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Michael Gordon '82 MM Goes for Broke with 'Rushes' for Bassoon Septet

By Brad Balliett

Why is it that so many composers are reticent to write for the bassoon? The misconception that it is clumsy, slow, liable to play out of tune? The temperamental reeds? The fact that Schoenberg omitted it from Pierrot?

Whatever the case, bassoonists everywhere can thank their lucky stars for Dana Jessen, an enterprising bassoonist who took matters into her own hands, beginning a bassoon-crowd-sourced commissioning project for major works for bassoon ensemble. The first commission went to Bang On A Can co-founder Michael Gordon, and the result, Rushes, defies expectations.

Composing a 50-minute bassoon septet is a daunting task, but Mr. Gordon is up to the challenge. He defines the piece as a "continuous listening experience," and it really wouldn't make sense any other way. Taking the first twenty minutes to introduce his listeners to the bassoon with a long descent from the highest register to the lowest, Mr. Gordon uses a grid of thousands of rapid-fire repeated notes to establish a unique sound world. He wisely stretches the note-values as he reaches the lowest, gurgling notes of the bassoon - this is a fiendishly difficult technique.