Dark and friendly: Christopher Millard on why he loves bassoon

Christopher Millard © Fred Cattroll

Q & A with Christopher Millard, Principal Bassoon, NAC Orchestra

A Bassoon Concerto – since WHEN does a bassoon get up and solo as frontman to an entire orchestra and audience, please? 

Not often. We are usually content to sit amongst our more flamboyant woodwind colleagues, trying to help everyone sound well blended. The bassoon can be a great a facilitator; its warm sound has a way of bridging some of the disparate sonorities in the orchestra. It is dark and friendly, like the people that play it. When asked to stand out we enjoy the spotlight, but the solo role is not essential to our wellbeing.

Is the answer to the last question connected in any way to how you might answer “why do you love playing the bassoon?”

The great composers use the bassoon in different ways, but there is a commonality of purpose. From Beethoven through to Brahms the bassoon is used in the same way a great chef uses seasoning. We unify and round out.

And, since I’m a fan of David Letterman Top 10 Lists… here is my own list:

10 things I love about playing bassoon:

10. The solos in the Shostakovich Symphonies

 9. The deep, rich colour of varnished maple. 

 8. Meeting someone who knows what a bassoon is. 

 7. Playing Peter's Grandfather for a 4 year old. 

 6. The bassoon parts in Mozart's later piano concerti 

 5. Negotiating intonation with the clarinet section

 4. Playing in tune (in my dreams...)

 3. Soaking my reeds in really good gin (waiting for my retirement to try this...)

 2. Making eye contact with a great conductor

 1. Spending the last years of my career in the wonderful NAC Orchestra

Why did you pick the Bassoon? (It’s such an usual instrument…not what kids at school usually play…)

Path of least resistance, of course. The saxophone came easily and my jazz piano talent was only modest. The bassoon fit my hands and my personality. I love the subtlety of the instrument, its ability to sing and to dance.

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