by Bram van Sambeek December 16th, 2014

Bassoon space travelling

A new bassoon concerto commissioned for Bram van Sambeek from composer Sebastian Fagerlund.
World premiere. Lahti, Finland. 6 December 2014.

Bram van Sambeek, bassoonist

Bram van Sambeek, bassoonist









5 December

After some months of intense practising, the premiere in Lahti, Finland was finally coming up.

I had the fortunate opportunity to work extensively with Sebastian Fagerlund during the week before the premiere, performing in the pioneering RUSK festival in Jakobstad that Sebastian runs together with clarinettist Christopher Sundqvist (also the performer of Sebastian’s amazing clarinet concerto). My expectations for the first rehearsal were very high as I had already enjoyed listening to the computerised version of the score (!), so it was great to hear the immense added value of actual instruments in comparison to that.

The result of the first rehearsal exceeded my expectation. Even though I had heard so many good things about the Lahti Symphony, their humorous and reliable chief Okko Kamu, and their great hall, it still felt like a positive surprise to hear how well this orchestra performs this extremely sophisticated and often demanding music, and how the transparency of this beautiful hall supports all of those elements.

By “demanding” music I mean mainly that playing the bassoon solo part often feels very industrious. Mana means “to magically invoke something” in Finnish; this invocation manifests itself during the piece both musically and technically by striving to always reach a higher level with new bassoon techniques. But what is so new and striking to me is that there’s always a sensation of wideness present in the music at the same time – which is a very nice characteristic that I find typical in Finnish music since Sibelius, and that I also admire in Kalevi Aho’s music.

6 December

On important days, such as the day of a premiere, I often wake up with very strong images of an overall atmosphere of the piece I have to perform.

I remember waking up on the day that I first performed Mozart’s concerto after having read Mozart’s often quite childish letters from the time he wrote it. I had a distinct image of Mozart laughing about the many funny aspects the bassoon can represent in the first movement. The positive result of that was that I could shake off some of the overload of seriousness in my interpretation of that piece (mainly caused by my own efforts to convince people how serious a solo instrument the bassoon is) and the musically-unjustified, but logical, association with the many serious occasions that this piece is used as a test piece for one’s bassoon-technical skills! This way the somewhat “earthy” image of Mozart helped a lot to give the piece some of the lightness and humour it deserves in my eyes.

Another time was when I recorded the traverso partita by J.S. Bach. I woke up with a distinct image of trying to balance myself between different slowly moving clouds in the sky while phrasing this music. This helped me a great deal, since I only realized after this image that my rubato was always going backwards in tempo.

My “cloud-image” helped me not end up face down on the ground by getting stuck in heavy backward rubati, but to stay approximately on the same height in the clouds while playing his continuously modulating music.

So on the day of the Mana premiere, I happily had another dream that gave me the right perspective of the the music – to see it more as a whole instead of being absorbed by the challenging ‘industrious’ elements of it. The characteristic impression of wideness, undiscovered colours and, ok, in a way, Star Wars-like trumpet signals in his music, somehow created the image of an impressive 20-minute space journey in my dream.

The premiere went really well for a first performance and, besides my mother from Holland and friends from Helsinki, I was extremely happy to see that not only had Susan Rivers and Kalevi Aho made the effort to come to Lahti, but also Aino and Olli from the famous Fazer Management who are now going to represent me in Finland.

Kalevi Aho and Sebastian Fagerlund flank bassoonist Bram van Sambeek after the premiere of Fagerlund's Bassoon Concerto Mana, Lahti Finland 6 December 2014.  Photo: Susan Rivers

Kalevi Aho and Sebastian Fagerlund flank bassoonist Bram van Sambeek after the premiere of Fagerlund’s Bassoon Concerto Mana, Lahti Finland 6 December 2014. Photo: Susan Rivers

I hope we gave the Finnish audience this feeling of “space” for their “itsenäisyyspäivää” (Independence Day). The audience received the concerto enthusiastically, and I – and also some people in the first row – certainly looked as if we had just made our first space trip ever.

Watch the video of the world premiere of Sebastian Fagerlund’s Mana




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by Elizabeth Watts December 1st, 2014



I have recently emerged from a week in the recording studio with Laurence Cummings and the English Concert Orchestra making a CD for Harmonia Mundi to be released some time in 2015. The recording days followed on immediately from a wonderful concert together of the same repertoire at Milton Court in London on 9 November.


Bird's eye view of Scarlatti rehearsals. Photo: Claire Hammett

Bird’s eye view of Scarlatti rehearsals. Photo: Claire Hammett


The recording is essentially the final phase of many months – years, really – exploring the wonderful music of Alessandro Scarlatti. I’m doing all this Scarlatti basically because it’s good! Years ago a teacher recommended one of his arias (Ergiti) and I really liked it and thought there must be more to this composer than I knew. Most singers come across him in their books of ‘Arie Antiche‘ when learning to sing but we never hear these arias as they were originally written, with orchestra and a professional singer. So, I started researching. I found some wonderful cantatas, but a lot of these have been recorded so I went to Westminster Music library and got out every score of Alessandro Scarlatti (not to be confused with Domenico, his son) I could find. Laurence Cummings and I ploughed through any remotely promising arias and made a long list, then a short list. I also came across an aria from a serenata called Erminia, the manuscript of which is at the Royal College of Music. I had hoped to make the first recording but someone beat me to it!


Is that what he wrote?  Laurence and Liz check out Scarlatti. Photo Claire Hammett

Is that what he wrote? Laurence and Liz check out Scarlatti. Photo Claire Hammett


In the end I thought it would be good to make a disc that is an overview of all different types of his vocal output: opera, oratorio, cantatas & serenatas. So that’s what the disc is, a sort of potted Scarlatti round up. I have nicknamed it Scarlattery.

On the opera side, Scarlatti is considered the founder of the Neapolitan school and yet the piece that is considered his masterwork, Mitridate Eupatore, does not have a modern recording (I think there is a dodgy 50s one arranged for modern orchestra). Three arias are featured on the disc. Finding the music has been a nightmare! The music is definitely nodding towards the bel canto era that is to come and can be supremely difficult in places.

Probably the most difficult piece on the disc is the Erminia aria, probably because it was written for a castrato, the great Farinelli. He clearly had quite a set of lungs! The phrases are very long and full of breathtaking (literally!) virtuosity.

It’s been a major undertaking to put all this music together for the disc, to find the scores and to learn 16 technically very difficult arias, many of them Da Capo. Laurence and I have been spending many hours dreaming up exciting ornaments. It’s a great challenge but hopefully by the end of it many more people will have heard more from this neglected composer.

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