Borletti-Buitoni Trust
24 October 2016

Undaunted by Extreme Challenge

by Bram van Sambeek

Now that the CD is about to come out, I am taken back to the very beginning.

bram_aho_fagerlund_bis_600x600I will never forget receiving the score and midi file of Sebastian Fagerlund’s bassoon concerto Mana.  While on my bike I listened to the computer generated mp3 file, and remember thinking, “Wow – I’ve never heard better electronic music in my life!”  And I pedalled home very fast without really noticing.  The music had such a moving quality in every sense I thought to myself “Yes! This is the future of classical music and the bassoon!”  And though I felt slightly intimidated by the amazing capabilities of the computerised bassoonist to play such extended glissandi combined with a perfect rhythmic execution, I couldn’t wait to get to grips on the real bassoon.  Now I couldn’t be more thankful for the final result, coupled on the recording with Kalevi Aho’s solo concerto, supported so much by BBT, BIS and the great playing of Lahti Symphony with equally great conductors.

Though both these Finnish composers have very different styles, I think they share two strong facets that connect them more on an emotional level.  First, the solo bassoon leads the orchestra like a shaman; and secondly, both Fagerlund and Aho’s imaginations create wide and extremely rich landscapes. The opening of Kalevi Aho’s concerto immediately sets the tone of grandeur for the rest of its 35-minute story.  I always say half-jokingly that I wish Shostakovich or Mahler had written a bassoon concerto, which is why I’m so happy now to have Aho’s concerto that has this incredible substantial symphonic quality, while at the same time puts the solo bassoon in the foreground with such techniques as enhanced overtones for bassoon, coupled with unexpected sounds of other instruments.

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 think while writing the solo pieces Woodlands (Fagerlund) and Solo V (Aho), both composers must have thought, “OK, let’s see how far we can push it…, let’s see how we can extend the limits of what’s possible on this fascinating instrument…”  I practised both pieces intensely for months, with   periods in between when I’d momentarily reached my own limits, when my nose started bleeding (twice when singing and playing at the same time) or when I found a note that other bassoon freaks on the internet claimed to have played, but which had definitely never emanated from my bassoon until now.  Quite often bassoonists get scared by these challenges and say it’s not natural to write relatively unknown techniques for bassoon (like difficult glissandi or singing while playing).  But I think here both composers had a tremendous feeling for the versatile character of the instrument, and knew exactly in which direction to push those limits forward, like Stravinsky once did with his famous opening of Le Sacre du Printemps or – nearly two centuries earlier – when Vivaldi wrote huge leaps in quick tempi in many of his 39 bassoon concerti.


Now with the recording over and the disc due out, this music can be released to the world, for every listener to enjoy.