Kristine Poulsen: Artist Interview

Danish flutist, Kristine Poulsen has played with some of the finest ensembles in the US and Denmark, including Alarm Will Sound, The Royal Danish Opera and The Copenhagen Philharmonic. Since 2012 she has been living in the United States, where she leads an active career as a solo – and chamber performer. A dedicated teacher, Kristine is an Assistant Professor of Music at Missouri Valley College, where she has received the Outstanding New Faculty Award.


Can you give us 5 career highlights?

The first time I performed as a soloist with a professional orchestra was in 2002 with the Zealand Chamber Orchestra – Mozart’s D Major Concerto. I was a first-year student at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, and I was still “green behind my ears” as we say in Danish. It was a big moment for me. A lot of fun!

For about a year, while I was still a student, I played with The Royal Danish Opera and The Copenhagen Philharmonic. I have some unique memories from this time, that I truly cherish. One of the highlights for me at the opera was playing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which remains one of my absolute favorite ballets to this day. Playing at the Royal Danish Opera was a little bit like a dream come true for me. My fascination with the RDO came about when I was only sixteen and a mere ninth grader. At that time, I spent a week at the opera, where I sat in at all rehearsals, attended performances and concerts, and shadowed the principal flute. What an inspiration is was to be a part of this work scene for a week. I remember sitting all alone in the red corduroy seats during a rehearsal thinking: I want to play here someday. This is really when the seed was planted in me.

Another highlight for me was my Debut Concert at The Royal Danish Academy of Music in 2012. A Debut Concert is essentially a coming out party that marks the end of two years of post-graduate study to become a performing soloist. Ending so many years of study is always a crazy mix of emotions. There is, of course, the relief of graduating; of having worked so hard toward something for so long and then finally reaching some kind of goal. But that is also the scary part of it. I found myself asking, “what now? I’m done.” And what does done even mean? I realized that instead of an ending it was a beginning, the debut of my professional career.  At the time, I was in a relationship with a guy, who happened to be American. Since I had no position tying me down in Denmark, and the world was wide open, I decided to see what the United States had to offer. I then pursued a Master’s Degree in Music Education at the University of Missouri, where I was so lucky to cross paths with Alice K. Dade, who has become a dear friend and colleague.

Shortly after graduating from University of Missouri, I was hired as Assistant Professor of Instrumental Music at Missouri Valley College. From having had my sole focus on the flute, all of a sudden I had to teach several other music-related courses as well, which brought me out of my comfort zone. This was a challenge for me, but it was also very exciting and different! I enjoy teaching, and I learn something from my students every day.

 

How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?

One of my seminal moments was studying at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon with Julien Beaudiment and Philippe Bernold. Getting accepted into one of the best schools in France was a huge achievement for me. It was also the first time I went abroad as a student, and I grew immensely from this experience as an artist and as a person.

My Graduate Performance Recital at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. A performance I still look back at as a unique experience for me. One of the pieces I performed was Debussy’s Bilitis, and it was one of those rare, magical moments, where it felt like everything came together. It is really quite hard to describe exactly what created that moment, but there was just this unique presence in the room. The audience was present and I was present. I was free to just listen and create; create something withthe audience.

Becoming a mother has been one of the most wonderful, exciting, overwhelming, fun, but also extremely hard and challenging experiences of my life. When all of a sudden you have this tiny person, who is completely dependent on you, and whose happiness matters more to you than anything else, it truly changes your perspective. I used to obsess a lot about “off-days”, or if a performance had not gone exactly the way I would have liked it to… After I had a baby, there was just something more important in my life, and the navel-picking subsided. (Also, there was just no time for it) It made me a better musician, because it shifted my focus. However, I am sure any mother out there can relate to the challenge of building a career while being a full-time mom. It is a balance I am still learning.

What do you like best about performing?

When people come up to me after a performance and don’t just say “nice job”, but that I can feel they really had an experience; that there was something in my performance that made them think and feel, that makes everything worthwhile for me. There is something really unique about being able to connect with people through music. I love this feeling of intimacy in a concert; the feeling of creating something together. That is what it is all about for me.

What are your goals personally?  Professionally?

I think my personal and professional goals intertwine a bit. At a personal level, I want to keep growing and improving, but I think that part of that growing comes from taking on challenges at the professional level. My next big project is to do a CD recording of Danish flute repertoire; something I have been wanting to do for a while – now it is time.

What has been your greatest challenge?

I would have to say moving from Denmark to the United States. Leaving my home country, my family and friends, and life as you know it is a little bit like having your heart torn in two. Add to that the challenge of having to re-invent yourself and establish a career in a different country, a different culture… well, let’s just say it causes some strong emotions. But I have come to really enjoy living in the US, and I have found that there is so much opportunity to create your own portfolio career here – more so than in Denmark. One of the things that I have had to learn in the US is that you cannot be scared of “knocking on doors.” In Denmark, it works a little differently, and I think people wait a lot more for the opportunity to come knocking instead.

Who were your music mentors?  and what did you learn from them?

I have had many important mentors during my studies, and each one of them have had a significant impact on me and the musician that I have become.

My first teacher was Susanne Bechmann, who taught at the local music school in the small hometown where I grew up. I was nine years old and really did not practice much in the beginning (students, close your ears, please!) But, I had my weekly lesson, played at the music school concerts now and then, and I had fun with it.

The next teacher I had, who became a mentor for me in the word’s most literal sense, was Eva Oestergaard, who was at the time Principal Flute at The Royal Danish Opera Orchestra. My lessons took place at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, and every week, I would take the train an hour each way to have my lesson. Eva was a very expressive musician and taught me a lot about the importance of beautiful sound; how to listen critically and how to play with different tone colors. It was under her mentorship that I got accepted into the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.

At the Royal Danish Academy of Music (RDAM), I studied with Toke Lund Christiansen and Henrik Svitzer, who were very different in their teaching approaches, but both of whom I learned a lot from musically and technically. My first years at the RDAM were intense and quite challenging in many ways. I had moved away from home, and from being a big fish in a small pond. All of a sudden I was not the only one, who could play the flute well so I had so much to learn about the relativity of talent.

During my third year at the RDAM, I was so fortunate to get accepted into the class of Philippe Bernold and Julien Beaudiment at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon(CNSM) This was an eye-opening experience for me. The level was very high, and all lessons were in plenum, so I guess you can say that the pressure was on. I practiced like a maniac during this time. So much of what I learned about musical expression, sound and technique, I attribute to my time at CNSM. I didn’t feel like I was done with the French flute school after the program was over, and for several years I took private lessons with Julien Beaudiment, who became a very important mentor for me. Not only was he always an inspiration with his beautiful sound and natural musicianship, he was also an excellent teacher. I have learned a lot from him both about flute playing and about teaching.

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?  

  • I love to sing. Especially soul, funk and R’nB. I have actually entered singing competitions a couple of times. Last time I was a finalist in Mizzou Idol with an Etta James standard.
  • I like to bake cakes, as much as I like to eat them.
  • I love to play with my son, Emil. His favorite game right now is tag, so there is a lot of running around in the house.
  • Some say I am good at imitating people and accents. They may have just been nice, I don’t know. But I do have fun doing it, though.
  • For me, a real party ends with dancing.

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

  • In order to develop your own style and sound, you need to have an opinion about what you like and don’t like. The only way to really develop this, is by attending many concerts, attending live performances, recordings, doing research, etc. And listen to everything – all styles and instruments. Don’t just limit yourself to the flute. The goal should be to be a musician – not just a flutist.
  • If you have a chance to study abroad – DO IT!!! And go to France. Both professionally and personally, this is the most valuable gift you can give to yourself. It broadens your horizons on so many levels, and changes your perspective in life.
  • Remember that it is the failures we learn the most from. Be able to laugh a little at yourself.

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