We talk to Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Bassoonist to find out where did it all begin?


What made you choose the bassoon?

I played the clarinet to begin with, going on all through primary school. Then I was at a music camp, and a teacher – who would become my teacher – was showing the bassoon to everybody. I wanted to pick up a second instrument to go into high school, and it turned out to be the bassoon!

Are they very different to play?

It’s a different reed – the clarinet is a single reed and the bassoon is a double reed, the fingering system is completely different, and then there’s the sheer size of the instrument – it must be four times larger.

The bassoon is typically the last instrument chosen, the Cinderella left behind when everyone else has gone to the ball. What made you pick her ?

I wouldn’t describe the bassoon as Cinderella. I think it’s normally described as the beast! It has a really unique sound, and a unique place, especially in orchestral music. It has a very far-reaching sound, and very different types of solos, from comical to heart wrenching, which is very appealing to me.

What solo passages occupy every bassoonist’s dreams and nightmares?

The Shostakovich solos in the Ninth and Tenth Symphonies are absolutely amazing to play – you’d give everything for them. I don’t know if they’re exactly a nightmare… maybe more a nightmare solo is the start of Tchaikovsky Six. There aren’t too many nightmare solos. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is okay. It’s sort of fun to play because you can be really prepared for it as you haven’t had to play a whole symphony before you begin – you get to do it very fresh.

Did you have woodwind heroes?

Matthew Wilkie, who was the principal of Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was one of my favourite players – he’s fantastic. I got to have a few lessons with him. I moved to Sydney last year to do the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s fellowship program and work with the orchestra. I spent a lot of time with him there. He’s a great mentor and inspiration to me.

How did you land a position with the MSO?

I auditioned for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the end of 2012, then we had pre-trials, and from there I went on to pass a trial by myself. I’d auditioned for it once before then, but they didn’t appoint anyone. It took over 18 months, but I got there!

Have you had a special teacher at any point?

I had two fantastic teachers in Adelaide, where I grew up. Josie Hawkes got me started and loving the bassoon. After that I learned from Mark Gaydon, who’s a principal in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. He was excellent, fantastic at making you focused, all the things you need from a teacher. Then my teacher I had before getting this job, Elise Millman, is actually the associate principal at the MSO, and we get along brilliantly. She’s a fantastic mother and mentor figure.

What has been the highlight of your career?

My first performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, on trial, was the Rite of Spring as part of a Stravinsky Festival. So within one week I got to play Firebird, Petrushka and Rite of Spring with Diego Matheuz, the Principal Guest Conductor, which was amazing.

What other conductors of the MSO have you found inspiring?

Sir Andrew Davis, who we’ve got here this week, is absolutely fantastic. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience. The other conductor who I have really enjoyed working with is Jakub Hru˚ša. I didn’t get to play with him last week unfortunately, but I went and watched the concert and it was fantastic. We did Dvorˇák Nine with him last year and it was so energetic and vibrant. He gives everything of himself to the music.
As a young musician it’s great to see someone being so dedicated.

There aren’t many international bassoon soloists. Is that a possible market?

This week actually I’m playing the Mozart Bassoon Concerto with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, and last month David Thomas, the Principal Clarinet and I, played the Strauss Duet Concertino with the MSO. It’s definitely not something at the forefront of my mind, but it’s something nice to do on the side from time to time.