At school in Hitchin I studied the bassoon with John Myatt – then a humble peripatetic woodwind teacher, now the (retired) founder and proprietor of one of the biggest and most celebrated instrument retailers in the UK, John Myatt Woodwind and Brass. I still see John occasionally: he’s in fine shape, and great company as always. (Myatt’s 2003-4 catalogue has some fascinating recollections of John’s 25 years in the business! Or go to http://www.myatt.co.uk/art_989.htm#20%20YEARS for his earlier thoughts on his 20th anniversary…)
Sad update: John died in May 2011. See http://jonathanburton.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/john-myatt-1931-2011
At Cambridge Tech., John reappeared as the in-house bassoon teacher; he sent me for more demanding lessons to Roger Birnstingl, who in a few short sessions gave me a fine grounding in the art of playing the bassoon. I have had no more lessons for over thirty years, but I still might…
I am proud to own a rare hand-made bassoon, by Jeremy Soulsby of Hereford. His instruments are greatly sought after, as he has only ever made about 80 of them and has recently retired (mine is No. 29). They are full of character, with a beautiful tone; but as each is made slightly differently, every one has its own idiosyncrasies. After several years of ownership, I am beginning to get the hang of the thing!
I am also the proud one-third-owner of a contrabassoon: twice the size, more than twice the weight, an octave lower, and an incredible beast. This machine is a Mönnig (East German, probably about 40 years old), going down to a low A (the bottom note of a piano): there’s nothing else like it…
I play in several amateur chamber groups:
¯ The Phoenix Wind Quintet
¯ another (unnamed) Wind Quintet in Blackheath
¯ a Wind Octet
¯ The St Cecilia Ensemble (wind quintet with piano – the amazing Charlotte Eskenazy, who is now well over 80)
I currently play with The London Phoenix Orchestra, conductor Levon Perikian. The great thing about the Phoenix Orchestra (no relation to the Phoenix Wind Quintet) is its rehearsal schedule: instead of the usual 7.30 to 10.30 bash, ending up cross-eyed and starving, we start at 6.35 every Monday on the dot and finish at 8.45 on the dot – plenty of time for the pub! Check out their website for forthcoming concerts and much additional information.
I have also played for the Bromley Symphony Orchestra under Adrian Brown, but they also rehearse on a Monday night so I can’t do both.
Because of my Opera House commitments, it’s difficult to do other orchestras on a regular basis, but I am fortunate to have been invited on occasion to play with some very high-powered amateur orchestras, including Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra, the Salomon Orchestra, and the orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group. For a very helpful list of amateur orchestras throughout the UK, take a look at www.amateurorchestras.org.uk .
PS — Andy Stowell has said some nice things about this site, so I shall return the compliment: please look at http://www.andrewstowell.com/ — a mine of fascinating bassoonery, especially on instrument maintenance (especially if you need to know how to ‘train your drips’…)
PPS — now I have ‘retired’ and moved down to Sussex-by-the-sea, things will undoubtedly change on the bassooning front. But I certainly haven’t given up!