The Legacy of Julius Baker
By Jeanne Baxtresser
As the news of the passing of our legendary Julius Baker reached the flute world, many of us who knew him were overwhelmed with our own personal loss. Those who never met him also felt a great sadness, knowing that the fountainhead of flute playing in our world was gone.
With time, and after having many conversations with my friends and colleagues remembering him, I have become aware of the monumental effect of his artistry on the way people will play the flute into eternity. On some level I always knew this, but losing him has brought this reality into sharp focus.
I know that there is simply no way to overestimate his influence. There are very few performer/teachers of any instrument that have had such a profound effect on so many players of that instrument.
The reason for this is twofold. First, he reached and maintained a mastery of the instrument that had never been heard before. Our good fortune is that this miraculous player reached his peak when technology could bring his performance to flute players everywhere. When they heard his recordings, they felt a gravitational pull that made them want to discover his magic for themselves. Second, Julius Baker dedicated himself to teaching the literally thousands of admirers who came to him. He accomplished this through his fifty-year tenure at Juilliard, teaching positions at Curtis and other top conservatories, his master classes that ran for decades in locations throughout the world, and a private studio that welcomed anyone who wanted to meet and play for him. It is astonishing that while he was setting the highest standard as a performer on the world stage, he was at the same time making himself accessible to so many students.
As an American flutist, I am so proud of my heritage from Julius Baker, as he represented the best of what we were meant to be; an amalgam of the most exceptional of many different musical cultures. He embraced them all from the song of a cantor, through Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, jazz, and classical music. When I heard him play I heard all of these influences come together in an astonishing blend of musicality and tonal display that left me breathless. It strikes me how similar he is to Leonard Bernstein in this way. They are two of our major gifts to the music of the world.
This year there will be tributes all over the world to Julius Baker. Our celebration of his life here at The Juilliard School, is most meaningful, as such a significant part of his legacy as a teacher came from his association with this institution. It was here that he shared his enormous talent with so many of us. This is our time to celebrate an American original whose legacy will affect flutists forever. There never has been, and there never will be another like him.