Meet Izabela Musial, Bassoonist and winner of the RPS Allianz Prize 2018

25 Jan 2019

What makes the bassoon a special instrument? How can we increase awareness of it among younger musicians and the wider public? Izabela Musial, winner of the inaugural RPS Allianz Prize and one of our newest young artists, answers these questions and more in this interview. Read on to learn about her personal story with the bassoon, and what she hopes to achieve as our advocate for the instrument.

  • What do you love about the bassoon?

I love its beautiful sound! It is amazing to have so many colours, and as a bassoonist I get to use them in different ways: starting with solos, to being at the base of a woodwind section, to filling the whole orchestra with a rich and full sound.

  • When you did you know this was the right instrument for you?

Pretty soon after I started to learn it, at the age of 12. My dream instrument was the flute so the change was a bit sad at first, but very soon after I fell in love with the bassoon and I’m glad that’s the instrument I use to make music!

  • Once you decided you wanted to be a professional bassoon player, what steps did you take?

I started to have lessons with teachers and professors from the Conservatories in Poland, including summer courses and masterclasses. Also, I started to practise more and set myself goals I could work towards.

  • What has life been like since leaving college? Tell us about your lifestyle and what you have done to keep progressing musically.

I believe that life will take care of itself, so all I can do is to keep working! I still get lessons from bassoonists in London and I take part in masterclasses, I go to concerts and listen to the music at home, and of course – I keep up my daily practice routine.

Since graduating from the RCM, I have had two trials in UK and completed a Southbank Sinfonia fellowship. I’ve done some extra work with orchestras here and there. Each project is such a massive motivation kick that makes me want it more!

  • What is the most useful advice you’ve ever been given as a musician which you recommend other musicians should follow too?

It was given by my professor Andrea de Flammineis, principal bassoonist of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House: "Think positive and pursue better and better music-making. Music wins."

  • Is there a bassoonist or artist you’re currently listening to at the moment? If so, why do they inspire you, and what do you love about their playing?

At the moment I listen to violinist Janine Jansen. I think she’s just incredible, and I love how she gets lost in music when she plays – in a positive way of course. As a bassoonist, I can actually learn a lot from string players, and in addition to her amazing playing I like the way she talks about herself and making music.

The other artist I like to listen to often is Sergio Azzolini, an Italian bassoonist. When he plays, I feel like the time stops. Apart from having a technique with no boundaries, his sound is so sweet, warm and unique; on top of that, when he performs he is so into the music that he completely forgets about the whole world and lets the music run through. He’s a big inspiration, and meeting him many years ago back in Poland is still one of my favourite bassoonist memories.

  • Tell us about your bassoon. What kind is it? Where did you get it? Any notable stories about your adventures together so far?

I got the instrument that I’m playing on now three years ago from my friend who is a principal bassoonist in Opera House in Poznań, Poland. It's a second-hand Renard model 240, and I think this particular instrument has a beautiful tone. At the moment, I’m saving money for a better instrument, but with this bassoon I graduated RCM, got my trials and extra work, so I cannot complain! The better the instrument I have, the more it will help me to play the way I would like to, but I believe that all music-making starts in my head, so I work and practice every day to improve my skills.

While we were on tour with Southbank Sinfonia last summer in Italy, I had a very strange incident. The bell and joint got stuck together due to very high humidity, as the corks expanded! I was very stressed and had no idea what to do. After a whole day fretting on a coach journey across Italy from Ischia to Anghiari, a friend from the orchestra Googled my problem and he found the solution. He fixed it in 10 seconds, and since then I’ve helped three other people solve the same issue!

  • Tell us about one or two pieces of bassoon repertoire you think everyone should track down online and listen to:

It’s very hard to choose just one, but one of my favourite pieces is Sonata written by Camille Saint-Saens for bassoon and piano. You can listen to the interpretation by Bram van Sambeek here.

  • Why do you think people don’t necessarily listen to, or have the same interest in, the bassoon as they do other instruments like the violin and piano? How might we change that?

I think it’s because bassoon is not a very popular instrument. Even among musicians it is not considered an instrument that you could play a solo recital on! There are lots of ways to change that: organising more concerts, festivals, and educating the youngest generation about all the instruments. Most children think of the bassoon as a Grandpa from The Peter and the Wolf, isn’t it brilliant? People don’t often realise they know the sound of a bassoon. It’s a very good instrument to use in all sorts of movies, especially cartoons!

  • This year, as the first recipient of the RPS Allianz Instrumentalist Prize, you’ll be working with us to champion the bassoon, making a case for its unique qualities and why more people should play it. What sort of things will this involve?

I’ll do my best to write interesting blogs about myself and the projects that I’m involved in. I’ll make couple of videos to introduce the bassoon to other people and encourage young players to choose it, and I’ll show some insights into the life of a bassoonist!


Stay tuned for more updates from Izabela throughout the year, and follow her footsteps on Twitter and Instagram. The RPS Allianz Prize is generously sponsored by Allianz Musical Insurance. To find out more about the Prize, click the link below:

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Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director, Barbican Centre: The Royal Philharmonic Society has been a revolutionary force for good in my musical life.

DID YOU KNOW?

Richard Wagner was musical director of the 1855 Philharmonic Society Season and conducted all eight concerts.