art and discipline to music performance that was very inspiring. Early in my life, I first attended Chicago Symphony concerts with Fritz Reiner conducting in the late 1950’s. Going to the Chicago Orchestra Hall was a thrilling experience. We would sit high up in the ‘nose bleed area’ and look down at that exceptional stage with all those great musicians and hear the most fantastic concerts. This was inspiring. Also, during my graduate studies at Indiana University I completed course work in musicology with Walter Kaufmann, the first Music Director of the WSO. I thought he was a wonderful musician and extremely knowledgeable about so many facets of music history and style. It was a sincere pleasure to know him.
What’s your go-to-snack?
Gin and tonic (Tanqueray Rangpur or Ungava.) Then again, there is always a good bourbon on ice!
For food snacks, ever since I was six years old, I have always loved crunchy peanut butter. Lately I have been enjoying Adams Dark Roast Crunchy.
Tell us about your flute.
My flute was commissioned by Detroit industrialist and amateur flutist Adolf Lichter. He was an interesting individual who wanted the ‘finest instrument on the market’. He ordered a 14kt all gold flute, which was created by the Boston flute maker Verne Q. Powell. Lichter received the instrument in 1950. I purchased this wonderful instrument in 1989 from my former teacher, James Pellerite, who had been a personal friend of Mr. Lichter. I believe this flute allows me to produce my concepts for purity and stability of sound. It also allows me a beautiful legato and general warmth of tone that I appreciate.
Why do you feel symphony concerts are relevant today?
We have for all time tried to find meaningful ways for our expression. Whether it is a handprint in a cave or a Mahler symphony on the concert hall stage we will continue to search for that artful expression of who we are and what we experience. The great symphonic literature is a part of that expression and you need a symphony orchestra to perform it.
What kind of music do you listen to outside of work?
When I am not listening to classical music I usually focus on jazz and/or Eastern European ethnic styled recordings. Some of my favorite from both types would be: Art Tatum, Marian McPartland, Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, Pat Metheny, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Afro-Cuban All Stars, Gipsy Kings, Romanian Pan Pipes, and Klezmer.
What are some of your most memorable moments performing with the WSO?
For me, this depends on the Music Directorship era.
Piero Gamba: Our performance in Carnegie Hall, 1979.
Kazuhiro Koizumi: His first performance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’.
Bramwell Tovey: Our weekend of performing all the Beethoven symphonies in three days. Also the duo recital he and I performed for the WSO ‘On Stage Recital’ series.
Andrey Boreyko: Gustav Mahler’s ‘Symphony #9’
Alexander Mickelthwate: Gustav Mahler’s ‘Symphony #7’
Daniel Raiskin: Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Messa da Requiem’
Why is orchestral performance important to you?
Symphonic music is one of our great art forms. It allows for creativity, interpretation, expression, performance, and communication. For seventy plus years now, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has been an advocate for outstanding symphonic performance in an effort to enrich the cultural vitality and quality of life for all of our community. Whether we perform Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary, or today’s Pops music the musicians of the WSO bring a commitment to great performance for all to experience.
After 45 plus years of orchestral experience what advice might you have for a young musician?
Be flexible so you might do what ever is needed for a great musical performance.
Know what you want to say musically and play with enough expression so that even the listeners at the back of the hall will feel the emotional impact of your performance.
As in any profession, there will always be frustrations. Never lose sight of the fact you are here to make music. Focus on the artistic aspects and make an effort to perform beautifully in spite of what else might be happening.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the musical performance – try to play fearlessly no matter how difficult your individual effort might have to be.