Niurka Gonzalez, A Cuban Flute Virtuoso

Helson Hernandez

Niurka Gonzalez with the National Symphony Orchestra.

HAVANA TIMES, May 5 — Niurka Gonzalez is one of the greatest concert performers of merit today on the island.  As she commented, “We’ve been able to play almost all of the most important works in the repertoire for flute and piano.”

HT: What has Flauta Virtuosa been for you?

NG: It has been a very important record in my career, with key works from the repertoire of the flute. It journeys through several epochs, because there are works by everyone from Sebastian Bach to Leo Brouwer – so it’s a good comprehensive overview.

I recorded it along with the pianist Maria del Henar Navarro, who I’ve been playing with for 14 years in a duo called “Ondina,” in homage to the great flutist Roberto Ondina, who was the performer of this instrument in the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Cuba. We wanted to remember and pay due tribute to him in this format.

When it came out, the album won the debuting prize at the Cubadisco music awards.

HT: What’s going to happen on the next album?

NG: I can tell you that the next recording will focus on contemporary works by Cuban composers for flute and piano…original versions that in many cases are compositions made specifically for us – for the Ondina duo.


Niuka en gira por prisiones con Silvio Rodriguez.

HT: How many years have you been involved in concert music now?

NG: Well, when I was in school I picked up very naturally on playing the instrument, so you could say that it’s been over 25 years.

HT: Were there any influences from your family in determining your becoming a musician.

NG: Not at all. My mother is a health care professional and my father was in the military. So no, there wasn’t any family influence. It was by my own determination, though they always listened to me and respected my wishes, supporting me in everything, which was instrumental in my development.

HT: So why did you choose the flute?

NG: When I started school I began on the clarinet, since for other reasons I couldn’t find a group in which I could practice the flute, though I studied both specialties. So until junior high I did the two specialties, but in third year of high school I begin to focus on the flute.

I have to confess though that what attracted me most to this instrument was its vast repertoire. The clarinet repertoire, in contrast, doesn’t have the Baroque period. Also, the sweetness of the flute was a sound that I liked. I think it’s very expressive and close to the human voice, with many similarities to singing. You can find lots of colors in it. Among the wind instruments I think it’s one that’s extremely rich, and this allows one to tap much of its potential.


Niurka ensayando con Silvio.

HT: What brought about the creation of the Ondina duo?

NG: When I returned from my studies in Paris, where I won first prize at the conservatory there, once back in Cuba I entered the National Center for Concert Music. I started looking for a partner to form a group that would allow for a repertoire of work that had continuity.

At that time Maria del Henar had stopped working with the saxophonist Miguel Villafruela. She was looking around for something to motivate her, so we decided to create “Ondina.” That was precisely in 1997, and since then we’ve been developing this musical group.

Today I can say that Maria del Henar Navarro is also an accomplished pianist who has achieved great expertise in the repertoire of the flute due to all this experience over time in the duo.

HT: What do you think has been the hallmark of the Ondina duo among the broad movement of concert music, especially chamber music.

NG: I’d say we’re characterized by the great rigor of our repertoire. We’ve been able to play almost all of the most important works of the repertoire for flute and piano, with most of the music we play being from 1850 forward.

In the format of the Ondina duo, we’ve actually done little baroque music, since the creations of that period were written for harpsichord. When we include them, we prefer to do them like they were originally conceived – with the harpsichord or cello. In that sense we’ve played much of the repertoire written for flute that was composed following the date I mentioned.

We’ve also been defined by our executions of works by contemporary composers, performing them in depth, spending years studying them, finding new things each time and therefore always exploring and seeking out new things.

HT: So hasn’t the Ondina duo been somewhat nationalistic.

NG: No, not at all. We’ve been completely international in our approach to music.


Niurka in concert con Leo Brouwer.

HT: How did your stay in Paris influence you in terms of your artistic training?

NG: It influenced me significantly, because the French school of wind instruments has a great tradition and is very prestigious, as is reflected through its great teachers and performers. When I was in Barcelona I had the luck of meeting one of those great masters: Alain Marion. He was the one who wrote the letter of recommendation for me that opened the door to my getting the fellowship in Paris.

HT: How important was the work of Leo Brouwer in your work as a performer?

NG: Without a doubt he has been crucial in my training as a musician. The first time I could play along with the National Symphony Orchestra was precisely under the direction of maestro Brouwer, and back then I was playing the clarinet.

I already knew his sonata for solo flute, which is a work I’d been playing since I was 15, and since then we’ve collaborated intensely. I think I’ve played almost all of Brouwer’s works; they only piece I haven’t is a sonata for flute and guitar called “Mitologia de las aguas” (Mythology of the Water), because it’s relatively recent.

I’ve had the immense pleasure of having Leo dedicate works and versions for the flute especially for me. I think he’s a genius in his manner of looking at music, in his understanding of it and in his songwriting. He has managed to be profoundly Cuban and at the same time international, which is to say that his music transcends that “Cubania” he possesses to become music for the world.