Tomas Hanzlik is someone who has been known and talked about for roughly a decade now. As a scholar, a composer, a conductor, a singer and a teachers--in other words as an artist of many parts, and not just music. His talents as a visual artist and writer permeate the musical activities that are his central interest. Tomas Hanzlik (1972) is the author of chamber and orchestral music, cantatas, melodramas and a number of operas. He has also written a ballet. His interests as a scholar, i.e. the archival legacy of Czech Baroque composers, are unashamedly the starting point for his own music, but at the same time, however, his compositions are supremely contemporary, and draw stylistically on minimal music. Tomas is the artistic director of the Damian Ensemble, which he founded, and he organises a Baroque festival ever year in Olomouc.
What first interested you about Baroque music, and what continues to attract you?
As a child I had a few records of Vivaldi and Bach, but at that time I enjoyed Mozart more. I come from a non-musical family (although that doesn't mean unmusical!), so I had to beat my own path from the beginning. I still have a very precise memory of my first "stumble" in the direction of classical music. It was at my elementary school in Chocna and it was hearing Mozart's A Little Night Music on a hissing gramophone. Mono. Mozart kept me going for many years. Then, in my very first year at university I listened to all the gramophone records that they had in the library there, and my interest shifted to the 20th century. My biggest favourite was Stravinsky. Later on I heard a few of Pavel Klikar's radio programmes, where he presented Baroque music played on period instruments. Suddenly early music struck me as just as interesting as modern music, and even as more expressive thanks to the highly individual performers. This motivated me to develop a greater interest in the period, and I soon found out what a huge and unmapped area of research it is--and not only in this country. Through the sound quality of authentic instruments I noticed that even the musical structure of Baroque represents a musical system that is still immensely relevant today, and in certain modified forms informed the work of Mozart and Stravinsky.
What led you to choose music as your profession?
As a child I wanted to play the piano, but it was too expensive. The violin was chosen, because my parents could borrow one. As soon as they brought it home to me, I shut myself up in the bathroom and scraped away on it for several hours without stopping. Unfortunately for years I had teachers who didn't know how to play the violin themselves, and I didn't find it much fun just playing scales and exercises all year long, polishing up one piece and then playing it in a state of stress at a music school concert after one rehearsal with the accompanist. I didn't practice. I found it more fun improvising my own melodies, or trying to play music I heard on records from memory. The reason that I didn't ultimately give up was that I got another teacher and started chamber music--we played duos and trios. That completely enthralled me. Immediately in my first year at high school in Vysoke Myto I founded an ensemble of all the instruments played by people in the same year, and I arranged all kinds of pieces for it with my friend Tomas Klima. We both composed a little ourselves--my biggest project was an opera I wrote on a libretto by my classmate Hana Mackova--Pin, Tan, Bel. The story was a sort of mixture of the Magic Flute and Three Veterans [A popular modern Czech fairytale], but it was biting off more than we can chew so we never got as far as a premiere. What was interesting about this music was that it was written without any knowledge of music theory on harmony and counterpoint, and just using the violin and my feeble imagination. The result was something between Mozart and Machaut, but basically it didn't resemble anything. …