Christopher Theofanidis

Press Kit

Bassoon Concerto (1997/2002)

I. alone, inward
II. beautiful
III. threatening, fast

Duration: 22 minutes
FIRST PERFORMANCE: Winter 2007/Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon; Absolute Ensemble, Kristjan Jaarvi

Martin Kuuskmann, photo by Karl J. Kaul.
Mvt I. alone, inward
Mvt II. beautiful
Mvt III. threatening, fast
Martin Kuuskman, bassoon
Northwest Sinfonia / Barry Jekowsky, conducting

I wrote my bassoon concerto for my good friend Martin Kuuskmann, whom I had known since 1992 from my days as a student at Yale.  Martin was always the last person out of the school of music at night, and I would often pass his practice room and wonder what drove him- he seemed to have an obsessive zeal for mastering the bassoon, and he was determined to build a repertory and to represent it in the most visible way.   I have known many musicians of an extremely high caliber in my life, but Martin really stands out from among even the most accomplished of those.

A few years later he was playing with the Absolute Ensemble in New York and was able to commission a new work from them, and that is how my piece came to be.  At that time, I wrote just a two-movement piece- the now outer two movements of this version, but later in 2002 when we were offered the possibility of programming it again, I added the current middle movement which incorporated elements that had become part of my writing in the interim.

The opening movement starts with an introspective cadenza which then opens into a fast and restless first movement that makes use of several of the materials from the opening cadenza.  The second movement is based on a kind of  melodic ornamentation that one would hear in the Greek Orthodox church- fast inflections of long tones that keep the notes ‘alive’ in time.  It is also a style of ornamentation that one finds throughout the Balkan region, and I think that, as it is heard here in the bassoon, now reminds me most of Bulgarian bagpipe playing- in no small part because Martin regularly circular-breathes to play it, creating the sound of continuous breath.  The third movement is based on a fast pattern of sixes in the bassoon line and a slower background harmonic progression which is eventually revealed clearly near the end of the work as the faster notes peal away.

The piece is approximately 22 minutes in duration.

—Christopher Theofanidis