We don’t usually think of the bassoon as a solo instrument, basking in the spotlight like a violin or piano. But believe it or not, Mozart wrote his very first wind concerto for the bassoon, in 1774, when he was just 18 years old. The piece has since become the bedrock of the bassoon repertoire (and an audition hurdle for all aspiring symphony bassoonists).
“I’m very lucky because it’s a masterwork … and it’s written for us,” says Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa, who’ll be performing the Concerto January 5-7. “Even cellos don’t get a Mozart concerto. It’s an honor that he wrote one for the bassoon … and it’s a great one!”
Danny loves the operatic nature of the piece. “The first movement displays the bassoon’s agility and wide range. There are many virtuoso passages; it can be quite acrobatic, yet lyrical. The second movement is by far the most aria-like. In fact, the opening theme appears later as the Countess’s aria ‘Porgi, amor’ in The Marriage of Figaro. I think it’s pretty cool Mozart used the theme again. The third movement is a kind of dance, very courtly. It reminds me of kings and queens, powdered wigs, big gowns … very much of its era.”
As befits an operatic work, there’s a bit of heartbreak attached to the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. It’s believed he wrote four more for the instrument; all of them are now lost to history. “This kills me,” says Danny. “I don’t even want to think about it. It hurts my heart to know that somewhere in the world, at one point, there were four other of these gems that Mozart wrote for bassoon.”
Danny is excited to work with conductor Jane Glover, a Mozart specialist making her subscription debut. His solo turn is bookended by Mozart’s First Symphony and his last, the mighty Jupiter (No. 41).
“The concert really displays Mozart’s growth as a musician, and what his music is all about. I consider myself like the lucky tenor or soprano, who gets to sing arias in the midst of these two symphonic works!”
(Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa performs Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Jane Glover, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday January 5, 6, and 7. The program also includes Mozart’s First and Forty-First Symphonies. For tickets and more information, please click here).
Photo by Jessica Griffin