Reasons for optimism

Often I don’t find many reasons for optimism, since I tend to be of a more cynical nature. However, after a week in Harrogate at the White Hart Hotel playing almost all day on the great wind chamber music course there, and with the second meeting of a local wind quintet approaching I am finding myself looking forward for a change.

The wind quintet is a fragile beast, and it’s been said that the bassoonist (i.e. me) is the only person who enjoys it. Since the flute struggles to be loud enough, the oboe is forever delving into the quacky end of its range, the clarinet has mostly virtuosic stuff and the french horn player has to play quieter then he or she would like, there is a certain truth there. Not only that, but the personalities often attributed to the players (I’ll spare you the stereotypes) mean that keeping a group of five wind players together can be a challenge. The more regular chamber ensembles, for example the string quartet, have a more homogeneous nature, and also the presence of a clear leader (primo violino) means that decisions can be made!

Still, there is plenty of music, both original and arranged, for the quintet; from the classical starting point of the Reicha and Danzi quintets to the up-to-date jazz-influenced music of Jim Parker, with something from everyone in between. This year’s Harrogate was the opportunity to discover some previously unknown pieces to me: two of the four quintets by Johan Sobeck, a bohemian clarinets from the 19th century; a wind quintet by Howard Brubeck, of Dave’s two brothers. These were definitely worthwhile additions to the “playable” repertoire – hence my optimism.

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