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Playing the bassoon becomes passion and career decision for Lake Oswegan

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO -  Lake Oswego native Keith Buncke is a Fellow with the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer music academy for emerging professional musicians of exceptional ability. Who knew that success would sound like the bassoon?

Those who know Lake Oswego native Keith Buncke certainly might have guessed, as the bassoonist has demonstrated extraordinary talent playing the instrument for many years.

And for the second summer in a row, Buncke has been named a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced musical study.

Tanglewood provides a unique, in-depth musical experience for emerging professional musicians of exceptional ability. The program offers a demanding schedule of study and performance, seven days a week for eight weeks.

Fellows, whose tuition, room and board expenses are paid, are selected for study as instrumentalists, conductors, singers and composers. By being named a Fellow, Buncke is joining the ranks of such talents as Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Dawn Upshaw and Oliver Knussen.

Impressive credentials

The 19-year-old’s resume is impressive for a musician of any age. He performed Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in Sedona, Ariz., with the Verde Valley Sinfonietta this spring and in winter 2011 participated in the New York String Orchestra Seminar, performing in Carnegie Hall.

He has attended the festivals of Sarasota, Aspen and Boston University Tanglewood Institute, was a semifinalist in the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition in 2011 and was named a semifinalist as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2011. He studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

“I noticed that Keith from a young age had a great ear for music, so I encouraged him — made him — choose an instrument,” said Carol MacArthur, Buncke’s mother.

He started playing piano at age 6, but wasn’t enthralled with it and didn’t practice. He took up the cello when he was 9, but wasn’t particularly motivated to practice that instrument, either.

“I wasn’t into that, either,” he said. “Then one day I heard a recording of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 — that’s the only one with the bassoon in it. It’s not that prominent of a bassoon part, just a baseline but I heard the bassoon being played and was intrigued by its sound.”

He said the sounds of the oboe and horn also attracted his interest and he opened the World Book Encyclopedia to learn more about them.

“I looked at the pictures of people playing the instruments,” he said. “I narrowed it down to the oboe and bassoon. The person pictured playing the bassoon looked so much more relaxed and comfortable than the person playing the oboe that I told my mom I wanted to play the bassoon.”

The beginning

He started taking lessons the spring of fifth grade, continued with the school band in sixth grade and with the orchestra in seventh grade. He seemed inseparable from the instrument.

“Although many discouraged us in fifth grade from letting him start on the bassoon at that age, we found a wonderful teacher, Lyle Dockendorff, who sadly recently passed away, but was an inspirational teacher for many woodwind students in the Portland area over the years, who was encouraging from the start and it clicked immediately,” said MacArthur.

She looked for opportunities for Keith to grow and gain confidence in his musical abilities, such as participating in summer music programs, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metro Arts and the state music competitions.

“I think we realized he could become a professional musician around age 12 or 14,” she said. “It was clinched when he performed at the Metro Arts performance that Neil DePonte holds every year at the Schnitzer. That is when he told me he felt he believed he could become a performer.

“He was always the kid we had to tell to stop practicing late at night so we could all go to sleep. We never had to remind him to practice — he was always self-motivated, completely.”

Buncke spent several summers attending the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and then transferred for his last two years of high school to Interlochen Academy for the Arts, a program the family learned about from his bassoon teachers and mentors. He attended Lakeridge High School for his first two years.

Evan Kuhlmann, assistant principal bassoonist of the Oregon Symphony, was very encouraging from his own experiences there.

“IAA enabled Keith to really focus on his instrument, practice and become immersed in music to a degree that would have been difficult in a mainstream high school,” said MacArthur.

Buncke’s long-time bassoon instructor, Mark Eubanks, planted the seed that Buncke should attend the Curtis Institute of Music early on, several years before Buncke would need to audition. Curtis educates and trains exceptionally gifted young musicians for careers as performing artists. It provides full-tuition scholarships to all of its students, ensuring that admissions are based solely on artistic promise.

“He is thrilled to be at Curtis Institute of Music,” said MacArthur. “Since they only take zero or one bassoonists a year, we knew the competition would be tough, so he was very happy to be able to go to Curtis. It has met all his expectations!”

MacArthur said her son was also fortunate to have trained under several high-caliber bassoonists before attending Curtis, including Dockendorff, Eubanks, Eric Stomberg at IAA, as well as Daniel Matsukawa at Curtis.

And now, for the second summer in a row, Buncke is a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.

“It is quite intense. They schedule us off three days throughout the summer but they never overbook us,” Buncke said.

Tanglewood life

A typical day begins with breakfast by 8 a.m. after which he takes a bus to orchestra rehearsal, arriving in time to warm up before the two and a half hour session. He fits in a quick lunch before the afternoon session, which could include a master class or another rehearsal, and, of course, there are many concerts every week.

“Usually Wednesday through Sunday there are concerts every night and they are very good ... it’s pretty impossible to be bored,” he said.

Buncke was the principal bassoonist for the July 14th Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra performance of Pablo Sarasate’s Fantasy on Bizet’s “Carmen, Op. 25,” which will be broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances this week.

On Aug. 7, Buncke was principal bassoonist when Christoph von Dohnanyi conducted Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture” for the Tanglewood on Parade Concert. Throughout the season he will perform in a number of other concerts with the TMC Orchestra and in the Festival of Contemporary Music.

“The most rewarding experience I’ve had so far was playing ‘Petruska,’ which is a ballet by Igor Stravinsky. I got to play first (chair) on that, that was sort of the big piece on our third concert,” he said.

“After Tanglewood, Keith will be home for about two weeks and we will very much enjoy him being home,” said MacArthur. “He is usually away most of the summer at a music festival, so we cherish his time at home.”

Buncke has his career sights set on playing principal bassoon with one of the major orchestras in the U.S. For others intent on achieving a similar goal he offers these tips:

“Listen to as much music as you can. Familiarize yourself with a wide classical repertory,” he said. “Listen to all sorts of instrumentalists, not just your instrument. Be analytical and critical of all performances. Try to have a clear concept of what you want to sound like or what the piece should sound like, and of course, a daily practice routine of the fundamentals is key.”

You can watch Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Celebration, featuring James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, pianists Emanuel Ax and Peter Serkin, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops Orchestra on OPB at noon on Aug. 12.

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