If you closed your eyes and tried to conjure up the perfect music for a warm summer evening at the Redlands Bowl, you might not come up with music for bassoon.
But bassoonist Valentin Martchev was front and center -- well, nearly at the center of the stage -- in one of the highlights of Friday night's opening concert of the 90th Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival.
He wowed the audience with his solo in "Amazing Grace for Bassoon," arranged by Charles Fernandez. The piece is a jazzy, smooth, magical arrangement of the familiar "Amazing Grace," and Martchev demonstrated the amazing and beautiful sound that a bassoon can make.
Weaving a web of orchestral sound around Martchev's solo was the San Bernardino Symphony, conducted by Frank Fetta, the Summer Music Festival's conductor and artistic adviser since 1985.
Fetta not only conducted the orchestra, but also chose the evening's music, working with oboist Francisco Castillo and bassoonist Carolyn Beck of the University of Redlands.
That collaboration came about when what was originally conceived of as a program of movie music morphed into a concert of film- related music featuring oboes and bassoons. That's because the concert coincided with the International Double Reed Society conference being held at the University of Redlands, hosted by Castillo and Beck.
Fetta said the conference had brought to Redlands "a collection of more oboes and bassoons than anywhere else on the planet." And if you have that many oboists and bassoonists in Redlands, you have to get some of them on stage at the Redlands Bowl.
So the three featured soloists were Martchev, who is principal bassoon of the San Diego Symphony; Pietro Corna, professor of oboe at the "Giuseppe Verdi" Milan Conservatory of Music; and oboist Tom Boyd, who has performed on more than 1,400 film scores. And the evening's finale, the "Music for the Royal Fireworks" by Handel, included at least 15 extra oboists and bassoonists from the International Double Reed Society conference filling in the back of the stage.
It was double happiness -- or even triple or quadruple -- with so many double reed instruments in one concert.
Double reed instruments, as most of you know -- and some of you know far more about them than I do -- are members of the woodwind family that use two pieces of reed vibrating together, such as oboes, bassoons and English horns. The clarinet, also a woodwind, uses a single reed.
The double reeds can give a double dose of beautiful sound but are also among the most difficult instruments to master.
But masters are what Friday's soloists were, turning the warm summer air into music that lifted people's hearts at least partway to the stars.
The concert began with pure movie music, "A Tribute to John Williams," including music from "Star Wars" and "Jaws." There were other familiar themes woven in, but I confess I couldn't identify them all for sure, because there are embarrassing gaps in my movie knowledge.
The music was lively and familiar, a good way to open an outdoor concert and the Summer Music Festival season.
But for me, the Redlands Bowl season really began with the next piece, Concerto for Oboe and Strings by Domenico Cimarosa. The blend of the orchestra and Pietro Corna's oboe was remarkable for the outdoor setting of the Bowl, and the tone quality of both transported me back to what I remember as the magical sound of Bowl concerts when I was a child in the '60s -- not that there was anything childish about the music or its performance.
Cimarosa, who lived from 1749 to 1801, certainly did not write this music for a film -- he would have been at least a century ahead of his time if he had -- but according to Fetta, this music has been used in film, though he didn't name names. With or without a film in the background, the Cimarosa concerto sounds like music made for a night under the stars.
After the concerto, Corna played a piece that was written for a film -- the short, lyrical "Gabriel's Oboe" by Ennio Morricone, from "The Mission."
Then the mood changed, with orchestral selections from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," but that, too, is music well suited to an evening at the Bowl. If you weren't there, just imagine "Summertime" with a faint helicopter obbligato.
Another change of mood -- and obvious movie tie-ins -- came after intermission with oboist Tom Boyd's solos in "Moon River" and "Over the Rainbow." Both are arrangements by Thomas Parisch, who was in the audience, and both take the familiar tunes and turn them into something more beautiful. Boyd's expertise on the oboe was part of that beauty.
And now we're back to the bassoon. Before Martchev played "Amazing Grace" on the second half of the concert, he played Nino Rota's Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra. If I had to choose one favorite piece from Friday's concert, that would be it.
It has humor -- reminding one that the bassoon is called the clown of the orchestra -- but also lyrical passages. Martchev played them all expertly and musically in this concerto written by the man who won an Oscar for his music for "The Godfather: Part II."
At the end of the concert came the musical pyrotechnics -- Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" -- with International Double Reed Society oboists and bassoonists coming on stage from the audience to swell the woodwind chorus.
It was a joyful, richly double-reedy sound -- and then came a surprise addition to the concert. The musicians who hadn't been on stage for the "Fireworks" (the orchestration for that music doesn't include some of the instruments that played in earlier pieces on the concert) came back, and everyone, including all the extra oboists, bassoonists and contrabassoonists, played John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" with a bigger double reed sound than you've ever heard.
In the row behind me, Curtiss Allen Sr., director of the Redlands Fourth of July Band, shouted, "Bravi!" (that's a plural bravo for the whole orchestra) after the "Music for the Royal Fireworks" and "Bravi!" again after "The Stars and Stripes Forever," a piece that's a standard for his band.
I didn't shout, but I agree. It was a great beginning for the Redlands Bowl season -- an interesting combination of music and a double dose of double reed magic.
The next concert features a different flavor of musical magic. The winners of the Redlands Bowl Young Artists' Auditions -- three pianists, two violinists, a violist, a cellist and a soprano -- will perform at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.
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