Leon is the newest member of the Bassoon Brothers joining the group (and the Oregon Symphony) in August 2003. Leon plays on an 11,000 series Heckel and the Symphony’s Fox contrabassoon as well as his Mollenhauer contrabassoon. Code name NDG, Leon is yet to be heard on any of the Bro’s disks. However, stay tuned to hear Leon lay it down.
Click on the questions below to see Leon’s answers.
What was your first memory of hearing a bassoon?
I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the bassoon. I know I was around it my first year of life thanks to my Mom’s friend Darlene Jussila who plays in the Niagara Symphony. (Leon and Mark have a weird cosmic connection here.) But mostly it was always the best gag instrument in the old cartoons.
When was the first time you saw a picture of a bassoon?
I can’t remember seeing one for the first time, I just knew what it was.
What was the first musical instrument that you played?
Piano or violin. Not sure which.
What was your first woodwind instrument?
How did you come to play the bassoon?
My piano teacher was the principal bassoonist in town and she once invited me to a concert where she played the Mozart Bassoon concerto. It stuck in my head until my band director pointed out that there were too many flutists in band and no bassoonists or oboists. I gave her a call shortly after.
What was the first recording of a bassoon that you played at home?
Klaus Thunemann’s Mozart concerto and sonata recording.
Did you have any favorite bassoonists on recordings?
Same guy. (See previous question.)
What was it like being a teenage bassoonist?
It was great being one of a kind.
What were some of your best bassoon moments as a teenage bassoonist?
OK, so after having the bassoon at home for a month and learning about how to make a sound and where to put the fingerings, I was working on a band version of the Halleluiah Chorus. I got the music early because I was learning a new instrument. Everyone else had to sight read. Band director starts waving his arms and everyone is playing. People start dropping out because they just can’t sight read this piece until I am the last one playing on and the director just lets me go on a little just so I can show off what I can do.
What were some of your worst moments as a teenage bassoonist?
Blubbing a solo in the Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #2. Youth orchestra was joining forces with the Monterey Symphony and I stuck my neck out as one of the wind players that wanted the glory of playing a principal part and I go and blow the first solo.
What solo pieces did you play starting out?
Mozart concerto, big mistake and the Burril Phillips concert piece.
What method books did you use?
Weissenborn 50 studies.
What were your solo competition pieces?
Never did that type stuff till college.
Where did you study bassoon in college?
California State University, Northridge for bachelors and University of Michigan for Masters.
Who were your teachers?
Michele Grego at Northridge and two teachers at Michigan, but I will only name Robert Williams.
Did you expect to become a professional bassoonist upon college graduation?
No way. I knew this biz. My father had a tough go of it. Now he plays part time and teaches band full time. Tough life. I knew I had a chance, but I was going to give up if I didn’t land good work by age 30.
What happened to you in the years that followed graduation?
Took two years of depression and no practicing to clear my head from the toxicity from Grad school. When my head cleared my then girlfriend, now wife, suggested that I stop wallowing and take an audition and get a job. Two auditions later I had a job.
What orchestras have you performed with?
Oregon Symphony, San Jose Symphony and Ballet, Colorado Symphony, California Symphony, California Philharmonic and Detroit Symphony.
What festivals have you played with?
Apple Hill Chamber Music in New Hampshire.
What honors have you received as a bassoonist?
I got to play the Mozart Concerto with my college orchestra and with the Santa Suzanna Symphony (community orchestra in Southern California).
What is your worst nightmare as a bassoonist?
Don’t really have one in specific, other than my bassoon getting smashed into little pieces.
What are your favorite solos?
I love the Francaix Divertisement for bassoon and strings and the Previn piano trio with bassoon and oboe.
What are the most important points to relate to a young player?
Learn to make reeds early, get the right fingerings from the start, play on good working equipment and never get too far ahead of your ability. This way you can have lots of fun and minimize frustration.
Has the bassoon ever caused a problem with a personal relationship or your marriage?
My neighbor complained about my practicing.
How did the bassoon change your life?
I am extremely honored to get to do this stuff for a living. And to be able to do it and get health and retirement benefits is a blessing.
Have you had therapy because of being a bassoonist, or performer?
I did take advantage of the University of Michigan’s free counseling while studying with the unnamed teacher.