Monday, December 7, 2015

A Paper Kite Might Best Reach You

This past July an up-and-coming early music ensemble, Paper Kite, soared through Italy in its first ever concert tour. The ensemble - a quintet of soprano, two violins, cello, and harpsichord specializing in the 17th and 18th century cantata repertoire - takes its name from a letter written by Dr. Samuel Johnson to Georg Friedrich Händel.
Paper Kite

After taking off only two years ago, Paper Kite has been tethered to success ever since. Finalists in both the Heinrich Schmelzer (Melk, Austria) and the Premio Selìfa (San Ginesino, Italy) competitions, the ensemble won 1st place at the Biagio Marini competition in Neuberg an der Donau (Germany). Further, they were an IYAP “Selected Promising Ensemble 2014” and performed in the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht Fringe last year. As the group prepared for their first concert tour, I managed to sit down with them to discuss their successes and challenges.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Meditation on the Yoga Scandal

I've been out of the North American university system for three-and-a-half years now yet news of the shenanigans within student politics seems to follow me wherever I go. This week it was an article on the Student's Federation of the University of Ottawa's decision to cancel free yoga classes after a complaint from the Center for Students with Disabilities was brought forward over comments that "there [were] cultural issues of implication involved in the practice." Since the news broke a few days ago, coverage of the debacle - as well as numerous opinions on cultural appropriation - has gone global, with articles in the Telegraph, the Guardian, as well as the Wall Street Journal.

As a musician who focuses on European art music from the 17th and 18th centuries I find, rather surprisingly, that the dissemination of my work shares a similar dilemma which faces those debating the merits of the free yoga classes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A List Like This

Last month the CBC published the "30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30, 2015 edition", a post which makes me shiver.

Though I have no doubt that the performers mentioned in the click-through gallery are dedicated servants of their art, CBC Music's investment in celebritization ultimately does the art more harm than good.

The 'industry' in North America, as it were, is in a truly pitiful state (take a look at Norman Lebrecht's When The Music Stops, an outing of the business of classical music, finds its conclusion at the turn of the 21st century where the trend of corporate mergers and the swallowing up leftover independent firms was just beginning): a small handful of multi-national corporations manage the bulk of touring artists, conductors, and ensembles, as well as own and operate seemingly independent media. Private interests control the incredible salaries paid to stars by publicly-funded institutions and the argument which, surprisingly, has held this system in place has been the necessity of celebrity to secure institutional longevity. 

In fact, if a performing artist is not directly or indirectly (through an ensemble) in contact with this celebrity system, they can very easily find themselves in a second tier: falling victim to labeling (referred to as 'local', or similar terminology), or making their income from other, non-performance based sources. It's the reality of the system in place, but should a national broadcaster be paying homage to it? (This isn't the first time I've tackled CBC Music's online coverage, and, as you can tell, my overall position hasn't changed.)

The media coverage at present surrounding a typical performance is almost entirely PR-driven. Newspapers 'sponsor' arts organizations, meaning that they guarantee coverage of that organization's activities (usually with an interview or promo piece) and, due to the thinning out of newspaper arts sections across Canada, it is getting harder and harder to get any coverage of non-institutionalized music-making at all.

So what's the alternative? Nurturing a culture of participation, encouraging the idea that live performance is categorically different from, and cannot be substituted by recorded media; cultivating the notion that the reward a live performance can grant you is worth taking the risk of attending. The most difficult pill to swallow for institutions in this scenario is the requirement to attack dwindling attendance culturally, not simply on a case by case basis (as is the norm). Performance art organizations would have to join together in encouraging a wholesale reinvestment in the culture of attendance - even if that means encouraging patrons to go elsewhere in the case of a conflict.

In order for any meaningful change to be made leadership from among the establishment is needed. It's about time, CBC, will you step up?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Just a Few More Days

This coming Saturday marks the return to my regular Basel-based activities: I will referee two rugby games this weekend, and will begin taking lessons again at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis on Monday. Looking back at my summer activities, it seems I've had quite the experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New Format for Discovering Old Sources

I saw an update today from Elam Rotam, co-editor of They've recently changed their database format to make it even easier to find that treatise you are looking for, even incorporating a tag system for those wishing to browse by category.

I don't think I've mentioned this website before on the blog, but it is a fantastic resource worth your attention. Over 550 sources are listed, the majority of which can be viewed online for free, and more are being added everyday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Next Step

“If all the musicians in Europe performed as you did today, there would be peace on Earth.” – Anonymous listener at NewBO’s premiere, 2/9/15

On September 2nd, my most important project to date came to fruition. As part of the Utrecht Oude Muziek Festival’s Fabulous Fringe series, NewBO (The New Baroque Orchestra) celebrated its premiere performance with a program of English music from the middle of the 18th century. As administrator and co-director of this project, a lot has rested on my shoulders over the past few months and I can’t tell you the feeling I had when we stepped onto that stage in the Hertz room at the TivoliVredenburg.

NewBO was conceived in the bar of the Hôtel des Ardennes in Echternach, Luxembourg, almost two years ago. After hours of discussion, as well as a few more weeks on tour, it was clear that a fire was lit. Following two seasons as EUBO, our desire to play together burned ever stronger. After our final tour to Malta I began preparing the materials for our Utrecht debut.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Proposing a Project?

I have recently begun to offer my services as writer to individuals or ensembles wishing to increase the profile of their English-language promotional materials. If you know of someone in need of copy editing, a completely new bio, or wanting to bring their application materials to the next level, please feel free to direct them to the blog. They can contact me through the link on the menu bar at the top of the page. 

Recommended samples: 

The Post-Camp Decline, Part 2: Machines

The last evening of the camp saw a presentation of a revolutionary gouging system and automated profiling machine by Greg James. The three-stage gouging system gave incredibly precise results: with good cane being gouged at an accuracy of plus or minus 0.01mms. The secret, Greg said, was the way the cane was clamped to the bed. Traditionally, this is done by clamping the cane end to end as it lays in the bed. The drawback of that system is that the cane cannot be gouged evenly unless it naturally conforms to the bed. Greg’s system clamps the cane on either side down along the length of the carriage, forcing it to conform to the bed’s diameter. Of course, the effectiveness of the process depends on how close in diameter the cane is to that of the bed, but the standard bed diameter of 25.4mm produced outstanding results for cane ranging from 23-27mm. That’s a huge window for accuracy without needing to reset the machine.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

David A. Wells, You are a God

I've just discovered a very important tool created by David A. Wells. Blank baroque bassoon fingering charts! Not only one, either. Three! Based on Bret Pimentel's Fingering Diagram Builder, Wells has designed a chart for for a four-keyed instrument, another for a French-style instrument (low Eb for the LH thumb), and a third for a German-style instrument (low Eb for the RH little finger). Thank You, Sir!

Click here to check the page out.

Monday, August 31, 2015


While I’ve been in Ottawa I’ve had the chance to try two gold-plated Lefreque sound bridges. Owned by my former teacher, Jo Ann, they connect the bocal to the wing joint and the long joint to the bell. There have been a few bassoonists blogging about the lefreque and so I will leave you to read about the concept of the plates through one of the links above.

Gold-plated Lefreques
on my Eichentopf bassoon
My story has a funny twist to it – I tested them on my Eichentopf instrument by Peter de Koningh. Though I didn’t have the full variety of plates available to me (there are some made from red brass, as well as sterling silver) it was clear that more experimentation could be worthwhile. After 90 minutes of testing on various reeds and in different places, I did notice a change at the extremes of my instrument. The low C and D ‘locked’ in tune at A=415, the low G and F gained a slight depth to the sound, and the high A and B were slightly more stable. With the two plates on I could slur from high A to high B with less difficulty than without them.

The experiment is not over. Though I was impressed, I noticed a much more significant difference on my Heckel, and from Jo Ann’s description of their effect on her bassoon there may be a much better combination for my Eichentopf.

“But wait a second, Andrew, is this historical?” Technically speaking, no. These days, however, I am performing my own compositions for the Eichentopf bassoon often enough to warrant the search for any small improvement to ease playability. My compositions test every dimension of the instrument – from dynamics, to technique, range, and articulation – and any help to better facilitate a performance would appreciated.

So if you have the chance to try the Lefreque plates, no matter what century your instrument is from, I would recommend taking it. You never know what you might discover.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Post-Camp Decline, Part 1

After eight days and seven nights at the Brooke Valley Bassoon Days, I was pretty much exhausted. With a schedule packed full of activities and presentations for both the budding and professional bassoonist, it was a very stimulating time for me and I was often the last to bed.

The bulk of the camp this year was made up of young bassoonists ranging from about 13-17 years old, but there were a number of older players as well. Two students from the University of Ottawa participated (one was more of an honorary camper as he had his wisdom teeth taken out the day the camp started), along with three amateur players, Sistema NB’s staff bassoonist, Kristin, as well as the newly minted second bassoonist of the Orchestre Métropolitain, Gabrièle.

Among the faculty this year was a real depth of bassoon-related knowledge – students had the chance to take private lessons and participate in masterclasses with Shane Wieler (Marcus/Wieler Bassoon Workshop), Jim Ewen (Skookum Reeds), Richard Hoenich (Brooke Valley Musician’s Retreat), Jo Ann Simpson (Conservatoire de Gatineau), Kathy McLean (Indiana University), and I. On top of the usual coaching opportunities, each faculty member brought a needed component to round out a bassoonist’s experience; Shane spoke on simple bassoon maintenance techniques which would extend the performance life of an instrument; Jim and Jo Ann did excellent work every evening teaching aspiring reed makers, Richard Hoenich conducted the “rackett”, Kathy did a workshop on improvisation, and I spoke about conceiving the action of performance.

The Rackett
From the numerous tips I picked up from Shane and Jim, to listening to the many conversations between my peers on a variety of subjects, there was plenty for me to take away for later thought and practice. Furthermore, I had the rare opportunity to give private lessons regularly to a variety of students (3 a day!), coach small ensembles, as well as give a masterclass.

What was most comforting to me was that, at least when it came to fundamental concepts on bassoon playing, I very much fit in. Over my travels I have met a number of bassoonists and I am sometimes dismayed at how different of an approach they take to playing their instrument. Conversely, at BVBD there were a few occasions where I had the conviction to spurt out an “amen!” It led me to realise that there is a Canadian or Eastern-Canadian school of bassoon playing, and I am a product of it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Great Minds Against Themselves Conspire

Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate’s Dido and Aeneas is a piece with a rich performance history in modern times. Since a revival in 1895 and an edition printed in 1889, the work has drawn the attention of a number of musical celebrities including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, Christopher Hogwood, William Christie, and Alexander Weimann – who, along with Les Voix Baroques, will be performing it at Chamberfest 2015. A triumph of human tragedy, today countless recordings of Dido are available and it sits as one of, if not the most well-known opera in the English language. But can we claim, as Chamberfest has done in its promotional material, that it is “Henry Purcell’s greatest of all English operas”?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Crossing off my list

Originally published on Wolfgang's Tonic.

Making lists has been crucial to my development as an artist. For eight years I’ve set achievable goals for myself, giving me the drive I’ve needed to reach where I am today. On my most important list, titled as bassoonist, I make three categories: short-, medium-, and long-term. The long term goals are, of course, the most ambitious and it has only been over the last three years or so that I’ve been able to cross off and replace a number of the ‘to-dos’ in that category. On the 27th of July, I’ll be able to mark another task as complete.

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Unfortunate Detail

On my way across the Atlantic on Wednesday I received a communication about an upcoming performance. It was a line that any bassoonist dreads, especially one who is already in transit to the performance: “Sorry for any confusion, but it’s at 392.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

There's a smell about this church

There's a smell about this church. From the South-East corner of the yard of the Abbaye de Saint-Riquier the breeze tastes sweet. The flowers which line the lawn are in full bloom yet there aren't enough of them, to my estimate, which could produce such a presence.

The Gothic abbey is encircled on three sides by a structure which struck me to be of 19th century French design. Beginning adjacent to the ornate facade, the later building surrounds the south and east sides of the abbey in a rectangular fashion. It has a simplicity to it: its long, narrow design with windowed walls are uniform, only lightly accented. The abbey's massive construction with flying buttresses, gargoyles, and other decorations make for a stark contrast.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Google Maps c. 1746

The Centre for Metropolitan History and Museum of London Archaeology has georeferenced a map using the Google Maps platform.

In taking John Rocque's impressive A plan of the cities of London and Westminster, and borough of Southwark, and laying it over the current map and marking common points between the original survey and the GIS (you can read all about the process here, a wonderful interactive map has been created.

John Rocque's original map, divided into 24, 3.84 x 2.01 meter sheets.
This is as good of a look as one can get if you're interested in the geography of Handel's London.

Check it out at

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Over the past few weeks I have been collecting information to write a booklet for young modern bassoonists who are beginning to look at early repertoire for the instrument. I began work on this project when it was recently announced that I would be the historical bassoonist on staff at the Brooke Valley Bassoon Days in Lanark County, Ontario, this August (unfortunately, due to scheduling I wasn't able to get on the poster below...). It will be a great opportunity to talk to young musicians and shape their inquiry into the area of early music without the baggage which comes with learning a new instrument.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tempers Flare

Below is a  response to Richard Todd’s “Temper Temper”, an article published in April. This response was submitted not more than a few days after Todd's article was published, but I only received confirmation this week that it did not fit the submission guidelines of the same publication. Therefore I have copied it in full for you below.

‘Baroque’ is a word which all music students are familiar with. Indeed, even since Mr. Todd’s school days have teachers introduced a music history course centered on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the definition of barocco. Literally taken, it means ‘a deformed pearl’. It wasn’t something anyone in the eighteenth century wanted attributed to their work either, but, though I dare not shout too loud, I believe there is something to be learned about ourselves from it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Out with a Bang

Tonight marks the last of four performances of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks with Ensemble Zefiro. In a very much royal affair, Wednesday night saw four thousand people descend on the palace gardens of Versailles to witness a fireworks show synchronized to Handel's classic. Needless to say, they got what they paid for.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Right Room

Last week I performed my first professional recital in the greater Switzerland. Along with my friends Alexandra and Ziv, I performed a program of a variety of obscure works for bassoon, including a piece of my own. The venue was a 16th century Schloss in Hahnberg, near lake Constance.

The building was incredible in that it was owned by a man who is a professional architect specializing in the restoration of 'ancient' structures. His Schloss, which he restored himself, is now in immaculate condition. The concert room, about the size of a small living-room with a vaulted ceiling, was originally a kitchen until it was renovated in the 17th century.

Most worrisome for an ensemble consisting of archlute, viola da gamba, and bassoon is balance. Though in a rehearsal setting balance isn't necessarily a primary concern (as we weren't rehearsing at the venue), we were conscious that I could easily overpower the group in a loftier acoustic. Furthermore, Alexandra and I were to play Couperin's 13e Concert, from Les Gouts-reunis, a piece which can be problematic when played by a bassoon and gamba.

Our trio at the facade of
Schloss Kleiner Hahnberg
Entering the concert room which was bursting with fifty spectators, I was curious to hear what the group sound would be. When we first arrived we got an idea of what to expect, but the presence of a crowd can have a huge impact on the acoustic. Playing the first notes of the program we were delighted. Not only was the balance excellent, but the proximity of the audience and their investment in the performance made for quite the experience.

Coming home on the train the discussion centered on the concert room. So rare is it these days that we get to perform chamber music in the very kind of room known to the composers and amazing it was that our primary concern that day was vanquished by it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Yesterday I read an article by Richard Todd on Wolfgang's Tonic summing up in his words the effect Lisitsa/TSO calamity had on Stewart Goodyear. I wasn't particularly interested on commenting directly on the feed since that usually grabs the attention of the wrong kind of people. I decided then that I would put it up here.

Obviously subjective judgments on pianists aside, I was a little unnerved by the term "free-speech radicals" used to describe an apparent subgroup who pushed Stewart Goodyear to dropping the gig. I don't condone the mob's actions, especially as they dealt with their frustrations by shooting the messenger, so to speak, but that term unfairly diminishes them and sets a dangerous precedent.

This is not the first time those words have been used to describe opponents to perceived 'censorship' issues in the arts - take the 2001 Death of Klinghoffer affair in Boston for instance. However, in the context of the online hysteria arising from the TSO blunder pidgeon-holing a cross section of misguided thugs as 'free-speech radicals' only opens the door for the people who really executed Lisitsa's dropping - those unnamed big time 'donors' - to gain standing. If donors have the power to affect the TSO's hiring policy so visibly, who's to say they won't try it again when it suits them while labeling opposition as 'radical'.

If the mob really wishes for this case never to be repeated then institutional change must be made across the board - a radical suggestion, perhaps? But that won't happen if personal attacks remain the norm on the one side, while the other has the establishment by the balls.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Choirboys Gone Wild

As I was digging yesterday I came across a composition treatise signed "Bar_____ G___n". It's a pretty nasty piece of work, actually. The pamphlet is attributed to William Hayes (1708 - 1777), Professor of Music at Oxford (1741 onwards), who clearly had it in for Birmingham organist Barnabus Gunn (d. 1753).

Gunn's supposed 'method' involved the first description of aleatory composition by use of what Hayes calls the 'Spruzzarino', a pen which spurted ink indiscriminately on the page. Hayes also makes a number of comments on Gunn's seeming lack of understanding of the foundations of music.
"As the Spruzzarino will not make Flats, or Sharps, you are to place them, where you think they will look best: no matter as to Propriety; the more odd, the more new and unexpected."
"As to Quick and Slow Movements,  no particular Disposition is required:  either with respect to Measure or Modulation; the Technical Italian Words do all."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Claiming Authority

As an Early Musician, I have come across numerous philosophies (or pseudo-philosophies) relating to performance. I'm not saying there should be a consensus, but I am troubled that many tacitly assume their reasoning is generally-accepted since there is no real medium for collective discussion on the broader HIP movement. Of those who do make their thoughts known, the most visible opinions on early music performance usually make a bold claim. 'Authenticity', 'correctness', or whatever they call it, is often touted by performers and their agents.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Originally published Wolfgang's Tonic

Making the decision to study abroad isn’t something a musician should take lightly. In two and a half years studying at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis I have encountered a fair share of international students, each with their own story. While some left their homes to begin their studies here, others came later in life to finish them. Some kept one foot firmly in place while they stepped forward, others jumped with both feet. Some brought their baggage with them, others left it behind. Maybe I’m being a bit too monochromatic. My life is full of contradictions, but I suppose those are what make me who I am.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Subject and Deadline

It's funny how productive you can be, given the right framework. When I began this blog I wrote most often while I was commuting for lessons between Ottawa and Montreal. Writing while travelling has become so ingrained in me that I can't avoid thinking about it when I sit facing the back of another chair. Naturally, touring with EUBO allowed the experiences and time in transit to put my thoughts on to paper, so to speak. Those periods when I am not touring, however, often prove to be difficult for me. Except, it seems, when I'm approached to do it.

Just a few days ago I was asked to write a post for a new online publication and, after sitting down for a few hours, it has already been submitted. In the words of Leonard Bernstein, "to achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not enough time." In my case, to write something simple all I needed was to be given a subject and a deadline.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion

This Thursday I will be performing my first professional solo recital. Not exactly what you might expect, the majority of my program will be music I have composed in my own style for my Eichentopf instrument.

A few months ago Curtis Perry, executive director of Ottawa New Music Creators, graciously invited me to perform in the series this season. Though we had both wished that I premier a piece or two from another composer, there didn't seem to be enough interest in the call for scores. No matter. Four pieces of mine will receive their premier, and two others will have their first performance in Canada.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Geekyness

To the shock of everyone, Thursday saw an explosion in the money markets. In a matter of minutes after the Swiss central bank removed the policy of keeping the franc to euro ratio at 1.20 to 1, the euro fell and the franc rose to the point that they sit this weekend almost exactly on par. Tough as it will be as a Canadian abroad (the Canadian dollar is sitting at an all time low against the franc), as a reed-maker I benefitted greatly from the volatility of the market on Friday morning.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baroque Bassoonist's Paradise

Today I write from the train to Schipol after spending most of the morning with Peter de Koningh. Back for usual maintenance, my Eichentopf instrument feels like it did when it first arrived in Ottawa nearly three years ago. While I was there I had the chance to 'toot' a number of instruments in PdK's shop including the anonymous 440 instrument used in Sergio Azzolini's most recent recordings, and the new "Rockobaur" instrument at 415. Boy, what a treat.

It was very interesting to hear the variety of timbres between the three instruments, my senses being more acute to their qualities by the fact that they stood side-by-side. Each instrument could play easily chromatically up to high a, with Bb not far out of reach for one who was a little more familiar with the instrument. The anonymous instrument had that incredible 'Ferrari'-like sound we've come to know from Azzolini's Vivaldi recordings; the Rockobaur had a very deep, smooth lower register with an even tone and intonation on easy fingerings (think of a Denner model, except better); and my Eichentopf stood almost exactly in between combining a vibrant sound with facility and depth in the low chromatics.

I was most surprised to find that my reed for the Eichentopf model seemed to worked very well with both the Rockobaur and the anonymous instrument, playing at pitch and with just as much flexibility and subtlety of sound. Interesting though that the characteristics of each instrument still shone through, as if my reed acted solely as the key to unlocking each one.

As a modern bassoonist I have been taught that there are so many variations in reed making, and each can have a profound effect upon the sound and playability of an instrument. Just read this. What is easily forgotten in the modern world is that of all the bassoons out there, most are essentially minor variations on the same prototype. Yes there are differences between makers and models, but the biggest differences in heckle-system instruments between 1950 and 2014 pale in comparison to an HKICW and a Prudent. Reed making has become such a precise science today to meet the demands for technical 'perfection' from the modern instrument that many fail to appreciate how far we've come in terms of equipment. 

Of course, someone proficient on one instrument might have preferences in their reeds depending on their taste (in this case, my 'standard' Eichentopf model) or the demands of a work, but imagine my surprise to find that the same reed functioned easily on three very different models!

P.S. in reading above you might label me a 'de Koningh Artist', if that were such a thing. But c'mon. Try the instruments for yourself.
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