Great Talent Shown with Humour
by Neville Bowman
Special to Okanagan Newspaper Group -- In all areas of life, there are people drawn to the greater challenges. Those who want to beat that highest mountain, reach the pinnacle of a career, make a choice well beyond that which is necessary to fit into the general ranks. The world of music is no different, some opting to train well past the level of merely skilled to the point of exceptional (we had young Andrew Chen taking on Liszt for example) and / or selecting an instrument that few dare to master. An instrument such as the bassoon.
The four women who comprise The Breaking Winds (Brittany Harrington-Smith, Nellie Sommer, Kara LaMoure and Lauren Yu Ziemba) not only chose to take on the bassoon, but to form a quartet that often does its best to pull the 17th century instrument right up the present, complete with the apparent prerequisite sense of humour.
I have to mention the humour because, right from the very name of the group and the opening number, they came out playful and energetic, including inflatable hands at the top of the instrument to "high-five" each other. However, such humour only really works when there is sufficient skill to balance it out.
Thankfully, all of these players possess musicality and dexterity (and air!) in ample supply to manoeuvre what is arguably one of the most difficult orchestral instruments to play, period. (Take that, sax players).
Full disclosure, I love the sound of a bassoon. Nothing else sounds like it, and when four of them create perfect harmonies (such as on a stunning rendition of Danny Boy), it really does lift the instrument out of its oft supporting role to show off the gorgeous melodic range. It's equally at home producing percussive elements, as showcased throughout the evening in pieces such as the William Tell Overture and Ravel's Bolero. The Bolero in particular was cleverly created by breaking down the bassoons into constituent parts and adding in some other sound sources, eventually "rebuilding" the bassoons to produce the full tone. It was quite effective. I should also mention that almost all of the pieces performed were arranged by members of the group themselves, an impressive and rare feat.
I did find that the more traditional pieces were more successful when performed by the quartet. The instrument, to my ears, feels more at home with those melodic ideas, the nature of its sound having a depth and age to it that when applied to more modern pop songs, feels out of place. (An exception to this would be the arrangement of Somebody To Love which worked very well, but then again, Mr. Mercury was no ordinary writer).
As well, the apparent limited dynamic range of the horns in such a large theatre meant that the sound got kind of "compressed", leaving us with mostly one volume level throughout the evening. I'm sure that's merely a technical issue, as the bassoon in the hands of players this good is capable of a beautiful expressive range.
To take such a challenging and misunderstood horn and present it in such an effective and unique manner is no easy job! Presented by the Kelowna Community Concert Association at the Kelowna Community Theatre, the Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet gave us a fun and diverse show, with a relaxed humour that belied the remarkable skill displayed throughout the evening.
As the season winds down, keep an eye out for next season’s performances! Once again, it looks like an amazing lineup of acts from many differing realms of performance. Until next time.
Neville Bowman is a local musician and actor