Sunday, December 14, 2003

Bassoons will be stars of this show

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sarah Ioannides, Youth Orchestra conductor, directs bassoonists Brian Flynn (left) and Benjamin Moermond during a rehearsal.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
A concerto for bassoon is rare - but two bassoons in the spotlight is even more of a rarity.

"What's neat is the interplay between the two voices, going back and forth and trading off," says bassoonist Brian Flynn.

It's conversational, says his colleague, bassoonist Benjamin Moermond.

"Brian will play something first, and I'll match it, and there will be just a slight difference in the tone," he says. "That's really what makes it fun to play."

Flynn and Moermond, both 17, are soloists in Johann Baptist Vanhal's Concerto in F Major for Two Bassoons with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra today in Corbett Auditorium.

The performance of the little-known piece is likely a Cincinnati premiere, says their teacher, Russell Hinkle of Mount Healthy.

What: Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra's 40th season opening concert, Sarah Ioannides, conductor; Brian Flynn and Benjamin Moermond, bassoonists. When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Tickets: $5; $3 students. 744-3333
Program: Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian Easter Overture; Vanhal, Concerto in F Major for Two Bassoons, Op. 36; Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2.
"In the early 1800s, the bassoon was a featured solo instrument. But I think what's happened over the years, is the violin and piano have pushed it out of the picture," Hinkle says. He ticks off some of the many composers who wrote bassoon concertos: Mozart (who wrote four), Carl Stamitz, Johann Hummel and Vanhal. All except one by Mozart are rarely - if ever - played.

Then there's the instrument itself, the bass member of the double reed family, and not as familiar as other winds such as clarinet and flute. No woodwind is more versatile than the bassoon, which has more than a three-octave range. Sometimes known as the "clown of the orchestra," it can be played comically, or just as easily, add a melancholy or mellow effect.

Flynn, who lives in North Bend and is a senior at Taylor High School, started playing bassoon in junior high, through an "Endangered Instruments" program at his former school in Woodinville, Wash.

"One day, a woman who played bassoon came in and played it for our school band," he says. "It was neat, so I decided to go try it."

When Moermond, a Turpin High School senior who lives in Anderson Township, started bassoon three years ago, he noticed his friends' reaction. "There were a lot of people saying, 'whoa, what's that?' " he recalls. "They had never seen it before; they didn't know what it was."

Although the instrument is difficult to master, both musicians agree that learning to make reeds was even trickier. Bassoonists - and oboists - blow into a reed to produce sound and whittle their own reeds from cane stalk.

"For every hour you practice, you work on reeds for an hour," says Flynn. But it's worth it to make the kinds of sounds that add color, or even humor, to a piece of music. For instance, the bassoon takes on the character of the grandfather in Sergei Prokofiev's children's piece, Peter and the Wolf.

"It has a characteristic sound and it can be very expressive," Flynn says. "It can play short and dry, like in (Paul Dukas') The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In (Igor Stravinsky's) The Rite of Spring, it's very high, and melodic."

Both bassoonists are inspired by Hinkle, their teacher. But they also get inspiration from one of the country's legendary bassoonists, Leonard Sharrow, who is retired and lives in Hartwell. The bassoon virtuoso played in the NBC, Chicago and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras.

"When we're struggling, Mr. Hinkle gives us a recording of Mr. Sharrow, like, this is what you want to strive for," Flynn says.

Playing in front of an orchestra is a first for both bassoonists.

Says Moermond, "You will probably never hear two bassoons playing a concerto again."


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