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Artist Bio

Amanda Baker

Amanda Baker is an interpreter of new sounds seeking to lift the borders of the perceived sonic confines of flute music.  Exploring new timbral possibilities for the flute, Amanda experiments with all members of the traditional flute family and additionally with Baroque flutes, ethnic flutes and conceptual flutes.  Blending together electric and acoustic elements, Amanda incorporates intricate extended techniques into her playing to create seldom-heard sounds for the flute.

In 2002 Amanda co-founded janus, a flute, viola, and harp trio.  Through janus commissioning, she has made significant contributions to the body of repertoire for the trio having premiered over thirty new works written by composers such as Barbara White, Dan Trueman, Jason Treuting, Caleb Burhans, Anna Clyne, Cenk Ergun, Andrew McKenna-Lee and Ryan Brown.  Janus’ concerts have been held in experimental music spaces including Roulette, The Tank, The Stone and BAM Café in addition to traditional spaces including Symphony Space, Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and The Cleveland Art Museum.  In promoting the creation of new works for the trio, janus has collaborated with the composition departments of Princeton, Cornell, NYU and Colgate Universities.  Janus recently signed with New Amsterdam Records for a forthcoming CD set for release in the Fall of 2010.

Amanda was a member of the United States Coast Guard Band from 2003 - 2010 with whom she has toured to the stages of Carnegie Hall, Benaroya Hall (Seattle), Ruth Eckerd Hall (St. Petersberg), Minato Mirai (Yokohama, Japan), and Boettcher Hall (Denver).  She has performed in the state funerals of Presidents Ford and Reagan and the Inaugurations of President George W Bush and President Barack Obama.

Prior to her involvement with the Coast Guard Band, Amanda was the Principal flutist of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra in Southern China.  While in China, she learned how to get by with a pocket full of Chinese phrases and to practice indiscriminate culinary taste.

Amanda has played on the music series of the Newport Music Festival, Hop River Music Festival (CT), Minimum Security Concert Series, The Way to Go Out (Hanover, NH), Chamber Music Mystic (CT) and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.  Additionally, she has given clinics and workshops at Northwestern University, Yale University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dartmouth College, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the National Flute Association Convention.  She has been featured on WNPR (Connecticut Public Radio), WPR (Wisconsin Public Radio) and WGDR (Vermont Public Radio).  She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University in 1998 and her Master’s in Music from Yale University in 2000.  Her teachers include Walfrid Kujala, Richard Graef, Ransom Wilson, and Robert Dick.

Artist Interview

Amanda Baker

We had the opportunity to ask Amanda a few questions. Check out her thoughts on living in another country, the concept of her trio, janus, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.

1. In 2002 you co-founded a flute, harp & viola trio called janus. What is the concept of janus and how was it formed?

In 2001, I was at a gathering with some colleagues of mine from Yale and I struck up a conversation with violist and Eastman graduate Beth Meyers who was in town visiting her boyfriend (now her husband).  We expressed to each other that we were at a crossroads in our lives and looking to play chamber music in a setting that was outside the scope of traditionally classical music.  I can’t even remember why we decided on flute, viola and harp but we knew that before we could explore the edge we had to start at the beginning with Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.  From there, we worked through Toru Takemitsu, Kaija Saariaho, Arnold Bax, Sofia Gubaidulina and other standard pieces for the trio.  It wasn’t until several years after our inception that the vision of janus came into fruition.  Knowing from the outset that the repertoire for this instrumentation was very limited, we actively began pursuing composers to write for us. Our primary goal is to make a substantial contribution to the repertoire and to date, we’ve added over 25 new pieces to the flute/viola/harp library.  Coupled with adding to the repertoire, we want to bend our listener’s ear and explore new sounds together.  There are many incredible unique sounds to discover – it is so much fun to push the envelope and charter unexplored soundscapes.  

2. janus signed on with New Amsterdam Records for the release of their CD 'I am not'. Can you tell us about this experience?

janus feels very lucky to be included on the New Amsterdam roster among amazing talent in the indie-classical world including So Percussion, flutist Alex Sopp and fusion bluegrass quartet QQQ.  We recently finished recording the album with our producer and engineer Lawson White at the Clinton Recording studios - recording home to Sting, Yo Yo Ma, Beyonce and Diana Krall among others.  Since recording is never painless, we put a lot of preparation into the music prior to entering the studios so as to defray any frustrations personally or with each other that might arise during the process.  Due in part to our preparation but also in large part to Lawson and the fantastic staff at Clinton we wrapped on time and were still friends at the end!

3. What we can expect to hear on the recording?

This recording will be unlike any other flute/viola/harp recording on today’s market.  We chose composers with complimentary voices who represent the unique new sounds currently coming out of New York.  Including composers Anna Clyne (composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony 2010-2011), Jason Treuting (So Percussion) and Caleb Burhans (Alarm Will Sound, itsnotyouitsme) you’ll hear sounds ranging from me singing through my new Miyazawa alto (which I bought specifically for this album) to the crumpling of paper to radio static.  We stepped outside of the confines of our instruments and incorporated our other talents into the album such as acoustic singing, banjo playing and percussion. We believe that we have created a new sound for the trio that is fresh, innovative and interesting.    

4. You are the former Principal flutist of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra in Southern China. What was the experience like living in another country?

Being in Guangzhou was one of the most fruitful experiences of my life.  I came into GSO in 2001 shortly after they began restructuring to include fewer political concerts and more concerts of standard orchestral repertoire.  The ensemble was comprised of extremely talented musicians, mostly Chinese except for about ten Westerners.  My life in Guangzhou was very different than the colleagues of mine who were in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai.  Although Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, at that time it was referred to as a “country” city meaning that its customs and courtesies were more in line with the way a small city or village in China would function.  Just going to the store was sometimes an adventure with young girls wanting to practice their English with me and adults peeking into my grocery basket to “see what a foreigner eats.”  There was no blending in with my curly hair and blue eyes!  Needless to say, I met a lot of people and was never wont for friends!

One of the most exciting weekly experiences was going to the market.  It being the primary source of fresh produce for the locals in my part of town, there were dozens of stalls selling fresh produce, eggs, dried fish, live poultry, and freshly butchered beef.  I would end each trip to the market with stopping by the flower stalls where I would pick up several fragrant stems of giant pink and white stargazer lilies.  They were the reward I gave myself for doing two things I was uncomfortable with – haggling and speaking Mandarin!

5. What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?

It is difficult to have a retrospective view on the most valuable lesson I’ve gained from the flute because I feel like each time I play, I benefit in another new way. Just last week however, I had the realization that the flute has taught me how to practice patience. During a lesson with a young flutist who was frustrated that she couldn’t learn a technical passage as quickly as she wanted to, I explained that even though we know what we want to hear, we have to start at the beginning and trust that by using the knowledge we’ve gained, we’ll be able to reach our goal. Basically, slow and steady wins the race. Doing this requires a lot of patience and trust in one’s own capabilities.

This concept extends beyond the flute into all areas of my life. In basic scenarios such as a project at school or work, it keeps me from becoming overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. On a more personal level, the patience gleaned from the flute has been helpful when building my career and creating a home environment that I adore. I’ve learned to not rush carelessly toward my goals, but carefully craft how I will get there.

6. Currently pursuing an MBA, how do you see yourself tying this in and balancing your performing career with this added outlet?

I began studying for my MBA at Kenan-Flagler because I wanted to run the non-profit I started over 11 years ago, janus, more effectively. I felt like there were many business tools with which I was not equipped and I sought to more intelligently run my organization. As I became entrenched in the program however, I discovered that I was limiting myself by thinking solely of my non-profit and that I could extend my effectiveness to organizations outside of janus.

My business goal is to attain a senior-level management position in an arts organization. Balancing this goal with a performance career however is very tricky but can be done. In my current position, I was completely up front and honest about my dedication to performing and made sure it was understood that I had no intention of giving up the flute. Fortunately, artistically inclined people who are sensitive to craft are found within arts organizations, so finding an environment where I can take time off to travel for performances hasn’t been a problem. Having two careers creates a sometimes hectic life but it is very fulfilling.

7. If you could identify the moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to be a professional musician, what would that moment be?

When I was seven years old, I had a dental accident that while traumatic, opened up the world of teeth to me. After that fascinating experience, my heart was set on becoming a dentist! When it came time to apply to colleges, my intention was to double major in pre-med and music. My flute teacher in Milwaukee, Carol Meves however, knew that having a dual career in these two very demanding roles was most likely unrealistic. When we were discussing my plan in a lesson, she asked me, “Can you imagine a day when you don’t touch your flute?” She was insinuating that there would be times (if not a lifetime) where the demands of being a dentist would pull me away from my first passion, music. It was at that point that I knew, without a doubt that I had to put my dental dreams aside and focus entirely on music. I still dream about teeth (I even worked as a dental assistant in college!) but I’m the happiest I could ever be with the path I’ve chosen. Maybe I’ll be a dentist in my next life!


8. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?

I’m not sure if it is the nature of my lifestyle or the nature of the music I choose to play, but my flutes really take a beating!  When I was looking for a new flute, one of my top priorities was that I choose a flute that could not only handle aggressive extended techniques such as key slaps but also withstand jostling from quick instrument changes and frequent travel.  Miyazawa has an excellent reputation and received high accolades from fellow artist and Northwestern colleague Stacy Newbrough Ascione.  When I tried out flutes at the 2007 flute convention in Albuquerque, I fell in love!  I couldn’t be positive if the Miyazawa I chose would stand the test of time in terms of durability, but it felt very sturdy and was void of any clunkiness.  The spring action in the keys was really quick and the flute practically played itself.  It seemed too much to ask that the same flute also have a rich, deep timbre throughout all of the registers but that is what I found.  I’ve been playing my Miyazawa for two and a half years and I’m happy to report that it has not failed me in any aspect.  It is an absolute pleasure to play; and play without abandon.

9.  How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your alto of choice?

I had been in the market for a new alto for a while but was close to giving up the search to find an instrument that was within my price range that suited my needs perfectly.  Then I met the Miyazawa altos and everything changed.  I was at the 2009 NFA Convention in NYC and the minute I played the alto I currently own, I started saving my pennies.  It was hands down the most perfectly designed alto I had ever held.  The sound was luscious and the fit of the flute to my hands was exceptionally comfortable – an important element to a good alto to avoid injury.  The flute plays boldly and allows me to get around technically without restraint.  Two added bonuses: it has a B-foot and the keys are beautifully inlaid with grenadilla wood.

10. If you had one piece of advice to give for an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?

When I decided to pursue music as a career, I had a very narrow view for my future.  My aspiration the summer before I started at Northwestern was to be either a soloist or an orchestral musician and not veer too far from the standard flute repertoire.  In the first class of my freshman year, I was sitting in the back row of composer Jay Alan Yim’s music theory class.  He played Charles Ives “The Unanswered Question” and asked us to define the parameters of music.  Is there music in silence?  Is there music in ambient sound?  Is there music in one note?  This was the first time I had considered the concept of boundaries or the lack thereof in music.  His question shaped not only my perspective in music but also my daily mantra.  For the aspiring flute player:  in music and in life be a receptacle for perspectives that are foreign to you and examine that perspective without judgment.  Doing this, you’ll shape a world full of discovery and uncover unexplored, potentially life-changing avenues.

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