Preparing for a Professional Performance

Bassoon Student Duncan Henry Joins SPCO Concert as Guest Musician
Duncan Henry poses with his bassoon

Student bassoonist Duncan Henry (MM) will perform for the fifth time with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO). The SPCO is a GRAMMY award-winning professional chamber orchestra, composed of some of the world's most talented musicians, including UMN School of Music faculty members Julia Bogorad-Kogan (flute) and Sangyoon Kim (clarinet). Henry was invited to participate in a wind dectet with other members of the orchestra, performing Suite Persane by French composer André Caplet. The SPCO concert will take place in Ted Mann Concert Hall Sunday, June 2 at 2:00 PM.

Hailing from Savage MN, Henry started music in middle school at Prior Lake on the tenor saxophone. In eighth grade, he switched to bassoon and started taking lessons from Alice Anderson. Later, he attended St. Olaf College, majoring in bassoon performance and computer science and studied with Mark Kelley and Thea Groth. Following his undergraduate graduation, he took lessons from Chris Marshall and spent a year in New York studying with Frank Morelli. Then, he made his way back to Minnesota to study with Fei Xie. He is currently in the second year of his Masters program.

Henry considers it a great honor to be invited to perform with the SPCO. “I learn so much from the attention to detail, rehearsal strategies, and electric risk taking in performance that are all hallmarks of the SPCO.” Henry said. “Every musician is also incredibly kind and welcoming, which is not something I necessarily expected from a professional orchestra! SPCO members are also such good friends, often spending time with one another outside of rehearsal and taking care to learn about each others’ personal lives.”

Currently hard at work in preparation for the performance, Henry shared some of the rehearsal techniques he practices for playing with a high level chamber orchestra such as the SPCO. “It’s important that I know my part and how it fits into others’ parts too. I study the score and meticulously mark up my part so I know who I am playing with, where I am in the harmony, and any cues I might need to come in on time. I also listen to recordings of the piece (if there are any!) and play my part with a drone and/or tuner so I can have an idea of how to play my part well in tune. This is my fifth time playing with the SPCO now, and I have learned a lot about how to take cues from all over the ensemble and listen carefully to match style, dynamic, and tempo.”

In this particular piece, Henry says that there are parts where he has to play in octaves or unison with the first bassoon. These instances require spot-on intonation and blend to make them work. “It is very satisfying to lock in to these lines and create a bassoon sound spanning two octaves at once with the incredible Andrew Brady (the principal bassoonist of the SPCO).”

The best part of studying at the University of Minnesota for Henry is the access to the high-level of faculty and students of diverse backgrounds. He also enjoys the perspectives of the three bassoon instructors on faculty (Xie, Marshall, and Norbert Nielubowski). Henry particularly appreciates his primary instructor, Fei Xie. “I have said to people on many occasions how I believe he is one of the best living bassoonists in the country, if not the world. His teaching is flexible and detail oriented without losing the bigger picture of musician wellness and overall performance impact. His attitude towards playing music and life is also something I strive to emulate, achieving the highest standards without becoming invested in the stress that level of work can cultivate. I have learned more in the past year studying with him about music and playing the bassoon than I imagined was possible.”

This summer, Henry plans on attending the National Repertory Orchestra, a summer festival in Breckenridge, Colorado that programs more orchestral repertoire than any other US festival.

To learn more about the SPCO, visit their website.

Share on: