Archive for the ‘Bassoon’ Category

Where is the music?

As I write this, nearly every form of collective music-making has fallen victim to the ongoing health crisis that is engulfing the world. Of course the mere thought of blowing one’s germs over the other members of the orchestra and the audience is only the most obvious first thought! As we hunker down, perhaps this is an opportunity to practise that piece that you’ve always been promising to get under your fingers, or composing that music that has been dying to get out for years.

For me, it’s Barber’s “Summer Music” that has never QUITE made it to the top of the list to spend time on, and in the hope that I will be going on a chamber music course in August, that’ll be my first option. I’ve also got a number of wind quintets in score-only form that I could transcribe and extract some parts for (out of copyright, natch), so there’s something to occupy me musically. In fact I’ve started transcribing the quintet by Erwin Landvai, a set of theme and variations. As always once I start it quickly consumes me, and my rarely exercised Sibelius skills mean it’s a bit of a slow process…

STOP PRESS: Have been invited to perform at a concert in September too, so time to brush up for that as well!

Maybe I have some time now – hah!

After a break of a smidgen over two years, I’ve reached a point where I may have some more time, and could possibly start putting some thoughts down again. I’ve retired from the “day job” at IBM, and am starting to fill the yawning chasm(!) of time with other things – mostly at this stage spending some more time on what I used to do outside of work anyway. Bassoon playing is top of that list, and I’ve already relaxed into playing during the day more regularly – I’d hesitate to call it practise – and responding to the periodic notes from Tom Hardy’s London bassoon list requesting fillers-in and deps. The last couple of weeks has seen rehearsals for Beethoven 9th Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Dvorak’s “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and the 7th Symphony of Prokofiev in addition to my regular playing at the Bushey Symphony Orchestra.

I’m also planning the next two or three brews in my re-found brewing hobby, I expect there’ll be more of that to come. I’m using an automated machine to produce the fermentable wort from the base grains and hops – frowned on by some, again I’ll talk about that later too. So far I’m happy to say I haven’t brewed anything I couldn’t drink (that’s 10 batches of “all-grain” beer as well as some kits to get me started), and some have actually been rather good (IMHO, of course).

On the photography side, it looks like I’ll be starting a little project close to home, as part of the Gravestone Photographic Resource, which looks like a worthwhile endeavour. We’re just checking whether our local churchyard has already been documented elsewhere before spending hours poring over the stones and getting images of them for posterity.

Finally, for now, a slightly longer term project as part of my UK Amateur Orchestras website. One of the features of the site is a mapping of the amateur ensembles listed on the site, which is currently built using Google Fusion Tables. Google have announced the “turn down” (i.e. termination) of this feature for later in the year, so I have to work on an alternative. I’ve mostly avoided the more complex mapping API in Google up to now, so I’m looking for alternatives. Since all of the entries have data for location (both UK postcode and lat/long) I’m hoping this won’t be too onerous, but I’m contemplating that a bit of coding might be necessary. Which brings us back to the SOFTWARE! I have no excuses left now to learn a rather more web-facing language than my trusty REXX, which carried me through 35 years of work. Python seems to be the least onerous alternative, so time to get learning…

Always new music to discover. 

At this time of year I’ve often been attending the fabulous Harrogate Wind Chamber music course (now held in York). The vagaries of scheduling mean that some years the course coincides with one of my other favourite events, the Great British Beer Festival, as it does this year. 

So I’m thinking about what I might have been playing if I were in York, and as luck would have it our regular wind quintet has a meet up scheduled for next week. I’m hoping to re-acquaint myself with the Partita by Irving Fine as well as introduce it to my fellow quintet members.

Harrogate has always been somewhere to discover unfamiliar music, and so without a recent visit I’ve had to find other sources. The clarinet player in our quintet is always unearthing some of the more obscure compositions for the ensemble, so much so that I don’t think we’ve crashed through the same piece twice in the 18 months or so that we’ve been meeting. I’ve also returned to a rejuvenated resource, Brandt’s Woodwind Quintet Site. Rejuvenated mainly because Andy Brandt has retired from full-time professional playing and continues to augment this wonderful site way beyond his original “list” from over 40 years ago. While the listing of quintet compositions and arrangements is unparallelled, he’s now adding historical essays about the development of the ensemble. Highly recommended. 

As a result of this I may spring a new piece (to me, anyway) on the quintet next week. The Quintet Op. 52 by Theodor Blumer has somehow escaped my attention until now. Tricky, but sounds worthwhile… 

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.

Amazong, really

OK, so it’s a slightly lame play on words, but I had one of those little electronic interactions yesterday that adds a bit of cheer. You know, something small happens that has involved (possibly) two human beings, albeit via some interface that separates them but it gives you confidence about what goes on behind the interface.

In this case I submitted a couple of small updates to the titles and artist name for a couple of CDs (by the Gurzenich Fagottquintett) on Amazon’s UK website. I got the acknowledgements back within a very short period (saying they agreed with my updates), and I figured that was probably a machine talking. But to my surprise, the entries were also updated and within half a day the indexing was working as expected. So now you can easily find the three latest CDs by this esteemed bassoon ensemble with one search!

Well done, Amazon.

The Big Bassoon

Recently I renewed acquaintance with an instrument I used to own, a Moenig low-A contra-bassoon. Why is the “low-A” important? Well for one thing it adds 18-20 inches of pipe to the conventional contra, in search of that extra semitone so that you can say “I can play the lowest note on the piano”!

Actually I was borrowing it back from the consortium of three friends who bought it so that I could play the contra part in Elgar’s 1st Symphony, with Bushey Symphony Orchestra. And splendid fun it was too, although there aren’t many places during the piece where the contra “stars”. Mind you, the contra rarely stars, but it DOES bring an added solidity to the woodwind sound, and the tall instrument I was playing gives you a certain prominence in the orchestra.

The concert itself was really good, it’s one of the best orchestras I’ve played in. It also featured Marianne Cotterill singing the gorgeously moving swan-song of Richard Strauss’ career, the Four Last Songs, and a piece from the neglected composer William Alwyn. The Elizabethan Dances, while reminiscent of the film music for which he is probably best known, were a jolly antidote to the seriousness of the rest of the concert!

Now on to Schubert’s Great C-Monster…


Orchestral rehearsals start again this week! The programmes for the two orchestras I play in regularly look really good this year – perhaps they always do early in September. At Aylesbury we start with the “New World” symphony by Dvorak, with Vaughan Williams’ “London” Symphony and Sibelius’ 1st later in the season. Full details here.

At Bushey Symphony Orchestra the season includes some really interesting things such as the Saxophone Concert by Michael Torke, Elgar’s 1st Symphony, Strauss’s Four Last Songs, and the Elizabethan Suite by William Alwyn.

With by bassoon having had a late summer overhaul, I’m nearly ready. One day I’ll have practised enough 🙂

On the (french) horns of a dilemma

As a musician there’s nothing I like better than playing with other musicians. In fact I would almost go so far as to say I HATE playing on my own (well, a plausible excuse for not practising, anyway). So it’s been an interesting experience recently playing with other musicians and really not enjoying it. I realised once again also how powerless you are as a single player in a larger ensemble to actually control what’s going on or at least influence it. Particularly when you have 37 bars rest.

So, picture the scene (and I have purposely changed the instruments to anonymise my comments and avoid any awkwardness), containing the following elements:

  • A flute player who taps his feet, inevitably at a different time to the conductor.
  • An aged clarinet player who can’t hear the conductor is always asking “where are we going from”
  • A leader who gets lost
  • A solo pianist who is young and hasn’t played with a less-than top rate orchestra (ahem) and thinks that they can change speed on a sixpence
  • A conductor (bit hard to anonymise) who not only has difficulty following the pianist, but also has a habit of beating two beat bars as two down beats
  • A viola section who only appeared on the evening of the concert
  • A brass section light of three trombones and a horn
  • An orchestra over-reaching itself with the repertoire

I could go on, but I expect you’re getting the picture. Now at this point I should probably confess myself. I’d only been to two rehearsals, after a previous experience with this orchestra.

On mature reflection of course I could ask questions such as: “Who am I to make these judgments on the orchestra?”, “Where to I get off saying that the orchestra is over-reaching itself?”, “If they only picked easier pieces to play, how would they learn anything?”. Plus many others in a similar vein. So my dilemma is this – do I cast myself adrift from this orchestra to avoid the uncomfortable times (yes I could never really be a teacher, could I?), or do I continue to add some experience (and a needed extra bassoon) to the orchestra and learn something myself from the experience. A real dilemma since neither answer is ideal. I’d love some thoughts.

Another year has slipped by – where did it go?

So what happened to 2007? Well I’m not too sure. I DID go to the Concert PosterJudie Tzuke concert, it was fabulous. It was the promotional tour for her new “Songs” album of more acoustically-styled tracks, but none the worse for that. And yes, she DID sing “Stay With Me ‘Til Dawn”!

So while I’ll forget 2007, 2008 has started very well on the music front. I’ve used my own cooking and sent emails to some nearby orchestras as linked from the amateurorchestras website. Luckily some wrote back and within a couple of weeks I found myself playing 1st bassoon in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with the Aylesbury Orchestra at a Sunday afternoon children’s concert. It’s great to be playing again, and it’s already kicked off a number of other playing opportunities. I’ll talk about them here.

The other exciting musical event has been the splendid birthday gift of an AKAI EWI4000S. I’m SURE I’ll talk more about that too. It’s a midi wind synthesizer, but that really only hints at the capability and ease-of-use of this piece of technological wizardry. I’m just beginning to understand how to make it work and get the best out of it.

Footnote: I was just writing a new post and discovered this unposted-post – seems still relevant, although Judie has now released the second of her “Songs” albums.