Badly played, oboes sound like ducks, and bassoons like irritated squawking geese. Too many Americans are familiar only with high school bands containing badly trained youngsters tackling these difficult double-reed instruments and making barnyard sounds. Nearly a hundred people, gathered in St. Matthias Episcopal Church, were treated to something quite different: the mellifluous sound of a bassoon ensemble of well-prepared teenagers.
People who only think of the bassoon as the "clown of the orchestra" may not realize the beauty of chamber music featuring double-reed instruments. Among my favorite recordings are the Trio Sonatas of Jan Dismas Zelenka performed by German chamber players including Klaus Thunemann on bassoon. I thought of Thunemann on Sunday afternoon, listening to the control and beauty that was being offered. Bassoonists Skye Satz, Aaron Nelson, Margaret Lawrimore and Katie Barlowe are all students at A.C. Reynolds High School, while Kaylene Cender is a middle school student. Together, they form an amazing concentration of talented young bassoonists for this small geographical area. Tone production is the challenge of these instruments. That they all play with such good tone can only be due to the talent of their teacher, the fine bassoonist Rosalind Buda.
There is, of course, a limited repertoire for bassoon duet, let alone works for an ensemble of four or five bassoons, so most of the program consisted of arrangements of works originally for other combinations of instruments. Renaissance and baroque era composers encouraged flexibility, so it was not surprising that half the pieces were arrangements of works by Josquin des Pres, Georg Philipp Telemann, and François Devienne. Two contemporary compositions were included, "Pigs" by Alan Ridout and "Ice Cream Truck" by Amber Ferenz of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. These tended to be an amusing contrast to the more serious works.
At the halfway mark, the bassoonists left the stage and we heard two young pianists, Alyes Chen and Ryan Zhang, of the Asheville Young Musicians Club, in Rachmaninoff's four-hand arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Suite. They demonstrated their musicianship by executing rubatos at various transitional moments without losing their close synchronism.
I was impressed with the final work on the program, an arrangement for four bassoons of Mozart's Divertimento No. 4. Buda sat out this one, and the four high school students were on their own for the three movements. The Andante Grazioso first movement was the high point of the entire concert. These young people grasped the operatic manner in which Mozart composed and gave it true voice. The second movement, Menuetto, was marred by some intonation problems, perhaps due to fatigue. The final Allegro was taken at a tempo slightly below ideal, but at that tempo their execution was flawless.
Pan Harmonia sponsored this concert as part of their "GeneratioNext" outreach, with financial support from the Ryan Lee Mohn Memorial Foundation. It was a joy to hear these seven representatives of Asheville's next generation of fine musicians.