jaakko luomaThis is the fifteenth 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 #15 is Jaakko Luoma, principal bassoonist of the Tapiola Sinfonietta, in the orchestra since 1993 when I was 20. I went abroad a couple of times, though, but I decided to come back.

Did you play an instrument before you started playing bassoon?

I played the piano for a couple of years before I took up the bassoon.

Who introduced you to music?

I think it must have been a music teacher at school, playing a recording of Vivaldi Four Seasons that impressed me quite a lot. I think that’s why my parents sent me to piano lessons. I also remember my cousin teaching me my first tune on the piano.

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

I started to play the bassoon at the age of eleven. I had taken private piano lessons before that, and when I applied to the local music school I naturally wanted to play the piano if I got accepted. One of the jury members in the audition, a flute player himself, thought that the bassoon might suit me well, and they advised me to add a second instrument choice in the application, because there are always too many pianists anyway. I had absolutely no idea about what the bassoon was, but I went for it. ( I later heard that a friend had been accepted to the piano class with the same amount of points that I got, but I still consider myself very lucky!)

Who was your first teacher?

Matti Tossavainen was my teacher for the first eight years. He was a fantastic teacher to me and I’m still extremely grateful to him.

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

I played both the piano and the bassoon for some years, but at around the age of 15 I realized that I want to become a professional bassoonist.

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

When I started, I had never heard the bassoon, but once I had started, I admired my teacher quite a lot.

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

I don’t have any favourites. Of course my own recording is the closest to how I personally feel about the piece at the moment, but calling it my “favourite” would feel very awkward indeed... However, when I was still a student, I saturated myself with bassoon recordings. I bought every single bassoon CD I could find, the good ones and the bad ones. Most of the timedon’t like the way Mozart’s music was played during the 20th century. Not all “historically informed” recordings are good either, of course, but there are many recordings of the Mozart bassoon concerto on historical instruments that I like: I used to listen to Marc Vallon and Danny Bond a lot, and at this very moment I’m listening to Sergio Azzolini’s recording with the Streicherakademie Bozen which is fantastic! And there are other great ones, like Jane Gower’s and Donna Agrell’s. On modern instruments, I still love Gilbert Audin’s recording (on French bassoon, or course), and there are also fantastic recordings by Dag Jensen, Matthias Rácz and some others.

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!)

I give up and ask my dear friend and colleague, Bridget!

Jaakko’s sound...
As solid as a mountain
as transparent
as a butterfly’s wings!

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?

It would be hard to say anything else than Saint-Saëns... On baroque bassoon I’d probably choose the Telemann F minor sonata.

Who taught you how to make reeds?

Practically most bassoonists I have ever met... But of course Matti gave me the first reed making lessons. The next big influence was Jens Lemke, solo bassoonist of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Also, the reed making sessions during many master classes have been essential to me. I’m always extremely interested in new ideas about reed making and I’m very eager to talk about reeds with colleagues. I love to experiment, but I never go to the extremes and usually hover back to my “own” reed type anyway. I’m just very interested in reeds and I enjoy making them. I think my own reed style is the result of all the ideas I have gathered over the years. I would say it is mostly a combination of Italian and German influences.

What reed shape do you use?

Currently I’m using Rieger 2 and enjoying it a lot, but I generally use a couple of shapes which are not very different from each other. Rieger 1A has probably been the most used over the years (a true love-hate relationship), but I also like Rieger 5 very much, and sometimes I use the Thunemann shape. I don’t see myself going any wider than Rieger 2, or as narrow as Rieger 1. So, I would say that I prefer Rieger 2 and 5 at the moment. For classical and baroque bassoon reeds I use Rieger 25.

What is your favourite reed-thread colour?

None, or several, perhaps black if I had to choose only one. I use different colours for different batches to know which is which.

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

I hardly ever listen to music while I make reeds, for some reason.

What is your greatest extravagance spent on making reeds?

Nothing big, but I tend to buy small, cheap things just to try if they are somehow useful in making reeds. I try to leave no stone unturned.

What is your favourite reed-making tool?

Probably a nice, sharp knife, or a good tip profiler.

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

One with not just “a good sound”, but with many good sounds, a flexible tone, a wide dynamic range, an immediate response.

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

Alexandre Silvério’s videos on YouTube as well as on his own website (bassoonlesson.com) are very interesting and helpful. Also the videos with Gustavo Núñez at the playwithapro.com are very good. The simple but effective reed finishing tips by Christian Davidsson are also very useful for anyone. And Elizabeth Ball Crawford and Eryn Oft have some very interesting material available about the reed making style of Giorgio Versiglia.

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

The star cult makes me sick. Worshipping famous conductors, soloists, composers or teachers is ridiculous. True respect is essential, of course, but blind admiration is meaningless, I think. So many times I have been disappointed by the performances of some of the most expensive musicians around, and so many times I have been deeply touched by someone who is not at all famous. Of course many musicians are famous for a reason, but I think it’s the music that counts, not the name or the paycheck.

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

If you make mistakes while practicing, it is the same as trying to learn to make those mistakes. My first teacher told me this, and I think it’s a nice way of simplifying the essence of practicing. If you repeat things well you get better. If you repeat things badly you get worse. Of course things are not that simple, but this is still worth keeping in mind.

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

I wouldn’t mind being a writer or a photographer, although I don’t know if I’d be any good...

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

The 1st bassoon part... Just kidding, I really can’t think of anything particularly hard. (I suppose, being my colleague you know much better which things are hard for me...) Bridget has never seen Jaakko having difficulty with anything : )

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

“Holy cow, what is that thing?” (It actually happened to another bassoonist once when he was bringing a contrabassoon on stage. A violinist, having worked in the orchestra for several decades, asked him if it was a serpent or what.)

What is your favourite orchestral excerpt?

I must say Shostakovich 9th.

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

There are far too many to name one, sorry! I like what I do...

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

I’m very grateful to countless bassoonists who have shared their experiences and opinions and exchanged ideas with me.

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

I practice Kashima-Shinryu, a traditional Japanese martial art that was established five centuries ago. I think there are something like 200-300 practitioners of this art in the whole world, even less than bassoon players!

Thanks Jaakko!

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