musings of a professional bassoonist

Monday, March 5, 2012

A week with Nicholas McGegan

The last time  Nicholas McGegan  guest conducted the Columbus Symphony, there were no bassoon parts.  I knew I had really missed out, judging from the buzz amongst the musicians following that experience.

Well, this time around I was lucky.  Each piece on the program called for 2 bassoons:
Rameau: Selections from Dardanaus
J.C. Bach: Sinfonia Concertante in C Major for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Cello, W C 343
Mozart: Chaconne from Idomeneo, K. 367
Haydn: Symphony No. 103 in E-Flat Major, Drumroll
McGegan, an advocate of early music and longtime Music Director of San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque, has been called the sunniest conductor in classical music.  Indeed, he was absolutely beaming throughout his week in Columbus.  I'd go so far as to say that he's one of the sunniest human beings I've ever encountered.

The McGegan effect pervaded the orchestra.  Even the most glum among us began to lighten up and crack a smile now and then.  His humor was irresistible, as demonstrated by this McGegan quote about dining with composers from WOSU's Christopher Purdy's  blog post:
“Were I to invite composers to dinner at the same time, there are certain composers you really wouldn’t want at the table. Wagner would have been absolutely awful, he’d have only talked about himself. Bruckner probably would have prayed all the time, nothing wrong with that but you wouldn’t want it for dinner. Mozart would have been nice, he would have probably thrown bread rolls at the pretty girls, but that would have been okay. Mendelssohn would have been wonderful, and he could have answered your questions in any language. But Haydn would be the ultimate dinner guest. Handel of course would have just eaten your food as well as his, and Bach would have wanted more beer.”
Imagine those words spoken with a British accent, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the sort of entertainment the musicians enjoyed this past week.  One memorable story he told was of Haydn's wife - apparently the irreverent woman tore off pages from Haydn's scores to use as hair curlers!

You can hear his accent for yourself in this impromptu interview by Columbus Symphony principal clarinetist David Thomas:

The orchestral parts had been carefully marked in advance by Maestro McGegan, which helped immensely in our efforts to summon the Baroque style using modern instruments.  None of the repertoire had been previously performed by the Columbus Symphony as far as I know, so we lacked the benefit of familiarity.  But McGegan's ultra expressive conducting left no doubt in our minds regarding what effect or nuance he was seeking at any given moment.  Sometimes, for example, he just shrugged his shoulders and waved us off with his hands, and we knew exactly what he wanted.  He even used appropriate facial expressions to help us keep track of confusing repeats and DCs, as if willing us to succeed!

Standards were high, and we were challenged, but we immensely enjoyed our Baroque adventure.  I definitely hope for bassoon parts the next time Nicholas McGegan comes to town.



Tina B. said...

What a great quote!

I had a weird dream the other day. We were playing a gig. It was you, Doug, someone I didn't know, and me. We had to move from a rehearsal room to the Ohio Theatre stage and my wing joint tendon broke off in the boot (which actually happened to me once in high school). Weird...!!

Tina B. said...

4 bassoons - I wanna know what we were playing!

B.S. said...

Wow- what a nightmare! I've heard of that happening to bassoons - they're so fragile. (I'm glad it was a dream!) Maybe we were playing Symphonie Fantastique. That's the piece requiring 4 bassoons which I've played most frequently.


Cristian C. said...

I recently came across your blog, and I have to say: Wow!

I'm in middle school still (third year on bassoon), and it's very interesting to see a peek into the life of a professional bassoonist.

One of the best parts I like about your blog is that you include videos and excerpts from the sheet music you play; it really adds much to the blog-reading experience, especially from a bassoon player. While I may drop my jaw on some of the songs you play (really... I only learned how to play high "D" above the tenor clef staff in the past two weeks!), it's still very interesting! And amusing, at times...

I'll be sure to check your blog regularly! I've already read many of the posts, and they're all interesting! Keep up the good work, and take pride in the fact that you're inspiring a young bassoonist! ♪ ♫

B.S. said...

Dear Cristian.

Thank you for your very generous compliments! I am thrilled that you are benefiting from this blog. You're doing quite well, by the way, if you're only in middle school and you're already playing high D above the tenor clef staff!!

Please let me know if there's anything you'd like me to write about!