Bram van Sambeek

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by Bram van Sambeek October 24th, 2016

Undaunted by Extreme Challenge

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.

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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 Bram van Sambeek January 5th, 2012

Sebastian Fagerlund Bassoon Concerto, step 1

The moment that I decided to leave my orchestra job, I wanted to focus mainly on playing chamber music and playing new music. Being a bassoonist you hear the phrase “there’s not enough repertoire for the bassoon” too many times, even by colleagues. Even though I don’t agree (it’s just a matter of selecting the right pieces out of very many), I see it as a challenge to find the Mozart and Mahler of this time and commission them for new works. With my BBT funds and Susan Rivers’ great commissioning experience, I felt like I got exactly the award that could help me with this ambition.

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