When Adam Simonsen (creator of www.playwithapro.com) told me that he was going to be filming Azzolini talking about Vivaldi I was more than excited. For me Sergio Azzolini’s Vivaldi recordings both on the modern bassoon and baroque bassoon have taken this music to a whole new level. It was no longer about “wow, what a lovely bassoon sound and great technique” (and there are many fine players with great recordings of Vivaldi).It became “wow this is some of the most amazingly exciting music I have heard!”. The freedom and crazy Italian expressiveness is infectious. So a chance to see him in action is something I have been waiting for since Adam told me this in 2011.
I have only spoken to a few people who have studied with Azzolini and so the chance to see him teaching for myself was a long time coming. Yesterday the masterclass went live on Play with a Pro and I didn’t drop a heart beat downloading this. I had intended to do lots of other things before the end of the day and I thought I would put the video on and make some reeds. Instead I was transfixed for over an hour and a half and didn’t move from my chair. His care, love of the music, insistence, knowledge and musicality is something I just have not seen to this degree in the world of bassoon playing that I have encoutered . As his style is so unique I was interested to see if there would be some Azzolini clones coming off the line.
The masterclass is not about this at ALL. He takes all the players in the room and works on the string parts of the concerto with them playing the bass line, viola, violin 1 and violin 2 parts before even getting to the solo part. There are musical gems in this part of the masterclass before a note of the solo part has been mentioned. And some blowing and reed advice comes up only as a consequence of the music making and not as an end in itself which is refreshing for someone like me who makes dozens of reeds for others each month and can end up fiddling and not practising or music making if I am not careful. And when one of the pupils has a reed that isn’t up to it Sergio just gives him his own reed and continues playing on the pupil’s reed (still sounding amazing!).
Some of the subjects covered are: Tempi - choosing the right one and why; length of notes, especially in basso continuo and why; when to breathe and phrasing of the music in relation to harmony and function of the notes; having a reed that will enable pianissimo attack without great effort but that has enough “wood” on the back to support the sound; tuning of notes in relation to the chord and the difference between A sharp and Bb and why; colour in sound and discussion of vibrato and rubato; fingerings for very high notes for tuning (a nice flatter top C sharp for a start!); spending the time on the music so that a performance can emerge that is truly expressive. And more!
By the end of the masterclass I was inspired to play for an hour and see if I could get anywhere the flexibility and intensity of this playing. Mmmm. Work to be done. But a real pleasure to watch! A truly generous hearted individual who cares intensely for the music and to inspire others. I am grateful to Adam Simonsen for creating such a well produced presentation and to Sergio for being a stellar individual!