Smith with his bassoon and Richard Stoltzman
with his clarinet are part of a relatively
new phenomenon - classical wind players
who have forged international careers for
themselves as solo performers.
Forty years ago the genre did not
exist. ‘Up until the 1950s,’ alleges Smith,
‘there was no classical musician who had
a worldwide career playing a solo wind instrument.
like Eugene Goossens, great as they were,
did not attain the worldwide status that
James Galway or Jean Pierre Rampal has
today. Thus, it was inconceivable for
managers, orchestras or concert societies
to think of a wind player going out on
the platform and for an hour or two holding
the attention of an audience in the way
a violinist or pianist could. Of course,
people did step out of the orchestras
and play solo wind instruments but no
one classical performer had a career as
such. Rampal changed all that. He opened
up a market, he was followed by specialist
players in oboe, flute, clarinet and trumpet.
Logically, why not the bassoon, too? That's
where I came in.
puts it differently. ‘Years ago,’ he says,
‘everyone assumed that if you were a clarinettist
you would audition for an orchestra. Perhaps
do some teaching and perhaps play from
time to time in the Brahms Quintet or
other such eloquent music for the clarinet.
Benny Goodman, who was the apotheosis
of clarinet playing, was surprised that
I wanted to be simply a solo recitalist.
But, it is a vocation for me and I don’t
teach or do anything else for a living.’
clarinet was Stoltzman’s chosen instrument
from a young age. By comparison, Smith
came to the bassoon very late in the day.
‘I have the oddest background as a bassoon
player. I didn’t take up the instrument
until I was 24. I began with the clarinet
when I was 16, took up the saxophone a
year later and finally the flute at the
Manhattan School of Music in New York.
During my army service, which followed
university, I was a solo piccolo player
but had also started to double up on the
bassoon. Gradually the bassoon took over.
bassoon, however, has a long way to go
to catch up with the clarinet in terms
of popularity, although it is a much older
instrument historically. ‘In the mind
of a 20th century person, the clarinet
is very much associated with dixieland,
swing and jazz says Stoltzman. ‘If
you were to ask the man-in-the-street
to name the most famous clarinet player
of the century, I suspect Benny Goodman
would be the answer!
has been an inspiration to me, as has
Aaron Copeland, who wrote his clarinet
concerto for me. There is a wealth of
new music too since written for clarinet.
There are Takemitsu and Lukas Foss concertos
for me in the pipeline. Works such as
the Boulez Domaines and Dialogues
and a Steve Reich work for 11 clarinets
are fine pieces, but there’s much more
besides. I think one of the noblest things
about being a musician is being part of
a creative process which goes on and on
in time into the 21st century and beyond.’
bassoon also is gradually receiving more
attention from present day composers.
‘Music by Panufnik and Gordon Jacob is
well known, as is Gunther Schuller’s contrabassoon
concerto’ says Smith. His instinct is
that the time is ripe for the instrument
to grow in popularity. ‘There are signs
that it’s already happened. There are
more good bassoon players around than
there are jobs.’ Smith shares the market
with such players as Kim Walker, who has
done much pioneering work to establish
the bassoon as a solo instrument, as her
recordings bear eloquent witness. The
good players - in Germany and Austria
- are not known because the instrument
itself is not that well known, says Smith.
have to admit that the majority of people
have no idea what the bassoon can sound
like. Its versatility is unknown to them.
They often think of it as ponderous. They
know what it looks like, perhaps, but
they have no idea of its range and repertoire.
I’ve helped potential audiences here by
playing and recording, with the RPO, Bassoon
Bons-Bons, “crossovers” - arrangements
of pieces like La Donna É Mobile
and Golliwogg’s Cakewalk.
major on-going recording project is the
37 Vivaldi concertos with the ECO. This
month sees The release of the third disc/cassette/CD
in the series of six. Like
Smith, Stoltzman spends most of his year
touring, at least between September and
June. ‘The chamber music audience is very
loyal, but it’s also very disparate he
says, and I go to where the people
who want to hear Brahms or Poulenc or
Schumann are. When they’ve had their fill,
I move on to the next place.
does spend three weeks a year with TASHI,
the group he formed 15 years ago, and
with which there is a special and continuing
creative relationship. ‘The most wonderful
thing about chamber music is that you
never get tired of playing the same great
works.’ The Amadeus and the Beaux Arts
would have concurred.