Thursday, June 28, 2018

Something to remember about a bassoon's bottom?

Roger Birnstingl remembers...

Cecil James was the solo bassoonist of the Philharmonia Orchestra. He was the nephew of Edwin James who had been 1st bassoon of the LSO and gave the first performance of Elgar’s Romance in 1911. Cecil was a superb musician and played on the Buffet with the lovely nutty tone so difficult to achieve on ‘the mumblephone’, which is what Cecil called the German bassoon.
In 1955 the Philharmonia played at the Lucerne Festival with Fritz Reiner conducting. In the rehearsal of the Meistersingers overture there are two bassoon parts. Reiner wanted them doubled so that I was the 3rd bassoon with the 1st bassoon part. We had got through the first part of the overture when I was doubling all the forte passages and we approached the apprentice music on oboes and clarinets with an important part for the bassoon. I did not know Cecil very well at that time, so when I noticed that he seemed to be having trouble with his bassoon, I thought ‘goodness, I think I better play’ which is what I did. As I was playing, Cecil put his bassoon on the floor and sat back with his arms crossed.

Reiner looked up, stopped the orchestra and said:
‘Vas is with bassoon?’, to which Cecil replied:
‘If the young man wishes to play my part, perhaps I should go home.’
Reiner to Manoug Parikian, the leader:
‘Vat he say?’
‘Don’t worry, Maestro, just start again from letter B and it will all be alright’.

Alright it was, but I later learned that the Buffet has a cork at the bottom of the butt joint which can be used to adjust the intonation and this is what Cecil had been doing.

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