Come join us in San Francisco this Saturday at 8pm, in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Concert Hall. Tickets are still available at
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.
The newest addition to the reed desk is a Stroboconn Tuner. Stephen Paulson has one of these in his bassoon studio at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It was always so fun to use his so I started hunting to find one of my own. I ended up finding it on eBay and they continue to pop up from time to time. The tuner is two separate units and they are both quite heavy so shipping was complicated.
The display is on the top unit, it’s arranged like a keyboard and incased behind glass. There is an interesting feature between the “white keys” and “black keys” There is a plaque on the left side of the display which reads: “Instrument in key of” and an adjustable sliding mechanism. The key options are C, Eb, Dd, Bb and F; this is for people playing transposing instruments so they don’t have to do transposing math while they are playing into it.
The bottom unit is for calibration which allows for adjustment in cents. For example some orchestras tune to A=442 which would be the change from 0 (A=440) to 7 on the tuner. This tuner works on tube technology and its my understanding that most of the tuning is done in the lower unit and the top is just the display.
Nicolas Lell Benavides is currently a composer in residence with the Elevate Ensemble. He recently wrote a piece titled ‘Summer of ’69’ which is a multimedia work involving projected video and chamber orchestra. This was fun to play and utilized a minimalist composition technique, by giving players short musical games that we would play when cued. This was also my first performance on my new instrument, I picked it up earlier in the week!
I finally got to perform the Franck Sonata, which I had just been practicing for fun. This was originally a violin sonata and was such a great piece that cellists began to play it as well. I am playing off of the Jules Desart edition of the Cello Sonata which works on the Contraforte just fine. The Pianist is Britton Day (who is amazing!)
I am giving a Contraforte Recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on October 25 at 8pm. This is in the main concert hall, open to the public, and free. The program will be..
Brahms Cello Sonata no. 1 e minor
Erb Red Hot Duets for two Contrabassoons
Franck Cello Sonata