ottovirtanenThis is the ninth interview in our series Weaving the Web of Finnish Orchestral Bassoonists. The series introduces some of the orchestral bassoonists from all over Finland. Each guest will get the same set of questions. Guest #9 is Otto Virtanen  solo bassoonist, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2004.

Did you play an instrument before you started playing bassoon?

I played piano from the age of 6 and clarinet as a side instrument from the age of 11, if I remember right.

Who introduced you to music?

I think nobody did it on purpose, but my grandmother had a piano and we spent often times at her in Turku and I had free access to that fascinating Ibach with candleholders and beautiful decorations. At some point my parents noticed that I had started to find some recognizable melodies. Soon the piano arrived in our house and I was asked if I’d like to get some lessons.

When did you start to play the bassoon, and where did you get the idea from?

The idea of bassoon just came out of nowhere to my mind when I was 10 or 11. My excellent piano teacher Vesa-Matti Tastula thought that I’m too small to start with bassoon so he recommended me to take clarinet to prepare myself for wind playing. Then, at the age of 15, I got the ’permission’ to give it a go. It felt immediately it was a nice choice.

Who was your first teacher?

Stig Forsman, the co-principal bassoon of Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra. The year was 1985.

When did you start to think about becoming a professional bassoonist?

I don’t remember exactly, but we discussed the idea with Stig and my parents in our home before I made the final decision. We were not sure if it would be possible to have such a profession. I could not have imagined something more interesting, so actually it was my only choice at that time. My high school advisor then once asked a clever question: ”Otto, do you want to play, or do you want money?” I thought half a second until the answer was clear.

When you started to play, who was your favourite bassoonist?

I admired all the bassoonists of Tampere orchestra: Mauri Reinikainen, Stig Forsman and Kauko Tanskanen, because they played in the concerts I forced my parents to take me to every Friday. But then I met Jaakko Luoma and Tuukka Vihtkari at Lohja Music Camp where the legendary Matti Tossavainen was teaching. They were much more aware of international influences, and Tuukka had a Vivaldi Recording of Klaus Thunemann. To hear that kind of virtuosity gave me huge kick.

What is currently your favourite recording of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto?

I have not heard all the newest ones and of course there are many excellent ones. But I’ll still choose Eberhard Marschall’s live recording with Bavarian RSO and Sir Colin Davis from 90’s due to the spontaneous feeling and sensitive atmosphere. Also the sound is great! You can here conductor enjoying and singing along...

If someone had to describe your sound in one or two words, what would they be? (you can cheat and ask someone for help with this one!)

With the help of the most polite colleagues: ”rich and full”.

If you were limited to only one piece to play for the rest of your life, (solo piece for bassoon, or bassoon and piano) what would you choose?

You torturer! Only one piece for the rest of a life? It would be wise to choose the longest possible piece with as many notes as possible. But let’s say Brahms f-minor Sonata. Is this cheating?

Who taught you how to make reeds?

Many have tried but no one succeeded. I think some strong impressions that still go along are from Jens-Christoph Lemke and Dag Jensen.

What reed shape do you use?

I have a Rieger 3 modified from a tip similar to Jens’ shaper from 90’s.

What is your favourite reed-thread colour?

Red that matches the mahogany red of my bassoon.

What do you listen to (if anything) while you are making reeds?

It varies, but if I would need to really concentrate on reed quality, I’d listen to nothing. Good music or some good speech programs (if there would be any...).

What is your greatest extravagance spent on making reeds?

Now when you ask I notice I haven’t really bought as many things as I probably should have...

What is your favourite reed-making tool?

Probably it is the Vandoren Reed Stick that clarinet players use. Very nice and precise.

If you had to describe the world’s best bassoon reed, what would it be like?

It would have the possibilities for a very large dynamics, steady intonation, easy to vary the articulation with and full, round, warm and very well focused sound. And of course very easy to play with! And it would never change according the humidity in the space. At the same time it would not have any artificial or synthetic substances.......

If you have ever used a website or YouTube channel to help you learn about reeds, would you like to share it with us?

Sorry, I’ve all too long ago dropped out of the medias of the modern era.

If you could change anything about the world of classical music, what would it be?

I would like to see more financial support for symphony orchestras from society in general, all over the world, and especially in the smaller cities so that everyone could focus on the main thing: art!

What is the best advice you have gotten, and where from?

Maurice Bourgue told about the importance of accepting the fact that I’m going to die. This was a part of a long, philosophical discussion among the students of CNSMDP and Evian Festival with him on the matter of keeping the nerves in some kind of control on stage under pressure.... I still remember his examples and good will for helping the students.

If you weren’t playing bassoon, what do you think you might be doing instead?

For living? No idea. But otherwise I might like to compose a bit more than I’m able to.

What is the hardest part of your job in the orchestra?

At this age the physical demands tend to become the hardest part.

Can you describe something an orchestra colleague should never say to a bassoonist?

’Why do you bother? It is such a comical instrument anyway.’

What is your favourite orchestral excerpt?

There are so many nice ones, but let’s choose Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso today.

What is your favourite memory from a concert that you played in?

We played Mahler 3rd in Stockholm, perhaps over 10 years ago, with Sakari Oramo. Teppo Alestalo performed an outstanding trombone solo and I had hard time trying to stop crying before the next bassoon passage. He got somewhere very deep there.

What is the nicest thing another bassoonist has ever done for you?

It wouldn’t be fair to name a single event, but my teacher and colleague Jussi Särkkä has supported me significantly in many different demanding situations. I have also been very lucky to play, study and live together with my VITAL BASSOON friends Jaakko and Tuukka. And all the bassoonists who play in Finnish orchestras have been very collegial and encouraging and fun to work with! Cheers!!!

Every bassoonist seems to have a passionate hobby, what is yours?

A passionate hobby or a hobby of passion: it is the Game of Golf. There was a fantastic statement in the Rules of Golf that we can modify either for life or for an orchestral musician’s code of profession, like this: ”Play the notes as they are written, play the music as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair.”

Thanks Otto!

kartta 9