Program notes

Bassoon Concerto, opus 117 (2022)

  1. I. Misterioso
  2. II. Exquisite Aeon
  3. III. Sable Island Gallop

My Bassoon Concerto is a three-movement work for bassoon and full orchestra with a duration of about 21 minutes. The work was commissioned for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra by Geoff Stearn and written in very close collaboration with the orchestra’s principal bassoon and the wonderful soloist in the work’s premiere, Jane Kircher-Lindner. Bassoon Concerto was written in the second half of 2022 during which time I was the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The bassoon has a unique and expressive voice and is probably somewhat unusual as a solo instrument in a concerto. But its expressive and distinct personality, large range, surprising agility and many moods make it a fascinating instrument for which to write a large solo work. In my Concerto I have opted to use the full orchestra with an emphasis on a wide range of timbre and colour. The orchestral scoring of the work uses the complete family of woodwind: piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon. At various times each of the woodwind accompany the solo bassoon. In the brass, the trumpets have a particularly prominent role – they are nearly always muted and the work places a lot of emphasis on the blend and frequent echo duets between trumpet and solo bassoon. In the second movement the trumpets move to antiphonal positions on either side of the stage. Percussion also have important parts to play in the orchestration of the Concerto with the use of vibraphone and marimba and many tuned percussion instruments throughout the work and, in the galloping fast rhythms of the last movement, use of the exciting classic salsa combo of timbales and bongos.

The titles of the three movements give hints to my artistic concerns in the work. In the first movement (marked ‘Misterioso – Moderately fast, graceful and freely’) the bassoon moves from lyrical solo passages to bravura chromatic clowning and back again to arpeggiated lyricism. And there are hints to the famous Thelonius Monk song, Misterioso, in quiet corners of the movement. The second movement (‘Exquisite Aeon – Sustained, slow, expansive’) is a musical snapshot of the vastness of time and space in which a sequence of widely scored orchestral chords provides a backdrop to duets between lower strings and bassoon with an elaborate decoration of ethereal percussion and other fleeting colours. The third movement (‘Sable Island Gallop – Fast and playful’) takes a short and brilliant folksong from the Canadian east coast that celebrates Sable Island’s wild ‘crazy horses’ as its musical source for the rapid surges of percussive rhythms and playful bassoon virtuosity. To quote the song: “On the stormy western ocean, Just eighty miles from land, Lies a barren little island Composed of grass and sand. You’re chasing crazy horses From daylight until dark.”

The premiere of the work was conducted by Asher Fisch with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and soloist, Jane Kircher-Lindner at the Perth Concert Hall in June 2023.

© Andrew Schultz, 2022.