Rio Lagos is a Canadian orchestral bassoonist at the University of British Columbia currently completing his MMus. He has performed with the Vancouver Opera, Symphony 21 and UBCSO. He talks here with COCB Board member Emily Carlsen.
When did you first encounter the bassoon?
I first came across the bassoon in high school band. There was an older student who played it, and while I thought it was an interesting instrument, I preferred to stick with the trumpet and French horn I was playing at the time. This changed in my grade 11 year, when my band director gave me the opportunity to take a bassoon home and try it out. I immediately fell in love and found myself listening to recording after recording and wanting to do nothing else but practice.
Who have been your greatest mentors in your musical journey?
I have to say that my most influential mentor that was not one of my bassoon professors was my high school band director, Jeff Weaver. Mr. Weaver was always supportive of my goals, constantly pushing me to strive for excellence, and taught me about more than just music. Even after I graduated high school, and up to this day, he regularly checks in with me and he is always there when I need advice. Without his guidance I would not be where I am today.
Can you tell me more about the bassoon you are currently playing?
I currently play a Fox model 240. Built in 2004, I bought this instrument in 2017 and it has served me exceptionally well ever since. The low register on fox bassoons is just so rich and full, it’s hard not to love the instruments they make.
What short term goals do you have on the bassoon?
In the short term I just plan on making music with my friends, taking advantage of the rich academic environment I am in before I graduate with my master’s degree in May.
One of the common topics in Canadian music education how to create more access to the bassoon. What was your experience with the bassoon in high school?
I was lucky to have attended Oak Bay Secondary, a school in Victoria, BC with a well funded program. The school had several wood and plastic bassoons that I tried, and I ended up picking an old Schreiber. While we at least had these instruments, they were far from in good condition, with some of us giving even the best one the affectionate nickname of ‘firewood.’ Instrument access is absolutely a key issue in creating new players. It is difficult enough to learn the instrument, let alone one that is cracked, leaking, or without full keywork.
What has been your most memorable gig or experience?
There are many memorable experiences that I have had performing, from a rigorous summer opera program in Italy to playing a benefit concert to fundraise for the people of Ukraine, however I think that my favourite memory is when I played with Vancouver Opera for the first-time last summer at their Deer Lake Outdoor Opera Highlights concert. Performing with musicians of that calibre taught me a lot in a short period of time, and it was an incredible feeling seeing almost 10,000 people crowd into the park, all excited to share the music we were making.
Who have been your idols as a budding musician?
I have had many idols; from the world-renowned bassoonists everyone knows to some of my colleagues at school. I think that there is something to learn from everyone, so being receptive to feedback from everyone who I come across has allowed me to grow as a musician. Of course, I must also mention my main bassoon teachers as core idols; Jeff Weaver, Anne Power, Jenny Gunter, and Ingrid Chiang.
Would you be willing to write a piece for bassoon?
Composition is not something I am very interested in; however, I have thought about doing some arrangements of popular music.
What is one of your favourite bassoon recordings?
Klaus Thunemann’s 1991 recording Hummel & Weber: Bassoon Concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields & Sir Neville Marriner is one of my absolute favourites. Thunemann’s tone is wonderfully full, rich, and warm and his technique is impeccable. I also really enjoy Andrew Brady’s YouTube recording of the F minor Telemann sonata. His ornamentation is thrilling and the emotion he portrays grips my heart every time I listen.
What other music do you enjoy?
I enjoy a lot of music. With my dad’s side of the family from central America, Latin music has been a big part of my life. During my childhood I also listened to a lot of classic rock, so I have developed an appreciation for that too. But I also like a variety of music, jazz, rap, electronic, and of course classical. It really depends on the mood, time, and place.
If you could impart advice into anyone considering an academic career on bassoon – what would you tell them?
Follow your heart. Remember that there will be times when you are stressed and so bogged down in work that you will wonder why you did this. Don’t focus on the individual moment during these times, think about the big picture, what you have already achieved, what you want to achieve, and why you followed this path to begin with. I would also say take advantage of those around you. I have learned so much from my peers and people other than my regular professors. Engage with the community around you and make music and joyful memories. Life moves fast, so make sure you take the time to enjoy where you are in the present.
What has been the most rewarding part of preparing for your masters recital?
I think the most rewarding part of preparing has been engaging with the music I chose. I chose pieces that I am familiar with, and each holds a meaningful memory of a time in my life. Working thoroughly through this music has given me an opportunity to reflect on the last 6 years of my life that I have spent in music school, and it has made me extraordinarily grateful for all the people I have worked with, for making these past years so full of joy and wonderful memories. I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful for all these people, and I feel so lucky to have been able to learn everything I have from my two music degrees.
Emily Carlsen is currently studying at the University of British Columbia with an emphasis in education, early education and performance. In addition to her academic work, Emily is a band instrument repair technician at Tapestry Music Ltd., specializing in clarinet and bassoon restoration.
In addition to the bassoon, Emily studies the sheng (笙), a traditional Chinese instrument and is the recipient of several awards, including the Outstanding Community Field Experience Award (2022), Shirley M. Wong Bursary in Education (2022), Leone and Robert Hammond Memorial Bursary (2021), S. Cyril Maplethorp Memorial Scholarship in Music (2021), Dr. Zohreh Izadi Memorial Entrance Award (2020) and the Mildred Johnson Scholarship in Music (2020).
Emily is engaged in a K-12 practicum in music education and looks forward to beginning her master’s in educational leadership at Simon Fraser University in September 2023.