Borletti-Buitoni Trust
16 December 2014

Bassoon space travelling

by Bram van Sambeek

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