Evan Kuhlmann has been playing with the Oregon Symphony since February 2007. He is originally from Seattle and joins Brother Mark as another Sea-Tac transplant to the great city of Portland, home of the Bassoon Brothers. Evan studied bassoon and composition at Juilliard, where he also explored other serious musical endeavors, such as analyzing progressive rock and funk accordion. Evan plays a 12000 series Heckel bassoon and a Fox contrabassoon.
Click on the questions below to read Evan’s answers.
What was your first memory of hearing a bassoon?
My Mom played in a baroque group with a bassoonist when I was very young, and I remember hearing them practice.
When was the first time you saw a picture of a bassoon?
I had a ‘guess the instrument’ game when I was little. You would listen to a tape and point to the picture of the instrument you thought was playing. Sadly, I think the bassoon was synthesized…
What was the first musical instrument that you played?
Piano, which I still play, or at least try to.
What was your first woodwind instrument?
Clarinet, which I definitely don’t play anymore. I was terrible! Sometimes an instrument is just not a good fit.
How did you come to play the bassoon?
My Mom gave me a recording of Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ that I began listening to constantly. I told her that I wanted to play tenor sax, and she explained that the opening solo was actually a bassoon. This seemed even cooler to me, so I begged to play it, but we weren’t allowed to start on bassoon at school. Finally, in junior high, I was able to start bassoon through the Seattle Youth Symphony’s “Endangered Instrument Program,” where I first met master teacher Francine Peterson.
What was the first recording of a bassoon that you played at home?
Milan Turkovic’s Mozart ‘Concerto,’ a great recording.
Did you have any favorite bassoonists on recordings?
I also listened to jazz/funk bassoonists Michael Rabinowitz and Paul Hanson. For a while I would fall asleep every night listening to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra recording of ‘The Rite of Spring.’ Seth Krimsky, another mentor, plays the opening solo.
What was it like being a teenage bassoonist?
I wasn’t a big kid, so hauling the bassoon around wasn’t easy. I had a really beat-up case and I remember running to catch the school bus one morning with it banging against my knees like crazy. The whole thing came undone, the pieces spilled out everywhere, and the bus left without me. Did I mention that it was raining? But there were great moments too; at a year-end school concert I played a couple blues choruses with the jazz band and brought the house down.
What were some of your best bassoon moments as a teenage bassoonist?
Winning the state solo competition as a freshman in high school was a very inspiring and motivating experience for me. I worked very hard for it, and I learned that hard work pays off. That led to playing a concerto with the Seattle Symphony, which is still probably my ‘career highlight.’ But more importantly, bassoon introduced me to great people who became friends for life.
What were some of your worst moments as a teenage bassoonist?
There were a few…like the time I showed up at the airport before an orchestra tour to Japan without my instrument. Or once, at the Interlochen Arts Academy where orchestra rehearsals start at 8AM, I overslept and barely made it to my seat by the time we started running through ‘Bolero.’ My first notes of the day were the solo…and it was not pretty.
What solo pieces did you play starting out?
Sonatas by Galliard, Hindemith and Telemann, and also a few Vivaldi Concertos.
What method books did you use?
Rubank, followed by Weissenborn and Milde.
What were your solo competition pieces?
Eventually, the Mozart and Weber ‘Concertos’ as well as the Saint-Saens ‘Sonata.’ But my first was the ‘Premier Solo’ by Bourdeau. I loved that piece!
Where did you study bassoon in college?
I first spent two years at Interlochen studying with Barrick Stees and Eric Stomberg, who are both great. Then I went to Juilliard, where I got my Bachelor’s Degree. I’m still trying to get a Graduate Diploma from Juilliard in composition, which I studied with Robert Beaser, who is also spectacular. It’s the commute that’s tricky…
Who were your teachers?
Frank Morelli, who motivated and inspired me at each and every lesson. And even in the roughest of times, he made me laugh.
Did you expect to become a professional bassoonist upon college graduation?
Barely. It was what I always wanted, and what I loved to do, but I spent a lot of time planning for other things. I continued to believe that it was impossible pretty much up to the moment that it happened. In retrospect, I can’t recommend that philosophy.
What happened to you in the years that followed graduation?
I went back to school for composition, and started to lose direction. NYC was wearing me down, and when I saw the Oregon Symphony audition notice, I had this strange feeling like I just HAD to get back to the Northwest.
What orchestras have you performed with?
Oregon Symphony, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Riverside Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra, New World Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, Orchestra of the Festival dei Due Mondi, Sarasota Music Festival Orchestra, Marrowstone Chamber Orchestra, etc. etc. etc.
What festivals have you played with?
Marrowstone, National Repertory Orchestra, Festival dei Due Mondi (Spoleto, Italy), Sarasota Music Festival, and many more as a jazz pianist. I’ve taught in the summer at Marrowstone, Porter Music Camp, and the inaugural session of Woodwinds at Wallowa Lake.
What honors have you received as a bassoonist?
A few – two I’m proud of are performing a concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at age 16, and receiving the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Leadership and Achievement in Music as well as Scholastic Distinction upon my graduation from Juilliard. One especially memorable performance was playing principal on the Mozart ‘Requiem’ to a packed house in Carnegie Hall for a free concert given on the 5th anniversary of 9/11.
What is your worst nightmare as a bassoonist?
Having an instrument lost/stolen/destroyed/etc.
What are your favorite solos?
When I first heard Roger Boutry’s ‘Interferences I,’ I flipped out. I also really enjoy playing Joseph Schwantner’s ‘Black Anemones’ and the Debussy ‘Sonata for Cello and Piano’ on recitals. Orchestrally I love Ravel and Shostakovich solos.
What are the most important points to relate to a young player?
Dive into the music! In other words, running through something again and again in a practice room is not enough. Listen to recordings, go to concerts, analyze scores, take a theory course, explore jazz and rock and other kinds of music, improvise, compose, arrange, ask questions, look for patterns, express yourself, take chances, etc. and enjoy it! The more you put into music, the more you get out of it. And, of course, in the immortal words of Francine Peterson – be honest with yourself.
Is there anything else about the bassoon that needs to be mentioned?
Grab a drink, this could take a while…
Has the bassoon ever caused a problem with a personal relationship or your marriage?
Sure, but I can’t blame it all on the bassoon. It’s a tough balance to maintain: bassoon on one hand… life on the other! But I don’t think that there is EVER a reason to give one up for the other.
How did the bassoon change your life?
It introduced me to wonderful people I would otherwise never have met. It introduced me to wonderful music I would otherwise never have heard. At times, bassoon has aggravated me, but I keep coming back for more!
Have you had therapy because of being a bassoonist, or performer?
Being a bassoonist is probably reason enough for therapy, but some things that have kept me sane (more or less) include listening to really great performances (any instrument/style), Alexander Technique, the outdoors, and just trying to relax on a daily basis. As detailed as we get about music making, it’s easy to forget why we do it. So I’m always looking for new ways to remind myself.