Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The New Bassoon

Alexey Sizov, RNO principal bassoonist, proudly poses with the new bassoon, flanked by Angelika Lucchetta and her brother Ralf Reiter, proprietors of Wilhelm Heckel GmbH whose workshop in Wiesbaden, Germany hand-crafted the instrument to fit Alexey's hands. The portrait in the background is Wilhelm Heckel, 1856-1905, great-grandfather of Ralf and Angelika.

To learn more about the 160-year-old Heckel family enterprise, renowned for its fine woodwind instruments, click here for a link to the company web site.  To read more about bassoon basics, including an explanation of the German Heckel system, click here.

From Sharon Wing on the road with the RNO in Germany...

I met the RNO in Munich on October 27, where they began a week-long tour. The first concert was enthusiastically received--a program conducted by Maestro Pletnev featuring Glazunov's Prelude from Opus 79, Rachmaninoff's First Piano Concerto with soloist Jonathan Gilad and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15.
After the concert I boarded the bus with all the musicians to return to the hotel. Applause broke out when our principal cellist Alexander Gotgelf approached. Sasha's colleagues were paying tribute to his talent and spirit, demonstrated during the concert. How wonderful it is to see that respect continues and even grows amongst musicians who have played together for almost twenty years!

Next morning Alexey Sizov and I set out quite early to drive from Munich to Wiesbaden. Our mission—to pick up the new bassoon—was still a matter of disbelief and mystery to Alexey. Could this really be happening? In recent months his bassoon had become unreliable and more than troublesome.  During a New York concert of the  RNO Wind Quintet the bottom part of the bassoon crashed to the floor.  In the middle of an orchestra concert the bassoon had fallen apart on several occasions. Still the stressful period of waiting while the Heckel company crafted his new instrument coincided with the global economic crisis. For Alexey it was not at all clear that the necessary funds would be found to pay for the new bassoon. In the end Maestro Pletnev and orchestra friends in many countries made the bassoon a top priority.

At Heckel GmbH in Wiesbaden, the new bassoon had also been a priority for many months. Alexey could not believe his eyes when Ralf Reiter presented the glossy, gleaming black bassoon. The instrument glowed. Alexey glowed, too, as he took it into his hands and began to play—at first simple scales and then excerpts from Tchaikovsky, testing the sound and getting acquainted with his new partner. Alexey needed a lot of time, and indeed he spent more than four hours with Ralf and Angelika, trying many different bocals to select just the right ones for what he called “the RNO sound."

I learned that the bocal is often the most important part of the bassoon. It is the curved metal tube that connects the bassoon’s double reed to the body of the instrument, determining its tone. It comes in many different lengths, depending on the desired tuning and playing characteristics.

Ralf Reiter was patient and helpful to us during this get acquainted and bocal-testing process. Then he packed the new bassoon into a custom-made case for the journey to Nurnberg where the RNO was scheduled to perform an evening concert. While I navigated the autobahn at top speed, Alexey examined each piece of the precious new bassoon.

Major traffic jams in Frankfurt and an accident as we entered Bavaria meant we did not get to Nurnberg in time for the RNO concert. However, we arrived in time to introduce the new black beauty to RNO musicians backstage.

Alexey carefully and lovingly carried the new bassoon on the flight to Grenoble, France. Then on to Rouen and Paris, where the sound was said to be oo-la-la.   And thus was launched a bassoon's new career with the Russian National Orchestra.

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