After 2011’s successful performance at Reading’s Hexagon by over 50 double-reed students of the Berkshire music centres (all part of Berkshire Maestros), what next? Answer: a bassoon orchestra, of around two dozen young bassoonists drawn from ensembles all over Berkshire.
In the spring of 2012, Maestros’ head of woodwind, Cath Millar, brought this group together to rehearse with the aim of playing in the local heat of the Music For Youth festival. The bassoonists ranged from 12 year olds who’d been playing for just a few years, up to 17 year olds with 9 years’ experience. Gathering pupils from five different and widely-spread music centres is of course a logistical challenge in itself; rehearsing together enough to perform at the heat just made it bigger! While credit must go to the staff who organised, the parents who taxied their children to rehearsals and the heat also deserve appreciation.
With over 20 bassoons and a couple of contrabassoons, the newly-formed orchestra performed at the local Music For Youth heat in March, playing arrangements of Highland Cathedral and Fucik’s March of the Gladiators to an impressed audience at Reading’s Minster church.
Their performance won them a place at the main Birmingham national festival at the beginning of July, one of a number of bands from Berkshire Maestros to be invited.
Three Monday evenings of rehearsals in June saw the orchestra refining their interpretation of the March of the Gladiators, and working on a new arrangement of the Queen ‘classic’, Bohemian Rhapsody. The latter in particular featured everything from solo bassoons (and contra), through solo quartet, up to the remarkable sound of the full orchestra in 6 to 8 parts.
Newly uniformed in their ‘Keep Calm and Play Bassoon’ t-shirts, the orchestra faced tough competition in the national festival, including from Maestros’ own very polished saxophone ensemble. The bassoons emerged triumphant with a win in the Ensemble category: Berkshire’s Birmingham bassoon bonanza!
Howarth of London has been active in supporting Berkshire Maestros Double Reed activities, led by the head of Woodwind Catherine Millar, since 2012. The development of so many good young players of ‘endangered instruments’ is testament to the best mix of good teaching, good instruments, especially those for young beginners, and a supportive environment for the players to flourish in.