'Bassooniana' on full display at latest South Coast Chamber Series show

Jan 16, 2023

You might think this instrument blows, but bassoon you will see the power of the “big daddy of the woodwind section.”

This is precisely what the South Coast Chamber Series achieved in its latest show performed at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Jan. 15 titled “Bassooniana.”

Janice Weber, a pianist and artistic director for the South Coast Chamber Series, explained that the bassoon is often overlooked when part of a larger ensemble — hence the decision to make it the star instrument for a performance.

“If you go to orchestral concerts, you might not be totally aware of the bassoon,” she said.

The instrument is large — over eight feet long if it were straightened out — and many bassoon players can’t start learning until they’re adults because it can be hard to use as a child, according to Weber. 

“You don’t really find four-year-old bassoon virtuosos,” Weber said with a laugh.

Sunday’s show featured a series of sonatas and suites designed to showcase the bassoon, performed by Michael Mechanic, the principal bassoon player for the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. 

The set began with Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Sonata for Bassoon and Piano, Op. 168,” which featured an instrumental duet from Mechanic and Weber. 

Weber said this song “allows the bassoon a real opportunity to sing” since the piano is “half the time not there” and more of a way to provide pops of rhythm.

“It’s really a great piece,” she said.

Though the bassoon was the highlight of the night, other musicians were also present to showcase their respective talents. Violinists EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks and Jesse Holstein, violist Christopher Nunn and cellist Leo Eguchi entertained with “La Creation du Monde” by Darius Milhaud prior to intermission.

To kick off the second half, Mechanic and his bassoon once again took center stage — or floor in the case — with the string players to perform“Quintet in a minor for Bassoon and Strings” by Edouard Du Puy. 

Weber said it is unknown if Du Puy had the bassoon in mind when he composed the sonata in the early 19th century, but the woodwind movements (in particular the third movement) are very well-known at symphonic performances.

“Even in concert, it’s excerpted on its own,” Weber said.

Finally, the strings returned to the stage to play “Cafe Music” by contemporary composer Paul Schoenfield. Weber explained that Shoenfield was inspired to create the combination of klezmer, viennese and broadway styles after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The packed pews of the church then erupted into a standing ovation to cap off a night Weber said was meant to “get rid of those January blues.”

The South Coast Chamber Music Series will return to St. Peter’s on Sunday Feb. 26 with “Travelogue,” which is described as a “planetary tour” of symphonic music.

Tickets must be purchased in advance. To get a ticket, or for more information on the series, visit nbsymphony.org/chamber-series-2022-2023/.