Viva Reeds & Bambú! The Sound Of Oboe, Bassoon, English Horn, and Piano Makes for a Cozy Scene
March 12, 2018
It is raining and cold, the sky is grey, but once you step in the Point Loma Historical Theater on Talbot Street, following the haunting sound of oboe, you are up for a happy scene. The theater is full of handsome people, and the sweet scent belongs to the medieval recipe of hot mulled wine, spiced&tart&sweet and so very delicious! And here is the whimsically decorated Moravian cake, traditional Prague's sandwiches, Viennese coffee and Czechoslovakian strudel and blueberry cake. And international, albeit mostly American, happy audience!
The concert starts and just to see the instruments on the stage takes for an attractive picture: Those beautiful, elegant double reeds are just charming: here is the slender oboe; then the English horn, oboe's bigger counterpart, adorned with a bell on the bottom, then comes a handsome intriguing looking bassoon, and a respect-striking intricate contrabassoon! All of the instruments came about the 1700's, from their less elaborate, but as sweet (albeit louder) sounding predecessors.
First in the program comes a Baroque piece Trio no. 3, from 6 Sonatas ZWV 181 by the Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka(1675-1849), one of the top composers of the era. (He was lost to the world till 1900's, just like the work by Vivaldi, whose music was not discovered till 1926!!) Zelenka's music is attractive, complex yet melodious, harmonically intriguing & inventive, and quite introspective; extremely demanding for the interprets who were outstanding.
Next comes Frances Poulenc's (1899-1963) inspiring miniature piano piece, Piano "Nouvellette", where we can hear his influences: Shubert with his melody, Debussy, with the beauty of a moment arrested in the cascading and fleeing prelude, and Stravinsky from whom Poulenc takes (modestly) agitated rhythm. Just beautiful! We continue with one more of Poulenc's work, Trio for piano, Oboe and Basson, op. 43. It is whimsical, playful, ebullient, happy, inventive. Yes, he belongs to the XX. century, but Poulenc stayed rooted in the tradition, although hanging out with the avantguard artists, he went only so far into the "new" and added to the traditional diatonic music a modern bold spirit; and he would be pleased with the bravura interpretentation! The second half brought a quite unique and fresh piece written in 1993, Trio for Oboe, English Horn and Bassoon, composed by Jurai Filas (*1955, Slovakia). What a sweet gift to the producer (me!) and all of us! I still am touched that the bassoonist, Ryan Simmons, took to his heart my modest request if Reeds & Bambu can play one short Czech or Slovak piece and here the group "whipped up" an incredible USA premiere of this musical treat that was rambunctious, humorous, attractive, rhythmically elaborate, agitated, funny. The structure of the piece oscillated between the melody imitations, the call and response, and the competitive "concertare" , boasting with happy harmonies both, traditional and pleasantly dissonant. Bravo!
The program was extraordinary and to perform these pieces, it takes only superb musicians.
And that they are!
Sarah Skuster, oboe, a member of SD Symphony, a graduate from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Andrea Overturf, a member of SD Symphony, a graduate from Julliard, Leyla Zamora, a member of SD Symphony, bassoon, contrabassoon, a graduate from a Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Ryan Simmons, a member of SD Symphony, bassoon, a graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and Nina Leilani, piano, a graduate of the San Diego State University in Piano Performance. The musicians showed a bravura in command, virtuosity, love, and passion for their instrument. It was wonderful to watch their dynamics on the stage, and especially their refined sense and love for each piece. To see these accomplished, talented, passionate musicians being humble and appreciative of their audience, is the best of all.
The historical Point Loma theater witnessed another beautiful concert performed by the top San Diego musicians and was appreciated by a wonderful, attentive, fun audience. Reeds & Bambu went beyond the expectations, and that we had them set high (!), and presented an extraordinary demanding inspiring unique program. I hope that everyone in the audience left with a smile and a melody sounding in their mind. Thank you and so long....but not for too long!
Here is an addendum I wrote for those who would like to learn about those intriguing double reeds!
Oboe (from French hautbois -highwood) is the smallest of the reeds, loved and popularized at the French court of Louis XIV., further developed by a Frenchmen Jacques Hoteterres, and Michel Philidor around 1720. The oboe predecessor was a shawm that found its way to Europe from the Middle East during the Crusades. Its "cousin" is a bigger English horn with a long crook holding the reed, a bell on the bottom and a sound five steps lower than the oboe. And the name? It is not English not a horn: Here comes a fascinating story! There are two theories for the origin of the name: First, it was called cor anglais (”angled horn”),
meaning a horn with an angle, as English horn used to have an angle. (a picture on the right) The word "angle" was misinterpreted as "English".
The other theory comes from a German word engel which is an angel in English. So the word "English" in "English horn" has nothing to do with anything "English", but it means angelic. The horn was simply associated with the biblical angels playing trumpets and horns. And how "angelic" became English ?- "Angli" tribe from Norhern Germany (angelic because of their blonde hair and a pale complexion) invaded England in the 5th century and gave their tribal name to England - the land of Angli, the land of angels.
Bassoon also came from the mentioned shawm as a unfolded straight instrument, in Renaissance was folded and in 1823 Carl Almendrader perfected it, adding 17 and more keys...contrabassoon sounds one octave lower than bassoon and the first mention of it is in 1714 when the instrument had only 3 keys.
Many of the instruments were farther perfected after the Industrial Revolution. Enough of history for now!