A bassoon is as a bassoon does
The bassoon might look an unwieldly instrument, but according to Peter Kolkay, it produces one of the most romantic sounds in all of the world. Kolkay performs with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra today at Ford Amphitheater at 6 p.m.
The West Virginian will be performing one of the two most famous pieces written specifically for the bassoon, Weber’s Concerto in F Major for Bassoon and Orchestra, Op. 75. The festivities will open with Shubert’s Rosamunde and end with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88.
I’ll tell you, it’s a great program,” said Lynne Mazza, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival associate artistic director. “It features three big composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And the Weber Bassoon Concerto is a gem of a repertoire.”
“The second movement of the concerto is an aria,” said Kolkay. “It’s very conceived for the bassoon. He uses the whole range – it’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s a real crowd pleaser. The last music’s fast and danceable.”
Though the piece is technically demanding, Kolkay doesn’t seem phased in the least. Virtuosity on the bassoon is extremely difficult, said Mazza, but obviously not impossible. Kolkay has achieved it.
After hearing him perform in New York, Mazza and Artistic Director Eugenia Zukerman shared a powerful desire to have him play for the Vail festival.
“He’s young, he’s fun, he’s exciting, and he makes you love it,” said Mazza. “That’s what happens when a musician loves his instrument, they make you love it.”
In 2002, the musician made history by being the first solo bassoonist to ever take first place at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition in 51 years.
“It’s very odd for a bassoon to win a wind competition,” said Mazza. “They don’t pay attention to them, but he was so good they couldn’t ignore him.”
Kolkay didn’t begin his musical studies on the bassoon. In junior high school, he was in the band and played the oboe.
“But there was another oboe player, and she was better than I was,” he said, laughing. “So the band director asked me if I wanted to try the bassoon because I was tall. So I took it home.”
Despite “falling into” the bassoon, he soon made it his own. It made him alter his career plans of becoming a soap opera writer. His mother taped the soaps during the day, and would watch them as she prepared dinner in the evenings. He, too, became hooked.
“I really thought that was where I was going to go,” he said. “I was intrigued with the parallel life of that. But soon I realized I enjoyed playing the bassoon more than I enjoyed English classes.”
He still has a bit of carryover from those dreams, though. Just as the stories on the television interested him, so, too, do the stories and sounds of opera.
“I love the opera and the bassoon is so operatic in some ways,” he said.
“And it’s so long, it’s a viscerally involved instrument. The range from the lowest bass notes all the way up into the alto range.”
His parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of his possible career in daytime drama, and neither were they overjoyed at his decision to pursue the bassoon. But his dedication and talent won them over.
“They’re just glad I have a job,” he said, laughing. “And it’s been a lot of fun for all of us.”
Drawing the natural conclusion, today’s concert should be fun for a whole mess of folks.
“Weber is playful,” said Mazza. “And it’s so fun to listen to, but not easy to play. It’s very technically demanding, though that doesn’t seem to bother Kolkay at all.”
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.