In Thursday’s (3/11) San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman writes, “What does it take to play a note as low as any in the orchestra? Nothing more than 16 feet of wooden tubing coiled into a compact package, plus a mouthpiece, a cane reed and a musician like San Francisco Symphony contrabassoonist Steven Braunstein. … The contrabassoon sounds an octave lower than the bassoon, with a large range that extends from middle C down to the B-flat just above the lowest note on a piano—basically the whole left-hand side of the keyboard, Braunstein says proudly. And since October, he’s been going even lower. That’s when the Symphony bought a new state-of-the-art instrument from the Heckel factory in Wiesbaden-Biebrich, Germany—a family-owned business dating back to 1831 whose output is the gold standard of the bassoon world. The new contrabassoon has a detachable bell at the bottom that enables the player to hit the A at the bottom of the piano keyboard. So when that note pops up in his music—which it does every now and again—Braunstein will no longer have to cheat by playing an octave higher.”

Posted March 12, 2010