Here is the holiday live stream! If you watch the video on youtube there is a program listing with time stamps in the description.
This week I had a few Leitzinger Contrabassoon Bocals on trial from Forrests Music. I had a Leitzinger NML2 bassoon bocal a few years ago when I played on a Fox 601, but I sold it since it didn’t pair so well on my Heckel 10k. What I so appreciated about that bocal was the easy high note response and clarity in the tone. That bassoon had some funny pitch issues (saggy middle E) that the Leitzinger fixed immediately.
I have been using a Heckel C2 that suits the instrument well, so trying new bocals is just out of curiosity. Forrests has a large selection of Leitzinger contra bocals so I got to try each type and plating option, I ended up really liking a F2 Gold plated and an F2 platinum. Now that I have had them at home for a few days I have a sense of what these are able to do.
I notice almost no difference in response, pitch, or tone from the Heckel and the high notes are just as solid. The one improvement I do notice is when I use a light reed and play loud sfz attacks sometimes the pitch can sag with the Heckel, and the Leitzinger is more stable. However I do not like the bend, it angles down much more than I would like which forces me to change the instrument position. And lastly the price point is high. This thing comes in at $2,300 which is much more than a new Heckel bocal, without a huge sound difference. I am impressed by the sound and quality of this bocal but it’s a little too much for me!
A few months ago I worked on a project that required a romantic era contrabassoon! The basis of the project was to track the development of the contra over time and play some of the music written for each instrument.
Here in the Bay Area we are very lucky to have David Granger who is a period bassoon expert. And he was generous enough to let me use one of his period contras for this project.
Although I ended up getting in a few practice sessions on it; I found that I’m not a great period player, and this instrument has much more potential than what I could perform. I was able to play some Beethoven and Brahms on it but I never was able to get a high Ab which is in Brahms’ 3rd Symphony.
Both of David’s period contrabassoons were made by Wolf in the style of the Viennese contras. This is a unique instrument because it can be tuned to A=415 or 440 with the use of two different lengths of bocals. The bocal looks similar to a bassoon bocal but has a drain and is upside down when assembled with the crook.
When I practiced different instruments in the same practice session I was getting frustrated with the Romantic instrument. I liked it on its own, but if I played a modern instrument and switched back to romantic then it seemed so unstable and difficult to play. Period bassoons in general have a less focused sound, and so I’ve never gotten into performing on them.
The reeds here are supplied by Wolf and were made by Stefan Pantzier I tried my hand at making a few and they turned out okay. The shape is similar in dimensions to the Contraforte C2 shape but with a shorter tube. The thing I didn’t try was adjusting the gouge to something more appropriate to the era. In the time before gouging machines people gouged by hand and purposefully gouged the center thinner. This meant less work had to be done in profiling and finishing a blank.
This Metal Contrabassoon is made by Evette & Schaeffer in 1900, this horn uses the french fingering system. It is played using regular modern contrabassoon reeds and plays at modern pitch. I had no idea that metal contrabassoons existed until a former teacher of mine was talking to me about having played on one!
This contraforte is rentable! I have been so lucky in the last few years to get some great gigs but I can’t do every one of them. Many times there are enough bassoon players in the section to cover all of the parts but no one has a contra. So I rent out the contraforte on a short term basis. To rent the horn I need a few weeks notice and the player is required to come to the house for a brief lesson on assembly and maintenance. The rental is for use in California only, pricing is based on the project.
If you are interested in renting the contra just send me a message through the “connect” page
It’s so amazing that we live in the age of youtube and world wide web! We are able to hear what different players sound like all over the world, the differing styles and tones of certain players. Contrabassoon is especially interesting because I don’t think that contrabassoon tone is uniform throughout most cities! Thanks to players uploading footage and interviews we are able to hear from a wind section that we wouldn’t normally have access to. These are a few clips featuring players around the world.
Amrei Liebold, Orchestre de Paris
Luke Whitehead, Philharmonia Orchestra
Dominic Morgan, London Symphony Orchestra
Lewis Lipnick, National Symphony Orchestra
Jaap de Vries, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Gregg Henegar, Boston Symphony Orchestra
I have just started working with a new batch of cane and it is very high quality. This is cane that was cut 2 years ago and is on the harder side. It seems more middle of the road and has been great with the Fox 2 shape for bassoon and Reiger K1 on contrabassoon. If you are interested in some reeds head over to King Bassoon Reeds or email me if you are interested in cane.
Contrabass versions exist for almost every instrument now. Most of the newer instruments are scarcely written for and are mainly used in new music. There are a few newer companies making wind instruments that can go lower and lower. Eppelsheim makes my contraforte, as well as a very well received contrabass clarinet, tubax, and contrabass sax. Hogenhuis is popular making contrabass flutes.
Contrabass Clarinet – Eppelsheim
Sometimes as professional players we hit road blocks in our repertoire. As good as we think we are, and as prepared as we may be, there will always be a passage lurking out there which will require some work. So much of being a bassoon player is about playing in an appropriate and handsome way and blending with an orchestra. I have recently chosen a piece of music for an upcoming recital that is pushing my limits, I will be playing the Franck Cello Sonata on Contraforte. The recital is in about three months and I have in working on this piece for the last three weeks. At this point all of the “fun music” has been rehearsed as much as it needs to be and the technical passages now need to be “woodshed.”
(I had to repair some of the slurs)
I chose the Franck Cello Sonata because it really shows off the upper register of the Contraforte. I’m finding that I’m able to play extreme high note passages in an easier way than on the bassoon. This passage that I selected is one that I am finding to be particularly difficult to get up to tempo. It is getting better each day, but I think it is only due to switching up my practice techniques and thinking about the note groupings in new ways.
For this passage the beginning of measure 4 is a tricky spot, mostly this has to do with the fingering system on the Contraforte. These are the ways that I use to practice it:
These are the ways that I first use to learn a difficult spot of music. If after a few days the passage is still unplayable then I use a few different rhythms to add in. As a side note, I find practicing to be stressful. By micromanaging difficult passages like this, one can create “baby steps” that are achievable everyday. These rhythm studies are a way of taking the notes out of musical context and playing them as a mechanical technical exercise.
This second set of excercises is designed to focus on the notes. These help me when I am having trouble concentrating, or am practicing in the morning and still half asleep. Playing staccato isolated notes is a memorization technique. The sixteenth slurred pattern isolates the finger movement between the notes, I try to have “lightening fast” fingers. Play the note full length and then move to the next fingering as fast and efficiently as possible.
Some other things that I try to keep in mind when I practice, in order to make my sessions as efficient as possible…
-Have a good reed
-Warm up with both long tone and technical exercises
-Have a tuner and metronome on whenever you are playing alone
-Don’t allow yourself to get away with cracked notes or sloppy fingers