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Enter the bassoon

November 12, 2010

Chamber Music Unbound concert features bassoon, flute

Anyone who grew up listening to Prokofiev’s tale, “Peter and the Wolf,” knows that the characters in the story are represented by musical instruments. The bassoon provides the deep, rich voice of the grandfather.

The bassoon is the featured instrument in Saturday night’s Chamber Music Unbound concert, titled “Fresh Air.”

Joining the Felici Trio for works by Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Francaix and Devienne are bassoonist Valentin Martchev and flutist Pamela Vliek Martchev. The San Diego-based couple opens the concert with “Impromptus” by Jean Francaix, whose compositions are marked by lightness and wit with the explicit goal of giving pleasure through music. Producing art music as well as music for the movies, Francaix was a versatile composer whose distinct musical language appeals to musicians and audiences alike.

Valentin Martchev and the Felici Trio’s pianist Steven Vanhauwaert join forces in the Sonata for Bassoon and Piano by Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), one of the most prolific and fluent composers of 19th century France, said he produced music “as an apple tree produces apples.” His style is often described as conservative because it places great emphasis on order, clarity and precision. Yet, as a pioneer of Romanticism in France, Saint-Saëns also inspired many of his junior countrymen and laid the foundations for the avant-garde developments that shaped Paris as a musical center well into the 20th century.

Saint-Saëns’ sonata offers the opportunity to experience the bassoon up close and personal, as a solo instrument.

Familiar to music lovers as a distinguished member of the symphony orchestra’s woodwind section, the unique colors and sound characteristics of the bassoon stand out even more distinctly in chamber music.

The instrument’s amazing range and expressive potential can be heard in the Quartet for Flute, Viola, Cello and Bassoon by the Classical composer Francois Devienne (1759-1803). A true master of the bassoon, Devienne pushed the envelope of instrument playing, integrating in his compositions an exploration of its virtuoso abilities with finely wrought melodies and graceful textures.

The humorous highlight of the program is Mozart’s rarely performed Quintet K617 for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Violin, Bassoon and Cello for which all five musicians join together. “I wish we had a glass harmonica at home,” Mozart wrote to his father, referring to the exotic instrument invented by the American statesman Benjamin Franklin, which enjoyed great popularity in Vienna during the second half of the 18th century, thanks to a number of glass harmonica virtuosos. “Well, Mozart never got one, and the Felici Trio doesn’t own one either, but thanks to the composer’s business-savvy wife, Constanze, who advised the publisher in this particular matter, we have a piano part, and are all set,” said Felici Trio cellist Brian Schuldt.

Bassoonist Valentin Martchev who was born in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, started playing the bassoon at age 10. He studied at the State Academy of Music in Sofia and later at Duquesne University, and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. In 2001 he joined the San Diego Symphony as principal bassoonist and his solo performance of John Williams’ bassoon concerto “…. made this bassoonist a star” (The SD Union Tribune). Having played as Guest Principal Bassoon with the LA Philharmonic, Valentin Martchev is on the faculty of San Diego State University.

Flutist Pamela Vliek Martchev is at home in a wide range of styles and can be heard on numerous movie soundtracks such as “Bedtime Stories” and “The Soloist.” Born in Merrick, N.Y., she studied at the Manhattan School of Music. She was a featured artist on WQXR’s Young Artist Showcase, and played at Carnegie Hall, United Nations, and the White House for President Clinton. Since moving to California in 2000, Ms. Martchev has played with the Riverside, Redlands, Pasadena and San Diego Symphonies, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She teaches flute at Riverside Community College and San Diego State University.

The Felici Trio is comprised of violinist Rebecca Hang, cellist Brian Schuldt and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert.

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