Behind the Curtain

William Buchman, bassoon

Soloist portrait

Q: Do you have a pre-concert ritual?

A: No, although it’s rare for me to perform as a soloist. Most important is simply to make sure my reed is working the way I want.

Q: What is something about you that might surprise others?

A: I don’t really listen to music on my own. I tend to prefer news and talk radio, and if I do listen to music, I turn on the radio instead of an iPod.

Q: Do you ever get nervous performing in front of an audience?

A: It’s not generally the audience that I’m thinking about while I perform, it’s the other musicians on stage with me. I’m really listening to them and playing so that they have something to listen to.

Q: Do you speak any other languages? Which ones?

A: I spent a year in Germany after college and achieved fluency in German by the time I left. I kept some of that skill in shape when the Chicago Symphony used to travel to German-speaking countries on a regular basis, but we’ve been doing less of that in recent years. I volunteered to give master classes in Essen, Germany, last January, and though I thought I could manage without a translator, I ended using about half German and half English. By the second class I could already tell it was getting easier.

I also dabble in other languages, especially those in the countries I travel to. I’ve spent time with French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, and even Japanese and Chinese. I have yet to get any good at them, I just enjoy the study.

Q: What is the most challenging piece of music you’ve performed? Why?

A: Surprisingly, the Schubert symphonies we’ve been traversing with Riccardo Muti have proven remarkably challenging. The notes themselves are not that difficult to play, but in such straightforward and comparatively simple music there’s nowhere to hide, so you have to have impeccable control over your sound to achieve the right atmosphere and blend.

Q: What goes with you on every trip?

A: Um…, a toothbrush?

Q: What is your favorite deadly sin?

A: I can be something of a glutton. I subscribe to several food magazines and enjoy reading recipes even more than actually preparing them.

Q: What are your thoughts about/insights into your upcoming performance of Vivaldi’s “La Notte” Concerto with Music of the Baroque?

A: Vivaldi wrote an astonishing number of concertos for bassoon at a time when the instrument was quite primitive in comparison with the instrument I’ll be playing on. I spent some time practicing on a baroque bassoon to get some perspective on the sound Vivaldi might have had in his ear. My control over that instrument is as yet insufficient to allow me to express the musical ideas I have, but I’d like to get to a level someday that I’m satisfied with. There are now performers on baroque-era instruments who display astonishing finesse and expression and who inspire me to keep working.

This concerto is unusual in that it carries an explicit program, depicting nighttime, phantoms, slumber and finally the arrival of the dawn. There’s perhaps less technical brilliance on display but great opportunity to show lots of character.

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