Ruan Baartman - from Bloemfontein to London with his double bass

Ruan Baartman - from Bloemfontein to London with his double bass

On the 10th of July, young double bass player, Ruan Baartman, will be performing with his mentor, Leon Bosch, at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. Originally from Bloemfontein, fortune has taken him to all the way London where he first studied at the prestigious Menuhin School. He is currently enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music.

Please tell us about your childhood?
RB: I was born and raised in Bloemfontein as part of a family six - me, my three sisters and my parents. I went to the local primary school and then went on to do only two years at Sentraal High School.

What was your first contact with classical music?
RB: My first encounter with classical music came while I was in primary school. Peter Guy, who runs the Mangaung String Programme, brought a group of young musicians to the school to come and play for us. He was starting a violin class at the school. I was always a curious kid, and so I really wanted to be part of this new venture.

And how did you end up playing the double bass?
RB: I did start violin lessons with Peter, but because I was quite a chubby kid, Peter thought my build and fingers would be more suited to the cello. He took me to an orchestral rehearsal, placed me just behind the cellos in the hope of convincing me. But, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the sound and size of the double bass, and I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting at that point. So, I then gave back my violin and started playing the bass. Peter, being a professional double bass player himself,  taught me.

So Peter Guy was the one responsible for getting you started?
RB: Yes, I spent two and a bit years studying with Peter, playing in the Bochabela String Orchestra, Free State Youth and Symphony orchestras, Johannesburg Philharmonic, National Youth Orchestra and Miagi Youth orchestra. All of this was made possible by Peter Guy who took a keen interest in my development, and really lay down the basis of who I am both as musician and a person.

How did you end up going to England?
RB: In 2007, I went to the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, where I met Leon Bosch who kindly offered to take me under his wing and has been a mentor ever since. Leon took me into his family, arranged auditions at the Menuhin and Purcell Schools of music. I was very lucky to get full scholarship offers from both schools and in the end I chose to go to the Menuhin School. I spent five academic years at the school and have since moved on to the Royal Academy of Music.

Who are you studying with at the RAC?
RB:  I study with Duncan Mctier and Graham Mitchell as an ABRSM scholar.

Please tell us about your involvement in this year’s Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival.
RB: I am returning to the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival again this year. Obviously, having gone to the festival as a student some years ago, it was a huge pleasure and honour to be invited back as part of the faculty last year. I will be coaching some of the student chamber groups and playing in the faculty concerts, one of which will be particularly special, with Leon and I playing Bottesini’s Passione Amorosa for two double basses and string orchestra in the concert on 10 July. Seems an appropriate way, and of course place, to celebrate our journey so far.

You have performed in many of the best concert halls in the UK.  Please tell us about some of the highlights?
RB: One of the greatest pleasures of being a musician is that one gets to travel, and also to play in the different concert halls around the world. And I have had the honour of playing in many of these halls. The one that stands out for me must be when I played at the Wigmore Hall a couple of years ago. The combination of the occasion and of course the hall itself makes it a moment I cherish.

Double basses must be quite expensive instruments. What are you playing on at the moment?
RB: I am very lucky to play on a very beautiful and very fine Italian instrument on kind loan from the RAM. It is an incredible instrument and I love playing it, but I will inevitably have to give it back at some point. And, with instruments being so expensive, I haven’t yet acquired my own instrument. I am in the process of raising money, but of course would appreciate and in fact need any help offered.

Tell us about the collaborations you have had with South African musicians?
RB: Some years ago, I had the opportunity to work with both Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the Soweto String Quartet on different occasions. On both occasions, it was a huge honour to work with such accomplished and committed musicians and human beings, and definitely inspired me as a young musician and person.

How do see your career going forward from here?
RB: Like every young person, I have dreams and ambitions, big ones. I would love to be part of a great orchestra, I hope I get to play a lot of chamber music, but my ultimate dream (perhaps slightly unrealistic) is to be a soloist, and I’m working as hard as I can to achieve this dream. And of course in addition to pursuing all of these personal goals, I also want to constantly give back to other young people in South Africa, in whichever way I can, because ultimately, music (and life really) for me is about sharing!

For more info on the Stellenbosch International Music Festival, click HERE.

Interview by Christien Coetzee Klingler.

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