Steve (Easy Rider) Harriswangler
Steve performed and recorded Hells Angels with the Bassoon Brothers and the Oregon Symphony, and played other Bassoon Brothers gigs during the 2001-2002 season. He is currently principal bassoonist of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, in A Coruña Spain, a post he has held since 1994. He plays on a mid 11,000 series Heckel bassoon.
Here, he demonstrates a majority of the bassoon range as he knows it (and lists some fingerings) and here he plays a little Russian ditty without his teeth.
What was your first memory of hearing a bassoon?
Wow, my dad practicing, pretty early, it was pretty weird to have a lot of the bassoon repetoire in my ear before I had even worked on it. I also remember my dad giving a bassoon demo for my pre-school and trying to make one out of paper towel rolls and a straw, cardboard bassoons are a little lacking in tone quality, I might have been 3 or 4.
When was the first time you saw a picture of a bassoon?
I have no idea. I saw a bassoon probably before I knew what a picture was.
When was the first time you saw a real bassoon?
Did that have any impact?
What was the first musical instrument that you played?
What was your first woodwind instrument?
How did you come to play the bassoon?
My parents were teaching at Interlochen, (national music camp, Bassoon and Harp) and I had just quit the piano and I was more of an art major. My parents wanted me to have a little more to do that summer. I had a choice, start back at piano (which I was sick of) or play the bassoon. You have to understand my brother, Tom, was already playing the bassoon, and being a little brother I preferred to do something else. I started in a beginning winds class with John Catterjohn(sp?), nice man great for beginners. Bill Buchman was starting on the sax in that class, (the next summer he took up bassoon, I think).
Were you happy initially, or did you have problems with it?
I liked it right away, the first thing I learned was The Grandfather from Peter and the Wolf. I had a pretty good instrument borrowed from my dad, a Puchner, and I got the reeds from my dad, talk about a silver platter.
What was the first recording of a bassoon that you played at home?
Rite of spring, I must have been 2 or 3.
Did you have any favorite bassoonists on recordings?
First and foremost, Maurice Allard especially his recording of the Jolivet Concerto. Gilbert Audin, Francaix Concerto, very refined and musical playing, lovely sound. I love John Millers sound, Klaus Tunneman also. I enjoy those amazing Bassoon Brothers quartet recordings too. There are so many great players out there it is hard to name all my favorites. I have been listening a bit to Luc Loubry (yes another french bassoon player), very musical and Stylish (as another bassoonist put it), playing, good stuff. Paul Hanson, (Jazz) his stuff is pretty cool, he does a lot of electronic stuff that is very interesting, his acoustic playing is quite good and he gets around on the instrument quite well. Check out Paul on you tube.
What was it like being a teenage bassoonist?
I didn’t practice, I attended Interlochen Arts Academy, I had no intention of following my brother as a serious bassoonist, he was already at interlochen for two years, the principal in the orchestra. People were always comparing us, did the rebel thing, dressed up as a ninja at night. I did some metal smithing, loved it, made some goblets. I think I was pretty good at it. Reality set in though, senior year, you think a bassoonist can lead a paupers life, Metal Smithing is an even more difficult field. When is the last time you bought a hand made metal goblet? I knuckled down my senior year, got a scholarship for Juilliard and have loved practicing ever since.
What was it like being a female bassoonist?
uh! I thought it would be fun for people to see this is on the question list.
What were some of your best bassoon moments as a teenage bassoonist?
Getting scholarships for Eastman and Juilliard.
What were some of your worst moments as a teenage bassoonist?
Not getting into Curtis, my wife MaryEllen beat me out. She had a really great teacher, I don’t know if you have heard of him, Mark Eubanks (sp?).
What solo pieces did you play starting out?
Telemann, Bordeau Premier Solo
What method books did you use?
Weissenbourne, Milde, Giampiere, the Piard books, Bitsch, Bozza, Allard, etc.
What were your solo competition pieces?
Jolivet Concerto, Tomasi Concerto, Vaubourgoin Concerto, Gotkowski Concert Variations, Francaix Concerto, Malcolm Arnold Fantasy, Perle Inventions, Jacob Partita, Tansman Sonata, Saint-Saens Sonata, Boutry Interferences, Bernaud Hallucinations, Roseman Fantasy, Tisne Chant de la Terre, etc, I subjected audiences to my versions of all of these. Our concert manager at Juilliard wanted to have other instruments on Wednesdays at One concerts than piano and violin, so I got to do a bunch of them besides the standard recitals. I still wonder how many people were looking through the program, wondering when a violinist or pianist was going to play. I am currently working on concertos by Rossini, Rivier and Dubois and rekindled my interest in the Bitsch Concertino, I hope I get a chance to do one of the above with my orchestra again.
Where did you study bassoon in college?
Who were your teachers?
Stephen Maxym great man, great teacher, he inspired me to work my butt off, loved him. Ron Phillips, I spent 2 summers at Blossom with him and learned a lot and he really helped me solidify my concept of vibrato, great player, great sound. Bernard Garfield at Temple, briefly, great teacher, I did not have the energy for school anymore though, I already had a Bm and a MM from Juilliard, but I got to move to Philly to be with my future wife. My dad Frank Wangler, I gave a masterclass with him here in Spain and I learned a lot too. I wish I had listened more when I was younger. Robert Barris at Interlochen, he had to deal with me in my rebel phase, but in the end gave me the tools to get into music school. My wife says I am really good at name dropping so I´ll spare you the master class list, but they all helped a lot too.
Did you expect to become a professional bassoonist upon college graduation?
I had no idea, I knew the reality of the field and that there where many more excellent players than jobs.
What happened to you in the years that followed graduation?
I got my MM in 1991 and moved to philly, freelanced, auditioned, got married. I worked as a playschool teacher, and loved it, turned out I was good with kids. We got a call in 1994 about 3 vacancies in an orchestra in Spain, MaryEllen and I got the top two, and now we are still here and have 4 kids.
What orchestras have you performed with?
Right now I am principal of The Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, in Spain. I also have played with the Oregon Symphony, Real Filharmonia de Galicia, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife , Harrisburg Symphony, Reading Symphony, Haddonfield and Bridgeton Symphonies too.
What festivals have you played with?
Tanglewood, National Repertory Orchestra, Schlesswig-Holstein (with Bernstein), Grand Teton Seminar, Blossom Festival, Sarasota and a lot of summers at Interlochen.
What is your worst nightmare as a bassoonist?
Showing up late to a concert, pretty typical.
What are your favorite solos?
The Shostakovich Symphonies, we have done a bunch of them, I like Prokofievs writing too. Nielsen Clarinette Concerto has some cool stuff in it.
What are the most important points to relate to a young player?
Practice, practice, practice. Don’t just put in the time, Mr. Maxym had two things he said that always stuck in my head. 1) “Every time you sit down to practice, you need to be a better player when you get up.” and 2) “Every moment you are not practicing, someone else is.” I found out later, breaks are important too, things can get better away from the instrument.
Is there anything else about the bassoon that needs to be mentioned?
Has the bassoon ever caused a problem with a personal relationship or your marriage?
Nah. I am more of a bassoon geek than my wife, but its how we met, we work together, we play together.
How did the bassoon change your life?
Gotta think more on this one. I have five bassoonists in my family.
Have you had therapy because of being a bassoonist, or performer?