Toronto Symphony Announcement

Toronto Symphony Announcement

Toronto Symphony Appoints Nicolas Richard

After several months of consideration and extensive trial weeks, Nicolas Richard has been appointed Associate Principal Bassoon for the Toronto Symphony.  Nic has been a vital contributor to the Council of Canadian Bassoonists and we all send him congratulations.  

Nicolas Richard is the new Associate Principal bassoon for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  Previously, he was a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and had previously served as Principal Bassoon for the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as guest principal bassoon with the National Ballet of Canada and the Windsor Symphony and has equally enjoyed performing as a substitute with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

Beyond his orchestral pursuits, Nicolas has appeared as a soloist with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Ottawa Orchestra. He won the second prize in the OSM Competition and is the first prize winner of the National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition, the Ottawa Symphony’s Sénécal-Mozart Prize, and the University of Ottawa’s Concerto Competition. Nicolas is a recipient of awards from the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation and the O’Brien Foundation. Nicolas has spent summers in the United States at the Music Academy of the West and the National Repertory Orchestra. In Canada, he has spent summers with the National Academy Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.

Originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Nicolas completed a Master of Music Degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, studying with Benjamin Kamins. He received his Bachelor of Music at the University of Ottawa, where he studied with Christopher Millard and Richard Hoenich.  In the past year he has also received extensive coaching with NACO Principal Bassoon Darren Hicks.   Away from the bassoon, he enjoys running, reading the New Yorker, and listening to opera.

 

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Council Awards Applications Open

Council Awards Applications Open

Marcus Awards Applications Now Open

The Council of Canadian Bassoonists is proud to present two annual scholarships, The Frank Marcus Awards. The awards will be distributed to one undergraduate and one graduate student enrolled as bassoon majors in a Canadian University or Conservatory in the 2024-2025 academic year.

  • Two awards of $500

  • Winners’ activities will be featured on the Council website for one year

  • Winners receive several online lessons with Council mentors upon approval of current teachers. 

April 1, 2024: Online Applications Open

July 15, 2024: Online applications due by 11:59 pm PST

August 15, 2024: Conditional recipients notified by email.

Students will have six months to redeem their scholarship vouchers, paid by eTransfer.

 Application Requirements

You will need to submit through the online application form found here. Your complete application will include:

  1. 1 Written Response: Describe an experience that inspired you to pursue bassoon in your post-secondary studies. Who do you want to be in five years, and why?
  2. 1-2 Performance Examples (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.): An example of your best performance on the bassoon. Your repertoire must be stated on video and/or in the video description. Suggested duration: 15 minutes
  3. 1 Reference Letter: from a current or former teacher or music teacher or studio instructor.
  4. 1 Unofficial Academic Transcript: from your current high school or post-secondary school.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to apply, you must:

  • be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada as of the application deadline.
  • be enrolled in, have applied for, or will apply for full-time admission to an eligible undergraduate or graduate program at a Canadian institution.

Students selected as conditional recipients of the 2024 Frank Marcus Awards must provide the COCB with Proof of Enrollment for the Fall 2024 term by August 31, 2024, to be confirmed as a recipient and receive the award.

For a proof of enrolment document to be valid, it must all of the below:

    • Full name of student.
    • School name.
    • Academic term and year enrolled.
    • Date issued.
    • Program of study.
  • Letters of acceptance and offers of admission do not adequately prove enrolment in the 2024-2025 academic year.

How Applications are Evaluated

All applicants are evaluated by at least three COCB board members* on the following two standard criteria:

  • Your Written Statement and your submitted Performance Examples
  • Your academic transcript, complemented by a letter of recommendation from a teacher, which attests to your scholarly achievements.
  • Preference will be given to those who indicate current or future enrolment in a Bachelor of Music or Master of Music program.

*board members are not permitted to assess the applications of their own students.

Questions?

Please contact the Council of Canadian Bassoonists scholarship team at: emilyr.carlsen@gmail.com

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Antoine Meets Carl

Antoine Meets Carl

Carl Meets Antoine

Carl Maria von Weber [1786-1826]

Antoine St. Onge [1994 – ]

This spring, Antoine St. Onge will perform the Weber Bassoon Concerto with his Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Antoine sat down with his section mate Michael Hope (and his dog Patate) to chat about the Weber over a couple of cups of coffee…

Michael: Good morning Antoine!  On May 10 and 11 you’ll be playing the Weber Bassoon Concerto with our Calgary Philharmonic.  Why did you choose this, rather than Mozart – or Jolivet?

Antoine:  I wanted to play a piece that showcases the lyrical capabilities of the bassoon as well as its agility.  The Weber is both audacious and virtuosic so seemed to be a good fit for me. It’s a work that I haven’t performed often in the past. The fact that this important composer dedicated time and interest to the bassoon is already quite special! Weber wrote the Concerto in 1811 for Georg Friedrich Brandt, a musician at the court in Munich. Of course, he integrates his operatic style into the piece, offering the bassoonist all ranges of expression; from assertive to virtuosic, comical to lyrical, but always with great charm!  We are lucky to have such a piece in our repertoire!

Michael:  Every time I hear the piece it makes me smile.  Even the bold first theme seems somewhat comical.

Antoine: Yes, Weber probably thought of the bassoon as a comical instrument. In the first movement he uses caricatural melodies, tender themes and brilliant fast passages that explore the whole range of the instrument. The second movement is a loving aria.

Weber is known for using beautiful colouring in his orchestration, and I’m especially fond of the moment where the soloist is accompanied by two horns alone.   The 3rd movement is a fun rondo, yes, a bit silly with its catchy themes, but still managing to contrast the bouffon melodies with some elegant operatic style.  This superposition of light musical material with delicate and expressive themes enhances the overall sense of caricature, allowing the bassoonist the role of eccentric!

Michael: What is the biggest challenge for you?

Antoine: There are a few, one being the balance in between rigorous orchestra writing in the first movement versus the bassoon. Making sure that the solo instrument does not get buried under the big string sections and brass instruments while still being able to play lightly and elegantly. Another challenge is for me the length of some of the phrases in the second movement, making it tricky to sing beautiful long melodies while projecting well and creating meaningful musical phrases.

 

Michael:  What was going on with the bassoon in 1811 when this piece was written – how were composers using our instrument?

 

Antoine: The role of the bassoon during that period was to be in the orchestra, playing chamber music and being part of the musical life of the court. Music was played at all sort of events and was a centre of interest among the population, people were gathering to hear new compositions by resident composers of the courts and traveling ones. Artists were visiting cities all over Europe to expand their perspectives, to show the world their own works and to collaborate with other inspiring individuals. The court in Munich was a center of musical excellence and had outstanding wind players, among them was the famous clarinetist Heinrich Bärmann and bassoonist Georg Friedrich Brandt. Brandt was a student of Georg Wenzel Ritter, who was apparently Mozart’s favorite bassoon player! Speaking of Mozart, the way he wrote for the bassoon in his later piano concerti, symphonies and especially in his operas broke with the tradition of dedicating the accompaniment role for the bassoon. He gave an expressive and brilliant leading voice to our instrument, which was made possible by the refined and elegant playing of Ritter (must have been why the great Mozart liked him!) Brandt was then able to fascinate Weber with his own playing, made the commission via the King of Bavaria to compose the bassoon Concerto. The piece was acclaimed right away and quickly became the second most known concertante piece in the bassoon repertoire after Mozart’s Concerto K. 191.

Michael:  In the first movement , your solo entrance us preceded by 8 hilarious thrums on a solo timpani – what does that signify to you?

Antoine: To me this is a funny example of how Weber liked to surprise his audiences with unexpected contrasts. After the whole orchestra starts the piece by playing the fierce military main theme and then the melancholic second theme, the decision to give the timpani those 8 beats seems theatrical and also quite unusual. What a comical figure to precede the bassoon’s first entrance!

Michael:  What advice (detailed nerdy advice please!) would you give a young person learning this piece for the first time? What is the best way to tackle the more challenging technical passages?

Antoine: As a general principal, I believe that practicing at slow tempi increases the player’s control of the instrument as well as the attention to details. That is true for all levels of playing and for most challenging situations a musician will find themselves having to deal with. If you have clear purpose and a plan for your practice, it becomes easier to have a constructive session with the instrument. I do daily work on specific technical aspects outside, of the specific repertoire I’m playing, using warm ups and devoting practice time to tackle varying difficulties that I need to isolate and improve, everyday. The Weber Concerto features the full register of the bassoon (from low Bb1 to high D4), presented at both slow and fast paces, with a variety of articulations. The player must be flexible and confident, with articulations varying from legato, detached, staccatissimo, accentuated and slurred over more than 3 octaves. To be consistent at doing that I practice full range scales in all keys and modes – using the metronome – from slow to fast and always strictly in control. Another advice regarding preparation is to listen to lots of music! There are so many recordings available. Whether it’s listening to music that I am working on or mostly listening to music for the pleasure of enjoying/discovering it, it is a large part of my preparation to perform.

Michael: Weber must have loved the bassoon  – he put two bassoons in the orchestra in addition to the soloist.  Why?

Antoine: He definitely loved the bassoon! He decided to write the Concerto for a large orchestra (for that time), indicating that he potentially wanted strong support and instrumentation to dialogue with the solo bassoon. But why didn’t he use clarinets? That remains a curiosity to me, especially knowing the clarinet has a special place in Weber’s heart…

Michael:  How would you like people to feel when they have finished listening to you play this masterpiece?

Antoine: I hope that people can enjoy the beauty of Weber’s writing, be touched by the gorgeous lyrical melodies and exalted by the virtuosic passages. His music transports the listener  on an operatic journey, I hope that the audience can forget about the fact that a  bassoon is playing and feel connected to the wonderful music, sounds and colors emerging from the orchestra.

Michael:  Well, I can’t wait to hear you play it!  Thanks for this great chat about this wacky, fun and gorgeous piece of music.

Antoine St. Onge and Michael Hope are the bassoon section of The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and are both proud board members of The Canadian Council of Bassoonists.

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Unraveling Ravel!

Unraveling Ravel!

Unraveling Ravel

 

 

Marlene Ngalissamy takes a quick promenade and addresses some of the challenges for bassoonists in Ravel’s orchestration of Moussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition

The first interesting thing has to do with language. There are clues to the general mood of the composer and the intention of the piece just in the first word of this piece: “Pictures” – in Russian “Kartini ”. In Mussorgsky’s manuscript of the piano part, the word “ pictures ” takes on a much more endearing meaning. You would notice it written as Kartinki . If you know a little bit about the Russian language, you’ll be familiar with some of these subtle word extensions.  Suffixes like kichka, chki, chik are added as terms of endearment, always making something more sweet and personal. When translated into English or French, the title seems rather serious and heavy. “Les Tableaux” or “Pictures”. Just as if it was written as simply “KARTINI”. The truth is, on the manuscript it is written Kartinki, and it completely transforms the emotional implication of the word. Think of it as something closer to “Les charmants tableaux” or “the delightful art”. Should it be played seriously? Or quite curious and dear?

Trumpets, you tell me!

Let’s get back to the bassoon.

GNOMUS

Practice. There’s no other way around this one, especially for the second bassoon! 6 flats!!

One of the coolest moments of this movement is the transfer of trills between the bass clarinet and the bassoon at big number 15. It’s very important that the bassoon takes on the dynamic with which the bass clarinet is ending (mezzoforte in this case). I think that the colours and the effect of this passage are thrilling. Don’t be shy to play with your friend on the bass clarinet!  Don’t forget to try the front Bb for extra velocity!

PROMENADE

After we’ve looked at the Gnome we continue our walk with the horn, who starts the solo which is then transferred to the woodwinds. In this passage it is important for me to start the first F clearly (no sneak attacks!). Also, don’t forget that even if the bassoon has the melody, the effect is more beautiful if the crescendo is made by blending with the rest of your colleagues in the woodwind section. My approach is to be sure to blend in but to add a little more colour (this can be done with vibrato or by producing a slightly warmer sound) to make the melody stick out just a little bit over the harmonies. When you’re focusing on balancing the crescendo with the rest of your colleagues, you must feel the sound open by itself and the effect will be more clear and beautiful. Don’t try to force it too much.

THE OLD CASTLE

I love this solo. Or should we think about it as a soli with the second bassoon? To me, it iseasier to think about it as a SOLI. Obviously, the melody goes to the solo bassoon but thesecond bassoon part is even more important and very helpful to make the first bassoon solo sound “right”. Let me explain.

To my ear, this solo would sound great on a hurdy gurdy/the lira, which is an instrument usedin Slavic folk music. On a hurdy gurdy, you can’t really produce a crescendo without the whole sound of the instrument getting louder. The “gurdy” has a constant pedal note activated when you start playing. If you want to have “articulations” on that pedal note you will need to move your hand faster, which will temporarily produce quite a harsh sound. Just thinking about that with your colleague on the second bassoon will help tremendously. For this reason, the second bassoon should have a clear sostenuto attack (when indicated) to help picture that. They should not be hiding in the background but be a full part of the solo!

We come to the repeated G#s…

I like playing them still and unbothered (I always imagine a thick fog). It’s important to have a sense of a “beating heart”, “groove” or “pace” by not playing the 8th notes louder than the quarters. The right dynamic is also very important. So, how to achieve all of this without compromising comfort and security?

My trick is to add the back F# key to the full fingering of the G# (using the front Ab key for the G# fingering). It’s important to fully open the F# in order to completely close the F key via the push rod! This F# brings the whole thing down tremendously and adds more overtones which makes the G# feel more secure. However, this will make your G# very flat; but you can pinch it up a bit to play in the right dynamic, colour, pitch and intention.  On the other hand if flatness on this G# volume is the primary issue, this fingering chart also suggests a solution – just lightly touch the F# key for a tiny opening of the F# pad.  The key that connects the F# key cup to the front of the bassoon typically has just the right amount of play to guide you. See?  F# can be your best friend!

N.B. The markings of the cello part are different from the markings in the bassoon part on the rhythmic G#. No need for overthinking, make it homogenous.

BALLET DES POUSSINS DANS LEURS COQUES

In this movement, there is only one bassoon part. At the beginning, it is very easy to rush the staccatos, so make sure to stay grounded.

Arriving at 52, with the famous interval passage, don’t freak out. For me, it was very helpful to concentrate only on the bottom notes and learn them by memory. You will not have time to read the part so it’s better to just learn it and trust your fingers.

After this movement is done, you can finally relax and enjoy the piece!

I’m very happy to have used a total of zero emojis to write this article. I hope that these observations will be helpful and inspire you to be curious and think about different ways of practicing and playing these passages.

Cheers, Marlene

Marlene Ngalissamy is the Principal Bassoon for l’Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec and a member of the COCB Board of Directors.  

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Let’s Talk Bassoon Episode 6

Let’s Talk Bassoon Episode 6

Let’s Talk Bassoon – Episode 6

Canadian bassoonist Gareth Thomas has been a member of the bassoon section of the Cleveland Orchestra for almost a decade. In this episode, he speaks with Calgary Philharmonic bassoonist Michael Hope about their shared affection for vintage Heckels and his life in one of the world’s great orchestras.

Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas joined The Cleveland Orchestra in January 2015. He previously served as principal bassoon of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra 2010-14. He received a bachelor of music degree with academic honors from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2009 and a master of music degree from Northwestern University in 2010. His teachers have included John Clouser, principal bassoon of The Cleveland Orchestra, and Christopher Millard, principal bassoon of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Gareth Thomas received the George F. Goslee Prize in bassoon at CIM and first prize at the 2006 National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition. He has appeared as soloist with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and has participated in the Pacific Music Festival and the Sarasota Music Festival.

Michael Hope

Michael Hope joined the bassoon section of Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982, and is one of Calgary’s most respected artists through his musicianship and his dedication to the life of our musical community. In addition to playing the bassoon, he has a remarkable second career as a highly praised vocalist. Hope first sang a symphonic pops show with the Calgary Phil in 1990. Since then, he has appeared as a popular soloist with nearly every Canadian orchestra. As a singer, he first gained recognition as the winner of the 1984 Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival Rose Bowl, and First Prize Winner in the 1988 CMC International Stepping Stones Competition. A prolific recording artist, he has made a number of critically acclaimed albums, and his latest CD of Classic inspirational songs, Hallelujah, won a Covenant Award Nomination for “Inspirational Album of the Year.”

Born in Toronto, Hope is a graduate of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied bassoon with Bernard Garfield and Sol Schoenbach.

Featured performers…Wolfgang Scheitinger and Eric Li

Currently attending the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Wolfgang Scheitinger seeks out unrecorded and underplayed works for the bassoon. Scheitinger was a finalist in SUNY Fredonia’s 2022 Concerto competition playing Jean Françaix’s “Divertissement” and has performed with the Western New York Chamber Orchestra on both bassoon and contrabassoon. His teachers have included Mark Timmerman, Harry Searing, Laura Koepke, and Glenn Einschlag. Alongside playing bassoon, he also enjoys composing and has had works premiered by Transient Canvas, Mateo Mendez, and the SUNY Fredonia Wind Ensemble and was featured at the 2021 Society of Composers Inc. National Conference.

Eric James Li is an active bassoon performer based in Vancouver, Canada. Eric currently studies bassoon performance at the University of British Columbia under the direction of Ingrid Chiang. In addition, Eric has participated in masterclasses with Christopher Millard, Nadina Mackie Jackson, Julia Lockhart, Kathleen McLean, Suzanne Nelsen, and Michael Sundell. As an avid chamber musician, Eric performs regularly in woodwind quintets, trios, and double quintet projects in and around Vancouver. Eric’s orchestral experiences include but are not limited to the UBC Symphony Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Vancouver Opera, and Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra. 

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