Michael Lloyd (MD and Conductor) will perform the Farnon Bassoon Concerto
Premiere during the Chandos
Symphony Orchestra 2009 programme on Sunday Sept 13th 2009 @ 7.45pm
---- Robert Farnon, you had an impeccable reputation here in the States. I first heard of you from a friend of mine in New York. Marion Evans. He had your albums and would tell me, "That’s the man!" I think as a fellow composer, arranger, conductor and trumpeter, we share the same passionate search; to create, tell a story and communicate emotion with our music. It’s our small contribution to the world. - Neal Hefti
Daniel Smith's personal insight to this major Robert Farnon legacy work
Robert Farnon's Bassoon Concerto was not bound by any commissions, deadlines, financial obligations, or anything else, just to fully express himself as a composer. He told me it was the best piece of music he ever wrote and was very excited about seeing it brought to life.
In the actual score, you can see passages where the bassoon plays the role of a lead saxophone with three bassoons underneath in the scoring, just as in a saxophone section. There is also a lot of percussion used and in many sections, the winds of the symphony act as a sort of wind band within the full orchestra - Farnon described this as ' a big band within a full symphony orchestra'. Naturally there are gorgeous moments in the second and lyrical movement as everyone knows of the music of Robert Farnon. As we arrive at the third and final movement of the concerto, Robert made full use of some of my suggestions where he pulls out all stops. At one point, the full symphony orchestra and 'big band' fade back and the bassoon opens up with a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums in an up tempo blues (which Farnon composed himself) allowing for unlimited choruses to be played and at the moment of choosing of the soloist, the conductor then brings in the orchestra, starting with percussion first and then adding on instruments. Then after a few more spots which also have improvisation involved, a really startling ending which simply flies all over the place and ends on a bang. It is hard to describe and hopefully we will see all this incredible music brought to life in the near future when everyone can hear what Robert Farnon achieved in his final work.
Robert called it 'Romancing the Phoenix'. Do you know why?
Sort of - I asked him but don't remember his exact words. Robert apparently had the concept of the Phoenix as an elusive legendary bird that rises up again and again in unexpected ways. I suggested 'Flight of the Phoenix' which he liked even better but after checking this name out on the Internet, he discovered that this title was the same as a recent movie and so he went back to his original title idea. The concerto, without any doubt, is a 'one of a kind' piece, and I am sure that when it is heard, it will have quite an impact in the musical world.
So is it with a jazz band and also a Symphony Orchestra? Roughly how many instruments are involved?
It is with a full symphony orchestra, and once again as Robert Farnon described it, ' a Big Band within a full Symphony Orchestra'. When I finally saw the score, I was a bit confused as I thought he meant a big band including a saxophone section, but apparently what he had in mind was a big woodwind band using the resources of the wind players of the orchestra being involved in passages that stand out from the full symphony.
Isn't it costly to stage with so many musicians?
Not really because it involves a symphony orchestra which already has the wind players within it. The only instruments to be added would be a piano, bass and drums for the jazz rhythm section.
Have you any idea where the premiere might take place?
At this point we are following up on various possibilities. As already said, Robert's wish was to see it premiered at the Proms and wanted to work towards this goal and other Premieres, not knowing of course that his recent illness would become worse. He was so upbeat and so excited about this music and looking to hearing it performed. In any event, I am sure that in the coming months we will know a lot more about premieres. Unfortunately, we will never know what doors he would have opened but there are other people now working on this. I am sure there will be a big demand to have it premiered in various venues and countries.
You have the honour of having his very last work.
Yes, he was very generous about it for many reasons, not only that he wrote it for me but that he arranged for it to be printed by Warner Chappell Music UK and with a dedication to 'The American Virtuoso Daniel Smith'. He also had the opportunity for one movement to be premiered with the BBC Concert Orchestra but turned it down because they would have used their own bassoonist (he would have had to write out any improvised solos of course) and he would not allow this to happen until I did the actual premiere. Which was very kind of him.
When I last met him at the nursing home in Guernsey, and also prior in some phone conversations, Robert had asked me if I could bend notes on the bassoon like the clarinet does at the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue. I said I was not sure but would play for him when we next met and show him what I can do. So when we did meet, I told him I had an idea about this query. I played Duke Ellington's ' In A Sentimental Mood' . Several measures into the piece, the melody swoops down to an A flat which I seriously bent, just as Alto Saxophonist Johnny Hodges would have done. 'That's it!' he exclaimed with a big smile on his face. I think he wanted to go back to the piece and incorporate this effect in the music but of course we will never know what he had in mind.
Will other bassoon players be able to play this piece do you think, or is it a bit too technical?
Probably not. A highly skilled virtuoso bassoon player could execute the melodic material but would not be able to improvise in those places which require this unusual skill. As for the handful of jazz players on the instrument, I would have serious doubts they could execute the written parts which are quite difficult.
would like also to bring up the subject of unusual and different music which can
be performed on the bassoon and also jazz. Ragtime if executed with the right
feeling can sound very natural on the instrument, as does a large amount of
'crossover' material including transcriptions of music normally performed on
other instruments as well as orchestral pieces. As for playing jazz on the
bassoon.....several years ago, Steve Grey composed a work for me
entitled 'Jazz Suite' which I had the honour of performing with the Welsh
Chamber Orchestra. The piece contained improvisational spots and which forced me
to plunge in and get serious about playing real jazz on the instrument. I
was already a virtuoso so to speak but all of my technical skills were of no
help whatsoever in learning how to play jazz in a serious way. I had to
methodically learn to play extended chords and scales from top to bottom on the
instrument and in all keys. This included many scales and chords which do not
appear in classical music. And then to place all ideas exactly where the
underlying chords are heard and of course to 'hear' musical ideas many measures
before you execute them. This took me about four years to accomplish and along
the way my arms became very sore and stiff from the effort. But then suddenly
the ideas flowed and the soreness stopped... everything just came together! All
the musical ideas made sense and I can now perform a full two hour jazz concert
without using any music and with a repertoire of nearly one hundred jazz pieces
to pick from including bebop, swing, Latin, blues, ballads, etc.
Finally, the bassoon must be amplified when performing jazz, otherwise it would not be heard above a rhythm section, let alone a full symphony orchestra. I have a special microphone attached to my crook/bocal which makes this possible. When Robert Farnon found this out, he was much relieved knowing that his music would be clearly heard above the orchestra in his bassoon concerto. As for developing a jazz style on the instrument, there are no real role models from the past to learn from such as Armstrong, Gillespie or Davis on trumpet or Parker, Getz or Rollins on saxophone. It is all pioneering stuff and I am very pleased to be involved in such ground breaking efforts and of course with the Bassoon Concerto of Robert Farnon as a fitting memorial to his memory and talent.
Smith was speaking to David Ades on Tuesday 24 May, 2005. The Editor thanks Adam
Endacott for transcribing the recorded interview for 'Journal Into Melody'.
Daniel Smith through his management would be most pleased to hear from any conductors, festivals or venues interested in being involved in performances of the Robert Farnon Bassoon Concerto.
Contact information concerning his USA and UK Management can be made via his website at Daniel Smith
This interview appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2005.
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