by Carey Rutherford & Paul Verhaegh

We sit down with Jonathan Gresl, the bassoonist of the Perfect Cadence Wind Quintet. His Fox Renard 222 looks impressive at their recent performance.

“It is not even the most expensive bassoon you can get,” explains Jonathan. “This one is extremely cheap, between 6 and 7 grand – that is in US dollars, by the way. You can spend up to 25 or even $35,000.00 on a bassoon,” he says.

We don’t even want to know if that is in US or Canadian currency……

5 wind musicians performing in semicircle viewed from the side

The Quintet even looks like they’re having a conversation: perhaps about perfect cadence? Photo by Theresa Johnston.

Jonathan does more than just playing in the Perfect Cadence Wind Quintet. He is also the bassoon instructor at the University of Lethbridge, principal bassoon of the Symphony of the Kootenays and Rocky Mountain Symphony, and he performs occasionally for the Calgary Philharmonic (CPO) and Red Deer Symphony (RSO) orchestras.

The instrument may look like a tube, but most of the air leaves the instrument actually via the holes. That’s where he puts his fingers. Playing the lowest notes means closing almost all of the holes. Then the air comes out at the top, or at ‘the bell” as it is properly called.

How do your different activities compare, MUSICAlive! asks.

“When playing for an orchestra, like the CPO, others decide for you what to play”, Johnathon says. “Playing with the quintet is more personal. Then we are one hundred percent in charge of what we play. There is the old saying that ‘chamber music is conversation among friends.'”

Music for winds: isn’t that mainly for symphony orchestras?

“There are composers who wrote pieces for wind quintets: stringed instruments were perfected long before wind instruments. We are talking about the days of Mozart. Wooden wind wasn’t a big thing then. That is why you won’t hear wind instruments in older music, like Bach’s music.

“Mozart did write a quintet for piano and winds: he seems to be the first person to come up with that combination. Beethoven, who admired Mozart, wrote a piece for the same combination. We are going to play that during our next performance in January.

2 men conversing standing below stained glass window.

Our actual interview had much better coffee, but the Cathedral is undeniably more photogenic. Photo by Theresa Johnston.

“There are composers who wrote pieces for wind quintets, like Anton Reicha, who wrote more than 20 works for the wind quintet. And Giuseppe Cambini who wrote 3 quintets for winds works.

“This is sort of the beginning: These are the first quintets that we know of in the classical era. During the romantic era the (musical foundations) are strings, so don’t spend time looking for quintets written by Brahms or Tchaikovsky.

“In the modern era we have Stravinsky. In the 1910’s and the 1920’s he moved away from strings to wind instruments: think of the Firebird and the Rites of Spring. He even wrote an octet: that is a piece for eight musicians!

“In France, in the 1920s and ’30s, we see the rebirth of wind music. Carl Nielsen wrote a quintet inspired by the Mozart piece.Let’s not forget Paul Hindemith from Germany, wrote a quintet, too. Our repertoire is mostly from the 20th century.”

Who else is on the team?

Lucie Jones is the flutist. Aura Pon plays the oboe, but is also a performer, composer, and music researcher. Ilana Dahl plays clarinet and is a busy clinician and educator. Daryl Caswell the hornist, is also a veteran instructor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Engineering, and builds and repairs tools for the music industry.”

“The fun part of the quintet is that when you only have the five people, you will have to be playing all the time. That is fun. There are five different instruments that have five different sounds: it is sort of like having the opposite of a string quartet. When you have a string quartet, the goal is that every instrument sounds the same in terms of tone colour. They are all meant to blend. Blending an anonymous idea of sound. That’s what people like about it.

“What we do is that, for example, one moment the horn and the flute are playing together, and that is totally different from the clarinet and oboe playing together. So you have this whole mixture, because of the actual sound. There are so many kinds of sounds that you can make. To me, that is the interesting part of listening to a quintet. It is the secret motivation behind the program that we play. Each of those pieces show all the ideas of wind instruments in a different way.”

MUSICAlive! sees a parallel with another kind of music from the 1920’s: It made us think of ragtime, the multiple voice wind instruments that they use. It is not the same instruments as Perfect Cadence, but the voices are very distinct.

“Yes, in ragtime you can definitely hear the different instruments. It is the same time frame, the ’20s and ’30s. And lots of clarinets, and oboes.”

Side view of 5 people with wind instruments and audience

Even though they’re musically ‘conversing’, their audience is a happy eavesdropper. Photo by Theresa Johnston.

Upcoming performances

The Perfect Cadence Wind Quintet will be playing in St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, located at 1121 – 14th Avenue SW Calgary, on January 12, 2020. The programme consist of Giulio Briccialdi’s Woodwind Quintet in D major, Op. 124, the complete Paul Lansky piece “The Long and Short of it” and the Beethoven quintet for Piano and Winds, Opus 16.

The quintet will also appear for a informal lunchtime concert at Varsity Acres Presbyterian Church on March 27.