I recently had the pleasure this week to attend a chamber music concert here at the Grand Teton Music Festival which featured, among other ensembles, several selections for bassoon quartet and solo contrabassoon. The selections were all wonderful but what really made the performance something special was the dialog being delivered by master bassoonist, Chuck Ullery.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed all of the performances on that concert, the bassoon quartet stood out due to Chuck’s discourse. He took a brief amount of time to clearly describe the world of bassoonists and to talk about the instruments themselves. To me, this wasn’t new information, however, I found myself becoming much more engaged in the performance because Chuck brought me into his world for 20 minutes.
Apparently, everyone else around me felt the same way based on the amount of applause and cheers the quartet received after each selection.
But here’s the real secret to the quartet’s success (beyond their fantastic artistic ability); it wasn’t just because Chuck took a few moments to talk before each selection, it was because what he said was interesting and added to the moment.
Obviously, Chuck lives and breathes the world of bassoon. Having that sort of intimate knowledge and understanding places him in a singular position to be uniquely equipped to convey what’s interesting about the instrument, its music, and those who have mastered its intricacies. Chuck didn’t drone on and on as though he were giving an academic lecture (as so many people do when trying to talk to the audience before performing), he was simply talking to everyone in the audience as though they were just friends.
So why doesn’t the orchestra world do this more often? There’s no universal answer, however, much of it has to do with the fact that many organizations are using the wrong people for the right job. Your typical marketing or artistic administrators simply don’t have enough understanding or expertise about what constitutes their orchestras to create marketing material that really engages the audience. Instead, their well intentioned efforts usually end up coming across as timid and dull.
Instead, orchestras should be looking inward toward their own players. Every orchestra out there has at least a few Chuck’s of their own (I wonder if Chuck’s orchestra utilizes his special non artistic talents?) and they should be working better at giving these musicians the tools and compensation they deserve to help make their ensemble a better organization.
For those interested, the bassoon selections included
In a Deep Funk: Twist Variations by Daniel Dorff and performed by Juan de Gomar, solo contrabassoon
Four Brazilian Pieces: No. 4 by Francisco Mignone
Blues Set, No. 2 by Peter Schickele
An encore of Patriotic selections (in honor of the recent 4th of July concert)
The quartet consisted of Chuck Ullery, Brian Petkovitch, Shawn Jones, and Juan de Gomar.