Claire Nowak

All Hail the Bold Bassoon

Sure, the Milwaukee Symphony will perform “Pictures at an Exhibition.” But what about that brand-new bassoon concerto?

By - Nov 4th, 2014 03:14 pm
Ted Soluri, the bassoon soloist for Pictures at an Exhibition

Ted Soluri, the bassoon soloist for Pictures at an Exhibition

Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” as orchestrated by Ravel, is one of those reliable audience favorites in the classical music repertoire. And Carlos Kalmer, who will serve as guest conductor for this weekend’s performance of “Pictures” by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, is a rising star. The Uruguayan conductor has appeared with many European orchestras, has served as music director of the Oregon Symphony since 2003 and led the orchestra in a 2011 Carnegie Hall concert that had critics like the New Yorker’s Alex Ross heaping praise on Kalmar. So yes, that should make this concert a treat.

The varied program will also include the beloved “Classical Symphony” of Sergei Prokofiev and “Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee” by Gunther Schuller along with a work that is quite new — the American composer Marc Neikrug’s bassoon concerto, which only premiered last November in Boston. It came about from a commission between four orchestras: the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who led the effort, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., the MSO, and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottowa. Co-commissions are becoming more popular in the industry because the process is divided up among multiple parties and results in less financial responsibility for each.

The MSO’s bassoonist Ted Soluri was brought in as soloist near the end of the composing process. He feels honored to have had a stake in the work from the beginning, a memorable feat few musicians can experience. Boston’s bassoonist Richard Svoboda initially worked with Neikrug on the composition, but Soluri met with the composer at his home in New Mexico three summers ago to answer questions about the instrument’s capabilities.

“I showed him what the bassoon can do and what it can’t do, what it should and shouldn’t do, things that it does really well,” Soluri says. “I think he got a lot of inspiration almost right away from that little session we had together.”

Unlike concertos for violin or cello or clarinet or many other instruments, bassoon concertos are rare. A problem the composer faces with a bassoon is that the instrument is hard to hear in the midst of a full orchestra. That is the main reason bassoon concertos simply don’t exist in large quantities. However, Neikrug made sure the instrument is always heard and used in the most effective way; Soluri’s comments may well have helped him in that regard.

Soluri is a seasoned bassoon soloist, but says Neikrug’s work is unlike any other work he has performed simply because it is so new to the orchestra, to the city, and to Soluri himself. He finds working on fresh compositions increasingly enjoyable. “That’s great for (musicians) because so often we repeat repertoire, so this is a challenge and a thrill at the same time.”

The main challenge for Soluri is the last movement. He needs to jump between large intervals in a short amount of time. Neikrug puts the rhythm slightly offbeat. The cadenza pressures him to take on even more responsibility as the soloist. All of which may surprise audiences.

“(The audience will) be getting to see the bassoon in a light they may not necessarily get to see it in,” Soluri says.

Soluri admits the Neikrug and Schuller compositions aren’t as melodic as the Russian works on the program. “Those two pieces aren’t something you’ll sing on your way home,” he says, “but that’s why ‘Pictures of an Exhibition’ is there!”

8 p.m. Nov. 8 & 2:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $21-$81 and are available online or by calling 414-291-7605.

Early Music Now presents Quicksilver

The critically-acclaimed ensemble Quicksilver comes to town to perform two interesting concerts. The first is “Stile Moderno: New Music from the Seventeenth Century,“ taking place at St. Paul Episcopal Church on Nov. 7. It features dramatic, emotional Italian works from early in the Baroque era. Many are sonatas, an emerging style at the time, and a number were written by composer Dario Castello.

The following day, the group will perform “The Invention of Chamber Music,” which will look at predecessors to modern string quartets and quintets, also from the 17th century. This program includes lesser-known works from composers such as William Lawes, Daniel Bacheler, and William Brade.

7:30 Nov. 7 & 8 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 914 E. Knapp St. Tickets are $44 for adults and $15 for students per show, or order tickets for both shows at $69 for adults and $25 for students. All are available online or by calling 414-225-3113.


Fine Arts Quartet at UW-Milwaukee

For its second UWM program of the season, the Fine Arts Quartet will feature “Ex Animo” by Efrem Podgaits. The group commissioned the quintet for string quartet and bayan from Podgaits in 2002. Special guest Maria Vlasova will join on bayan and accordian. Other selections include Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet in G major” and Philip Glass’s “String Quartet No. 2, ‘Company.’”

The Fine Arts Quartet is Ralph Evans and Efim Boico on violin, Robert Cohen on cello, and Juan-Miguel Hernandez on viola.

3 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts. General admission is $10. Student tickets are $5. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-229-4308.

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