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 BASSOONarama, Death of Contrabassoon
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2007-03-04 04:53

Spent day at Eastern Washington University Music School in Cheney, WA for the annual bassoonists' get-together. What a day! 45 bassonists -including 3 contras in attendance. Many professors, symphony players and retired symphony players. Large ensembles, small ensembles, intermediate and advanced programs --and a big, hour-long recital to top off the day.

No master's class this year, the big benefit for this clarinet playing bassoon lover, at last year's program.

BUT, this session introduced Luke Bakkan's new Guntram Wolf Contraforte.


This thing is a complete re-think of the tradtional contrabasson. Normally, the contra is just a (folded up) double sized bassoon --pitched 1-octave lower. A traditional contra has a rather small bore for its length. The Wolf is folded differently, and has a much bigger bore and larger tone-holes --allowing the instrument to project more sound, play louder and fill the space with sound. Luke's horn is number 13 of the series, one of only 3 in the USA --with a larger number in Australia, and most in europe.

Interestingly, Bakken bought this horn as his personal contra --to replace the one owned by his Symphony Orchestra --to get its benefits. It has improved intonation (the symphony instrument is about 1/2 step flat in the lower register) and much better projection. He demonstrated it in a duet with piano and showed it to be both powerful and subtle --playing down to pppp and swelling to a room-filling fff. Awesome.

He then played a duet with Lynne Feller-Marshall, the principal with the Spokane Symphony on a conventional instrument. The superiority of the contraforte was clear. Absolutely put the old horn in the shade.

I'm afraid that the mumbling old contrabassoon is dead, taken over by modern technology.

It even has a cable-operated whisper key and a felt-filled hole in the bottom of the first u-turn that collects and drains condensation into a little silver funnel that discretely deposits the wetness on the floor.

Listen for a Contraforte near you.

Bob Phillips

Post Edited (2007-03-04 15:55)

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 Re: BASSOONarama, Death of Contrabassoon
Author: Terry Stibal 
Date:   2007-03-04 23:17

When I was a mere lad of twenty or so, I used to play in the Washington University Symphonic Orchestra in Saint Louis MO. I was the "third clarinet", bass clarinet and ultimately ended up sitting in on bassoon since there was a need there as well.

The last concert of one year had Beethoven's Ninth, and there was that contra part from hell. The school dated back to the 1800's, and their idea of a contra bassoon was an old Heckel that was set up along the lines of a standard bassoon, only twice as huge. (It also smelled pretty foul, for that matter.)

I limped through the soaring runs that the deaf guy wrote, but the spread on the tone holes and the reach of the fingers on the right hand were more than any human being should have to endure. Impressive looking horn, though.

And, it actually looked like a bassoon, not like some contra clarinet on steroids with a bad sunburn...

leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra

Post Edited (2007-03-05 18:21)

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 Re: BASSOONarama, Death of Contrabassoon
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2007-03-05 03:46

The Wolf does, indeed, look very different (because it is). I've always gotten a bit excited to see the tall, reddish arches of the contra when entering the concert hall.

Bakken says that the Wolf requires the same big handed grip as the conventional contra.

But it sounds so much better. WOW

Bob Phillips

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