A Mecca for Canadian Bassoonists

The Schulich School of Music at McGill University has been a hub for bassoonists for years.  Stéphane Lévesque updates us on his work with Martin Mangrum, their Bassoon Studio and McGill’s Annual Bassoon Day

As a student at the Conservatoire in Montréal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I went to hear the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) nearly every week, but I also loved going to hear the McGill Symphony Orchestra concerts. I was friends with a few students there, and over the years I met some of the faculty members, such as Bruce Bower, Nadina Mackie Jackson, John Clouser and Whitney Crockett, who were all at one point members of the OSM. Then when I joined the OSM in 1998, I was delighted to get a call to see if I would be interested in teaching at McGill. I have always felt very lucky that my teachers – Rodolfo Masella, Stephen Maxym and Frank Morelli – were so generous and inspiring, and so I was excited – and a bit nervous – to start sharing ideas with the students at McGill. I was thankful that the students, some of which had been working with multiple teachers before I started, were welcoming, open-minded and receptive – we were off to a good start.

 
 
Stephen Maxym (July 17, 1915 – October 12, 2002)
 
 
Frank Morelli (1951 –  )

 

 

 

Stéphane Lévesque’s first teacher Rodolfo Masella (1928 – 1996). Masella was the Principal for the OSM from 1954 to 1968. He was succeeded by Sidney Rosenberg, David Carroll and Richard Hoenich.

Mathieu Harel taught at McGill with me before he got the position at the Conservatoire, and then Martin Mangrum joined the OSM and the McGill bassoon faculty. As Marty and I both studied with Mr Maxym, it feels special that we can ‘keep it in the family’ and carry on the legacy of our teacher.

What has always been important to me is that the students in the bassoon studio at McGill feel that they are part of a supportive community. Everyone comes in at their own level, with their own challenges and talents, and our job is to guide them to be better versions of themselves, to go from bassoon students to artists, and not simply work to become clones of their teachers. And the number 1 rule for McGill bassoon students will always remain the same: work hard and be nice! The connections we make as students can last a lifetime, and I love it when I hear current and former McGill students recommending each other for gigs.

Another essential aspect of being a music student is that we have to be absolutely, insanely, madly passionate about music. We have to go to as many concerts as we can, from orchestra to chamber music but also to performances of other instrumentalists – for example, I learned a lot by going to voice and cello recitals. And let’s not forget about jazz and rock concerts, which can help take your mind off reed making for a few hours. And as bassoon students, we must strive to be bassoon geeks – you wanna talk about cane, reeds, shapers, profilers, instruments, bassoon recordings, new works? Let’s go!

I am very proud of all the students I have had the chance to work with at McGill. It’s always a special moment when a student wins a position in an orchestra, in Canada or abroad, but it is also the reality that there are very few positions that open up. That’s why I am also proud of the students who have gone on to busy freelance careers; to start their own private teaching studios; to teach music or band in schools; to work in arts management, etc. And I am also proud of the students who went on to become lawyers or to work in other unrelated fields!

 

 

A very special event that takes place every year at McGill is our annual Bassoon Day, which will be celebrating its 20th edition on Saturday February 11, 2023 – in person!

It all started with a Bassoon Extravaganza concert with the OSM bassoon section in 2002, and since then it’s been a highlight of my year to bring in friends from all over the world to be our Bassoon Day guest artists. We are also lucky to welcome attendants from the greater Montréal area, of course, but also from elsewhere throughout Québec, from Ontario, from New Brunswick, and also from upstate New York as well as New England. And to have 30, 35 or even 40 of the Bassoon Day attendants join us on stage for the Ensemble Finale still gives me goosebumps to this day.

Every Bassoon Day is a special and exciting affair, but our online (i.e. pandemic) edition in 2021 stands out. It was one of the many virtual events which we had become somewhat accustomed to during the pandemic, but instead of having only one guest artist, we had 7 former members of the OSM bassoon section, as well as two current ones. How amazing it was to share Zoom screens with (in alphabetical order) John Clouser, Whitney Crockett, Mathieu Harel, Richard Hoenich, Nadina Mackie Jackson, Suzanne Nelsen, Phil Pandolfi, Mark Romatz, and Michael Sundell. And in addition to each OSM bassoonist working with one McGill student, we also had a virtual concert where we got to hear our guests in solo and chamber works. It was a very moving experience to have such an exciting group of bassoon colleagues together and to share many OSM stories and experiences.

Here is a list of the McGill Bassoon Day guest artists from 2003 to 2020: 2003 Carlo Colombo; 2004 Suzanne Nelsen; 2005 Richard Beene; 2006 Laurent Lefèvre; 2007 Whitney Crockett + Jeffrey Lyman; 2008 (spring) Sue Heineman; 2008 (fall) Rick Ranti; 2010 Carlo Colombo; 2011 Malte Refardt; 2012 Dorian Cooke + Marieke Stordiau; 2013 Afonso Venturieri; 2014 Ole Kristian Dahl; 2015 Fabio Cury; 2016 Bill Buchman (fall); 2018 Jeffrey Lyman; 2019 Alexandra Eastley + Ted Soluri; 2020 Gabrièle Dostie-Poirier + Kathleen McLean.

At right Carlo Colombo working with Kristy Tucker –

Current or past positions held by recent McGill Bassoon Studio graduates include:

Katelin Coleman: Danish Radio National Symphony Orchestra, Regina Symphony Orchestra
Alexandra Eastley: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, OSM
Ian Fong: Musique du Royal 22e Régiment
Mélanie Forget: Orchestre symphonique de Québec
Aviner Hartwick: Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra
Elizabeth Mee: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Anna Norris: Regina Symphony Orchestra
Lou Paquin: Augsburg Philharmonic Orchestra (Germany) + Jönköpings Sinfonietta (Sweden)
Antoine Saint-Onge: Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
Denise Sun: ADDA Simfonica (Alicante, Spain)
Kristy Tucker: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Des Moines Metro Opera Orchestra                                              Mary Chalk, Orchestres symphoniques de Drummondville et Longueuil; co-founder of Ensemble Cassiopée
Dantes Rameau, co-founder and CEO, Atlanta Music Project
Samuel Rouleau, Tampere and Turku Philharmonic Orchestras (Finland)

 

 

 

 

As I look at this list, I am once again very grateful and touched to have had the chance to hear all these amazing and kind artists work with our students and perform in our Bassoon Day concerts. I hope you will be able to join us for Bassoon Day 2023, with special guests Mary Chalk, a McGill alum who plays with Les Violons du Roy, is a co-founder of the Ensemble Cassiopée, and is a frequent OSM extra, among many of her activities; and Carin Miller, principal bassoonist of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, founder of Bassoons Without Borders, and who has served on the faculty at Indiana University in Bloomington. 

….Stéphane Lévesque, then and now!

 

 

 

 

 

I look forward to seeing many of you in the future, either as applicants and future students at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University, or at one of our Bassoon Days! 

Stéphane Lévesque has held the position of Principal Bassoon with the OSM since 1998.  He is a Board member of The Council of Canadian Bassoonists.