Not every 16-year-old aspires to play the bassoon, but Saxton Rose was not your typical teenager. The deep, rich baritone sound of the woodwind instrument captured Rose’s imagination and soon he was auditioning for local ensembles in his native Chicago.
Rose said his first audition is forever etched in his memory. “I was very, very nervous and played very poorly, but you have to walk before you can run,” he said. “Getting that under your belt — the more you audition, the more you play for people, the less nervous you are.” Having studied with Stefano Canuti at the Conservatorio Agostino Steffani in Castelfranco-Veneto, Italy and having played at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center alongside some of the titans of classical music such as Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Ben Hepner and the Emerson String Quartet, one would think nerves would no longer be an issue for Rose. But all musicians get nervous before auditions and performances no matter what level of greatness they attain, Rose said. Despite his stellar musical credentials, Saxon had to audition for the Winston-Salem Symphony last fall to earn the chair of principal bassoonist.
“I credit [symphony] director [Robert] Moody for holding those auditions,” Rose said. “It makes for an atmosphere of fairness. They’re not just handing out jobs to people. Everyone has to earn their jobs.” Rose, who is also the artist/professor of bassoon and chamber music at the UNC School of the Arts, said his and his wife, Elizabeth’s journey to Winston-Salem has been filled with good fortune. Rose came to the City of the Arts from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he performed as principal bassoonist in the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.
“There’s great support for the arts down there,” Rose said. “In the symphony, we would play some arrangements of salsa and meringue, but there’s nothing like seeing a salsa band playing at a local club. It’s really fantastic music.”
Rose said many of the composers that collaborated with the Puerto Rico Symphony incorporated indigenous music into classical pieces and he seized the opportunity to work with Latin American composers to write pieces specifically for bassoon and bongo.
“To take an instrument like the bongo and mix it with the bassoon is a really cool experience,” Rose said. “That’s something I really concentrated on — building up the repertoire of the bassoon.”
Rose’s passion for the bassoon is illustrated by the way he reaches out to composers to write unique pieces for the bassoon.
“It’s a really rewarding process to bring a new piece into the world, try to interpret a piece that’s never been played before,” Rose said. “It’s the best part of what I do because the bassoon is repertoire challenged compared to violin and piano.”
Rose acknowledged that the bassoon and the people who play the instrument are often misunderstood, but he takes pleasure in dispelling the stereotype of a classical musician.
“Sometimes [the bassoon] is called the clown of the orchestra because of these low sounds it plays, but it also plays high melodic lines,” he said. “A lot of bassoonists embrace the stereotype of being a nerd. People might think we’re stuck up and we just like classical music, but in my case, I listen to more pop and rock than classical music.”
Entering his second season with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Rose continues to count his blessings. He and Elizabeth, an opera singer, have two children, Joakim, 2, and Josephine, 5 months.
“It’s good to have a musician as a wife,” Rose said. “It’s great to talk about music — the fact she can appreciate these pieces. It would be difficult if your spouse didn’t understand what’s magical about classical music.”
And despite the tough economic times, last season proved a success for the Winston-Salem Symphony. “We had really good turnout throughout the year,” Rose said. “What Bob Moody is doing and how the symphony is marketing itself is exactly what a symphony in this size community should do. I’m very happy.”
The 2009 season of the Winston-Salem Symphony kicks with an Opening Night event Sept. 12 at the Stevens Center featuring the work of Theofanidis, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
Saxton Rose (center), principal bassoonist for the Winston-Salem Symphony, has played alongside legendary artists like Yo-Yo Ma and Placido Domingo.