Dead Elvis

Next week, I’ll be per­form­ing Michael Daugh­er­ty’s Dead Elvis with the Sacra­men­to State Sym­phon­ic Wind Ensem­ble as part of the school’s annu­al Fes­ti­val of New Amer­i­can Music. Dead Elvis is scored for the same ensem­ble as Igor Stravinsky’s His­toire du Sol­dat — clar­inet, bas­soon, trum­pet, trom­bone, vio­lin, con­tra­bass, and per­cus­sion. But where­as the main char­ac­ter in Stravin­sky is a violin-playing sol­dier who sells his soul to the dev­il, Daugherty’s piece fea­tures a bassoon-playing Elvis who has made a sim­i­lar trade. The soloist in fact dress­es as Elvis while play­ing a mix­ture of vari­a­tions on the Dies irae (from the Lat­in Mass for the dead) and snip­pets of Elvis tunes.

I’ve got my cos­tume reserved, I’ve been study­ing the 1972 doc­u­men­tary Elvis on Tour, and I’ve got a reed on which I can double-tongue, blast out loud low B-flats, and scream on high Es. Now, just to per­fect my moves and get used to play­ing with sun­glass­es on…

The Concert:

Sac State Sym­phon­ic Wind Ensem­ble
Wednes­day, Novem­ber 9, 2011
8pm — Free Admis­sion!
Capis­tra­no Hall
Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, Sacra­men­to

Brahms 3

This past week, I joined the Stock­ton Sym­pho­ny for a con­cert that includ­ed Smetana’s The Moldau, He Zhan­hao & Chen Gang’s But­ter­fly Lovers Vio­lin Con­cer­to, and Brahms’s 3rd Sym­pho­ny. I had the plea­sure of play­ing with my friend Nico­lasa Kuster, who teach­es bas­soon at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Paci­fic, and one of her for­mer stu­dents, Annalea Mil­li­gan. Here’s a shot of our sec­tion after the con­cert (stolen from Prof. Kuster’s blog):

Brahms 3 bassoon section

Never Cry Wolf

I’m going to start things off here by repost­ing some bassoon-related con­tent from a pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion of my blog. First up: Nev­er Cry Wolf, which I first post­ed about in May 2009.

Nev­er Cry Wolf is a 1983 film adap­ta­tion of Far­ley Mowat’s 1963 book of the same name. The film fea­tures Charles Mar­t­in Smith as Tyler (a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of Mowat), a young biol­o­gist sent to study the impact of wolves on the cari­bou pop­u­la­tion in north­ern Canada. Tyler dis­cov­ers that the wolves sub­sist main­ly on small mam­mals, and that their rep­u­ta­tion as ruth­less killers of larg­er ani­mals is com­plete­ly unfound­ed.

A while ago some­one (I can’t remem­ber who now — tell me if it was you) sug­gest­ed that I watch Nev­er Cry Wolf because it promi­nent­ly fea­tures a bas­soon. This is an inser­tion of the film­mak­ers, though — there is no ref­er­ence to a bas­soon in Mowat’s book. In any case, the won­ders of Net­flix brought the movie to us, and we watched it a cou­ple of week­ends ago.

The gov­ern­ment agen­cy that funds Tyler’s expe­di­tion sends all sorts of unnec­es­sary equip­ment with him — pal­lets full of toi­let paper, crates of gov­ern­ment carbon-copy forms, etc. But Tyler him­self brings along a seem­ing­ly super­flu­ous item: his bas­soon. But, short­ly after he and his gear are dropped off by a bush pilot (Bri­an Den­nehy), he finds a use for it. Stand­ing alone in the mid­dle of a frozen lake at dusk, Tyler hears the howls of wolves. He grabs the clos­est weapon-like thing he can find with­out any seri­ous unpack­ing — the boot joint of his bas­soon — and hides under his upturned canoe:

Never Cry Wolf - boot joint as weapon
Tyler (and his bas­soon) escape unscathed, and he man­ages to set up camp and begin his obser­va­tions. He befriends two Inu­it men, Mike (Sam­son Jorah) and Ootek (Zachary Itti­mang­naq). They help him sur­vive the inhos­pitable cli­mate, and aid in his study of the wolves and cari­bou. A cou­ple of times in the movie, we see the three sit­ting out­side togeth­er in the evening, Tyler play­ing his bas­soon. He tries to mim­ic the howls and cries of dis­tant wolves:

Never Cry Wolf - playing for the wolves

At one point, Mike gives the bas­soon a try, too:

Never Cry Wolf - Mike tries the bassoon

I won’t say any­thing more about the plot, but the sound­track is worth men­tion­ing. As one might expect with so much on-screen time for Tyler’s bas­soon, there’s quite a bit of bas­soon in the movie’s music, as well. Rufus Olivier, cur­rent­ly the prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the San Fran­cis­co Opera, plays through­out.

Every bas­soon­ist should see this movie, and I’d prob­a­bly also rec­om­mend it even if it didn’t have any double-reed con­nec­tion. The film is beau­ti­ful­ly shot, and the arc­tic scenery is gor­geous. The plot is also quite com­pelling (although, I won­der how accu­rate the tagline “A True Sto­ry” is). So, add it to your Net­flix queue!

P.S. — Thanks to the won­ders of Wikipedia, I am also hap­py to report that Nev­er Cry Wolf “is also note­wor­thy for being the first Walt Dis­ney film to show naked adult but­tocks.”