Arts at Noon to host Czech bassoonist

Grace Sterenberg

When most people think of a bassoon, the large woodwind instrument usually featured in orchestras or chamber music, they don’t think soloist. However, Czech bassoonist Vaclav Vonasek, currently visiting Grand Valley State University, has helped change that perception through his personal playing style.

Vonasek is a member of the well-known Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague and is also the founder of the Prague Bassoon Band, the wind trio Arundo and the Philharmonia Octet. He will perform today at the Arts at Noon series event held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Cook-Dewitt Center, as well as Saturday for the fifth-annual Double Reed Day.

Oboe professor Marlen Vavrikova helped to coordinate his visit after she met Vonasek at several music conferences while touring different countries. After watching a recital of GVSU faculty at a conference in England, Vonasek met with the performers and agreed to make a visit.

Though he has had the chance to tour the United States several times before, this is Vonasek’s first time playing in the Midwest.

“We’re very fortunate that Vonasek was able to free his schedule and will spend a week in Allendale to perform on campus and be our featured artist at this year’s events,” Vavrikova said. “He is an amazing artist and brings a lot to our community because of that.”

Vonasek did not hesitate to agree when asked to visit GVSU as he said he sees it as an opportunity to share his love of music with students and faculty.

“I was sure this would be a great experience for me,” he said. “But it will also be great for the students to get to here more of the European style music that I hope to share.”

GVSU’s own Perugino Quartet will play with Vonasek today and has been able to meet and rehearse with him twice this week.

“It was really easy to play with him,” said violinist Eric Tanner. “He’s very clear and easy to follow, and he gave us a lot of ideas about where to stretch the music and take more time.”

Vonasek said he looks forward to playing with the quartet as it is unlike most groups with which he usually plays.

“I don’t get this opportunity very often,” he said. “It’s much different than playing with a piano because a quartet is much more colorful, but it is also less physically demanding than playing with a full orchestra.”

Tanner said he is grateful to have the chance to play with such a distinguished musician and enjoys what Vonasek does with a bassoon to make it more of a soloist instrument.

“The thing I’m most looking forward to is just his incredible musicality and virtuosity,” he said. “When he plays this kind of music which features the bassoonist, he makes it sound like someone is singing that line. The notes are smooth and connected like a human voice, which is hard to do.”

Tanner said he hopes that people come to the event because of the opportunity to hear the bassoon in ways they may never have before.

“I think just getting to hear an instrument like this featured in such a wide variety of styles and genres of music will make it worth coming,” he said.

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