Gunilla von Bahr was a flautist, music director, and a successful recording artist.
Gunilla von Bahr was born in Lund in 1941. She was the daughter of Karl-Axel Palmkvist, a dentist, and Mary Palmkvist (née Munther), a director. Gunilla von Bahr was first married to the music director Åke Herlöfsson, from 1962 to 1969, and subsequently to Robert von Bahr, a record producer, from 1970 to 1977, with whom she had five children. She returned to using her maiden name Palmkvist in 1982 but retained the von Bahr surname in a professional capacity.
Gunilla von Bahr was one of the best-known Swedish flautists. She began to play musical instruments at an early age and studied at the Malmö Musikkonservatorium (conservatoire of music) and at Kungliga Musikhögskolan (the royal college of music) from 1962 to 1967. Her career as a professional musician began in 1967 when she joined the Malmö, Norrköping and Sveriges Radio symphonic orchestras as well as Kungliga Hovkapellet (the royal court orchestra), where she remained until 1972. That year Gunilla von Bahr began a career as a touring solo artist. She made a large number of recordings and often appeared on the radio and on TV. Her albums Solflöjt 1-4 (released between 1977 and 1986) include music from different epochs and sold in such high numbers that they became gold records, a highly unusual achievement for classical music albums.
Gunilla von Bahr’s musical career as a soloist involved performing both traditional and modern pieces. She was particularly interested in modern music and even had some newly-composed pieces written specifically for her. She performed over seventy works, seven of which were flute concertos. Gunilla von Bahr especially enjoyed working with Aulis Sallinen, Gunnar Hahn, and Moses Pergament. She mastered not only the concert flute but also another three types of flute, ranging from the piccolo to the bass flute. Her favourite instrument of many years’ standing was a gold-plated A. R. Hammig silver concert flute. Gunilla von Bahr and her husband at the time, Robert, set up the BIS record company during the 1970s and it has since become one of the biggest of the classical music record companies. Gunilla von Bahr remained loyal to the company throughout her career.
Gunilla von Bahr served as head of the Musik i Kronoberg foundation from 1987 to 1990. She was committed to regional music and freelance musicians and sought to strengthen local musical life. To that end she encouraged the establishment of concert associations throughout Sweden. She subsequently served as head of Malmö symphonic orchestra (MSO) from 1990 to 1995. She networked with politicians, local associations, and Rotary groups in order to increase interest in classical music and there are accounts of her standing on the steps of concert houses to welcome unfamiliar guests into concerts. Audience numbers at concerts grew rapidly during her time as head and the MSO also performed at the 1992 World’s Fair in Sevilla. Gunilla von Bahr was a driving force behind bringing young musicians into the spotlight and she was also an inspiring force in the administration and direction of Swedish musical life.
In 1991 Gunilla von Bahr was appointed as a member of Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music). In 2000 she was the first woman to be appointed head of Kungliga Musikhögskolan, a position she held until 2006. Further, she was the only woman in Sweden to hold the posts of head of regional music and of the concert house at that time. She continued to play the flute every day and her interest in the connection between music and health led her to promote research into this area.
In 1977 Gunilla von Bahr was awarded the Svenska grammofon prize in recognition of her album entitled Musik av Gjörgy Ligeti. In 1995 she received the Litteris et Artibus gold medal and in 2011 she was given the highest award available from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, the Medalj för Tonkonstens Främjande (medal for the promotion of the art of music).
Gunilla von Bahr died in Stockholm in 2013. After her death her children donated her gold-plated silver concert flute to the Scenkonstmuseet och Musikverket (dramatic arts museum and musical works) collections. She is buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm.