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Meet the Musicians

The Agile Flute: A Q&A with Adam Kuenzel

Adam Kuenzel performing as soloist in Bach’s B-minor Orchestral Suite.
Adam Kuenzel performing as soloist in Bach’s B-minor Orchestral Suite.

In his 32 years as the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal flute, Adam Kuenzel has compiled a remarkable and varied record of “firsts”—apparently the first Orchestra musician to travel by bike on a Minnesota state tour, the first to premiere two 21st-century concertos with the Orchestra, and the only musician to custom-wrap his entire car in decorative vinyl in support of the musicians and the Orchestra during and after last decade’s lockout. He’s also one of the few current Orchestra musicians to complete a triathlon, is among the most regular visitors to the lobby to meet audience members before concerts, and earlier this year was one of two musicians to temporarily join the percussion section as a claves player in a chamber music concert.

Kuenzel is currently the Orchestra’s second longest-serving principal player (only the trumpet section’s leader Manny Laureano, who joined the ensemble in 1981, has been a principal player for longer), and he will take center stage this weekend, May 13 and 14, as soloist in Carl Nielsen’s colorful, witty Flute Concerto with Xian Zhang conducting. Kuenzel, who also played the Nielsen concerto with the Orchestra in 2005 under Osmo Vänskä’s direction, refers to the piece as an “obstacle course” due to its difficulty for the flute and other instruments, including bass trombone in a large supporting role. While preparing for this week’s concerts, he answered a few questions about the piece and concertos on his wish list.

Minnesota Orchestra: How would you describe the Nielsen Flute Concerto?

Kuenzel: I am treating the concerto as an obstacle course as there are plenty of formidable technical sections. Although there are themes that provide cohesiveness through repetition, the concerto feels like stream of consciousness, too. Much of the music emerges and disappears never to be heard again. This applies to a number of other solo instruments in the orchestra, as well. Listen for the dialogue, or call-and-response, between flute and the other instruments.

MO: How much time and practice does it take for you to prepare for a concerto performance?

Kuenzel: I’ve been practicing the above-mentioned technical sections at slower tempi and with rhythmic variety. It’s not so much a matter of endurance, as the piece is only around 20 minutes long. Slow practice reinforces muscle memory and helps ensure accuracy.

MO: Are there any concertos on your “wish list” to play, or living composers you hope will write a flute concerto?

Kuenzel: Oliver Knussen is an English composer and conductor. I had asked him if he was interested in writing a concerto. This was around 2008 when a group of three amateur flutists in town wanted to commission a concerto for me. My friend, Manuel Sosa, eventually got the commission. In 32 years with the orchestra, I have never had occasion to perform either Mozart concerto. I suppose there’s still time.

The Minnesota Orchestra performs Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, along with Qigang Chen’s L’Eloignement and two works by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—Suite from The Sleeping Beauty and Francesca da Rimini—at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14, at Orchestra Hall. Learn more and purchase tickets.