Izabela Musial: The Bassoonists' Lab
23 Oct 2019
Each year, bassoonists from around the world travel to Poland's Pracownia Fagocisty to perform and learn from leading teachers. Izabela Musial, our bassoon advocate and winner of the 2018 RPS Allianz Instrumentalist Prize took part in the 2019 course. She shares with the RPS her favourite memories, and the pearls of wisdom she collected from the experience.
As many of you might know, I come from Poland and completed my BMus and MMus studies there. Before moving to London I lived in Poznań for two years – a beautiful city and the fifth largest in Poland. It is always a pleasure to be there, and Pracownia Fagocisty gave me a very good excuse to go back.
But what it is ‘Pracownia Fagocisty’? One can translate this to English as ‘Bassoonist’s Lab’. It’s a 5-day course where young bassoon enthusiasts gather together to focus on bassoon playing – the most important part being the masterclasses we take with world renowned bassoonists. I met professors and very talented young musicians from all over Europe. I learned new things about myself as a person and performer. If you asked me what the highlight of Pracownia was that would be very hard to answer, for I loved every single thing about it.
There were 26 participants in total who attended classes each day. The main focus of the course was on orchestral auditions and how to prepare for them. We had the chance to play mock auditions and receive feedback from the panel. A big part of being a bassoonist is reed-making and on the course we worked with three different reed makers to improve our skills: Jan Wiśniowski (Częstochowa Philharmonic), Marek Jędrzejczak (Poznań Philharmonic) and Vladimir Kacar (Vienna Reeds). Nicolas Mueller came all the way from Hamburg where he runs a shop called Tutti Fagotti, so we tried lots of different instruments, crooks and could purchase bassoon accessories and music.
After our lessons, there was a concert, a lecture, or even both. I had a lesson with Roger Birstingl, one of the UK's leading bassoonists. It was a truly inspirational moment for me. He’s been playing bassoon for 70 years now and has sat as Principal Bassoon for the LPO, RPO, LSO, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra among others. He’s a very active player and also President of British Double Reed Society. He has an enormous knowledge on music and is a very kind, friendly and warm person. Meeting him was such an honour.
I was kindly invited to take part in the opening concert with the Pracownia Fagocisty Ensemble which performed arrangements by Kristian Oma Ronnes of classical music pieces. After our recital, we were joined by other bassoonists including young players from Poznań and other cities. We had lots of fun and I hope that it inspired the youngest members of our orchestra to keep playing the bassoon. Click here to watch our performance of the 1st movement from Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor.
The other two recitals were given by Audun Halvorsen, who left the audience mesmerised, and Michael Rabinowitz who played with young jazz musicians from Poznan - and let me tell you: Michael’s knowledge and improvisation skills are just fantastic. It was very refreshing to hear an instrument that I know so well played in a completely different way.
It was a pleasure to hear lectures on the bassoon too. Ole Kristian Dahl presented his way of approaching bassoon practice. Using his own book of exercises, he took us through the technical aspects of the instrument and showed us how he teaches his students.
Kristian Oma Ronnes gave a lecture about crossing the barriers of our instrument by developing notes outside our range. He presented his beautiful bassoon which has extra keys and is one of the very few in the world fabricated that way. Kristian also talked about his other passion, which is restoring bassoon concertos, spending time in libraries to find undiscovered pieces. I found this very interesting as it just shows there’s still so much music to discover, that the bassoon has never really been an 'endangered' instrument – as being an inspiration for composers – and really it's up to my generation to pass our knowledge and love for the bassoon to younger players.
There was plenty time to socialise on the course. It was so nice to meet new people and reunite with those I knew from before. We went out together for dinner every night where we could get to know each other and relax after a hard day's work. Courses like Pracownia tell us that there are no barriers when it comes to music. It really doesn’t matter where we come from or where we study; we all share the same passion for playing the instrument and music we love.
I would like to thank Agata and Arek Adamczyk, who organised Pracownia Fagocisty. They put so much hard work into organising it at every level – inviting musicians, advertising, fundraising, taking photos, and most importantly supporting every single person who took part. I hope I am able to come back next year!
As the Society's bassoon advocate, Iza Musial has made two films about the bassoon aimed at encouraging young bassoonists to practise and prepare for their ABRSM Grade 1 and 5 exams.
Photos in this article (c) Agata Adamczyk