The Valdosta Daily Times
While Valdosta Symphony Orchestra audiences may be surprised this weekend to hear a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart concerto for bassoon, Dr. Shannon Lowe knows the music well.
The VSO’s principal bassoonist has been familiar with it since her middle school years and she may be the only bassoonist to perform the work at more than 30,000 feet in the air.
“Only known bassoonist to have performed the exposition of the Mozart Concerto for captain, crew, and passengers at over 30,000 feet on a Southwest Airlines flight,” Lowe says. “I was on my way back from a doctoral studies audition at SUNY Stony Brook and had the Mozart ready to go for performance — it was one of my audition pieces! The flight attendants saw me carrying an oddly shaped instrument case on my back and got me talking about being a bassoonist. They had never heard a bassoon before, so they insisted that I play for everybody to expose them to the instrument.”
This weekend, she will be on a more familiar stage as Lowe is the featured soloist for the VSO’s “An Evening with Amadeus,” which features all Mozart music: Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major, Overture to “Lucio Silla,” and Symphony No. 38 in D Major better known as the “Prague” Symphony.
As for the Mozart bassoon concerto, it may be a surprise to audiences, but not to musicians.
“Most musicians know that this is a big bassoon audition piece, since we bassoonists are always practicing it, so they are not surprised,” says Lowe.
“The nice thing about the Mozart, though, is it is already part of my repertoire,” Lowe says. “It’s an old dear friend, as I have known it since my middle school years.”
Lowe says the audience should expect a delightful bit of youthful Mozart.
“It’s very accessible to audiences and features the bassoon in a very flattering light,” she says. “There are instances in the concerto where Mozart paints the bassoon as a comical, jolly character, but those moments are balanced with other sections in the music that feature the bassoon singing long, lyrical phrases; much like an opera singer. Our concerto is not as sublime and well developed as the clarinet concerto, written at the end of Mozart’s life, but it is still lovely, nonetheless.”
Even with her familiarity with the concerto, it still offers challenges.
“This piece is a continuous work in progress for bassoonists,” Lowe says. “We are always working to get the opening phrase of the first movement ‘just right’ so that we can sell it to audition committees or prospective college teachers. I have worked a countless amount of times with my bassoon mentors on getting the length of the opening two notes exactly right. I have also put in many, many hours in the practice room working to get the opening phrase just right.”
This commitment has become her career. She is an assistant professor of bassoon at Valdosta State University, where she has taught for five years. In addition to principal bassoonist for the Valdosta Symphony, she performs in the same capacity for the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
Her resume includes receiving her doctor of musical arts degree in bassoon performance at SUNY Stony Brook. “While at Stony Brook, she was in the bassoon studio of the renowned performer and pedagogue Dr. Frank Morelli. She received both the bachelor’s in music education with a performance certificate and master’s of music in bassoon performance from the University of Florida, under Dr. Arnold Irchai, former principal bassoonist of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.”
Regionally, Lowe has performed with orchestras such as the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, Macon Symphony, and Central Florida Symphony. “For six seasons, she was principal bassoonist of the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra,” according to her VSO biography. “Dr. Lowe has also served as adjunct bassoon professor for the University of Florida. She has been a featured guest artist at the University of South Carolina, Florida State University, and the University of Florida.”
It wasn’t always about the bassoon for Lowe. Like the majority of Mozart’s concertos, Lowe originally focused on the piano.
“When I was 5, I begged my parents to play the piano. With piano in my background, when it came time to choose an elective class in middle school, it was inevitable that I would choose band,” she says.
She wanted a unique instrument. She did not want to play flute, trumpet, clarinet or saxophone. She wanted English horn, but her school did not have an English horn. She had a choice between the bassoon and the oboe. She chose the bassoon.
“I didn’t even know what a bassoon was, but I thought it sounded cool and chose that as my instrument,” Lowe says. “The band director said, ‘here’s the case, here’s a reed, here’s a book; I don’t know anything about teaching the bassoon, so you are on your own.’ Very encouraging words.”
She took the bassoon home. Working with her parents, she learned how to play it.
“I was able to teach myself the first several months of playing and fell in love with the instrument,” she says. “Luckily, at the end of my sixth-grade year, a bassoon teacher relocated with her family from South Florida to my small town and started offering lessons. My parents are incredibly supportive and realized the importance of private instruction, so they signed me up for lessons right away. From that point, it was obvious that the bassoon was meant for me.”
And this week, with a little help from Mozart, Shannon Lowe’s bassoon is meant for all of Valdosta.
Valdosta Symphony Orchestra presents “An Evening with Amadeus,” featuring Mozart’s Overture to “Lucio Silla”; Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major; Symphony No. 38 in D Major.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2.
Where: Whitehead Auditorium, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.
Reservations, more information: Call (229) 333-2150; or visit valdostasymphony.org
NOTE: The VSO’s Downtown Symphony Club will meet before the concert, 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, Bleu Cafe, for drinks and appetizers. More information on the DSC: Contact email@example.com