carin miller packwood tackles 10 questions

well, the time has come for the beaver’s final interview of the season.  the oregon symphony may not have a guest soloist in town this week, but who needs one when carin miller packwood is in da’ house?!  carin is the band’s principal bassoonist, and also an utterly fascinating and eloquent human being.  i offer the following as proof…

stravinsky’s rite of spring ends the 2011/12 classical season ~ how would you describe this music?

If this is your first time hearing the Rite, you are in for a violent, raw, primal experience combined with a high level of intellectual engagement.  This music is twisted in the best sense.  The mixed meter towards the end of the piece has enough constancy to elicit a physical response and enough irregularity to make your synapses short.  It’s a thrilling ride.

This piece is definitely special for bassoonists; being the most famous solo we play, people are constantly singing and whistling this tune at us.  Composer Camille Saint-Saëns, a normally jovial personality, stormed out of the premiere of the Rite because of what he considered the misuse of the bassoon in the opening bars.  Now it is part of our regular repertoire, asked for frequently on auditions and learned from a young age.  As a matter of fact, in addition to performing the solo this weekend, I’m coaching my students on it for their Portland Youth Philharmonic auditions.

city noir, composed by john “not-the-second-president” adams, is also on the program.  any thoughts on the stravinsky/adams pairing?

Rite of Spring is such an epic pillar of maximal experience in our repertoire that it is almost always a standalone or highlighted work.  The 21st-century modernism of City Noir reflects the chaos of contemporary urbanity and is highly complex, which reframes the 20th-century innovations of the Rite.  It shares the visceral rhythmic violence and epic proportions of the Stravinsky, but is even more complex and chaotic.  While the Rite draws on Russian folk tunes, City Noir draws on big band and jazz riffs; both fragment the materials and place them into a highly complex rhythmic context.

From a performance standpoint, it’s brutal!  The technical demands of the Adams combined with the split rehearsal time for two epic works will ensure that we’re in top shape for the Stravinsky.  In fact, the last few pages of the Rite -almost- have a sense of ease after working on the Adams; hopefully we’ll be elevated and not exhausted… But with Carlos at the helm, I’m sure the performance will be rife with energy and intensity.  I’m just glad we’ll have summer break to recuperate!

ooh, you’re getting me stoked for tonight!  speaking of summer break, any exciting plans?

I love having the summers free to refocus my playing by working on etudes and fundamentals.  I also take a few months to split and gouge tubes of cane to form my reed arsenal so it can age for the upcoming season.

My husband and I are moving into a new house in North Portland this summer, so I have many plans for gardening and house projects.  We also plan to do a bunch of camping and hiking in parts of Oregon still unexplored by us — Hell’s Canyon, Crater Lake, Ashland and the Shakespeare Festival, the southern coast and redwoods…

that’s quite a roadtrip ~ nice!  what makes the bassoon so awesome?

The bassoon is a really complex instrument.  It’s kind of the underdog in classical music.  It has never been fully updated, the finger work is archaic, and the sound is inherently uneven.  There are a ton of challenges to overcome just to play a simple phrase – but the payoff is a rich, throaty, mysterious sound that harks from another era.

btw, do you really have a barometric pressure app on your smartphone?

It’s true.  The pressure here in Portland swings widely, and a reed with a beautiful focused tone one day will be buzzy and thin the next.  I try to have several reed possibilities for each piece we play to ensure that one of them will work well the moment I need it to.

that’s ridiculously insane, but in a very good way.  um, let’s see… if you could invite 3 composers for dinner, who would you choose?

I would love to be entertained by Mozart, comforted by Brahms, and inspired by Stravinsky.  I think I’d host them for an evening in my new garden and cook a Romanian feast for them!

boy-oh-boy, everyone seems to invite mozart.  (i suppose for good reason!)  alright carin, tell me: what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

When you listen or watch a recording, there is an intellectual connection to the material.  When experiencing music in the flesh, there is a physical connection that engages your whole being.  The moment is shared with several thousand other people in the audience, as well as the performers on stage.  I view music as a spiritual or even religious experience.  Would you feel the same engagement listening to a religious service over the radio or watching a yoga class video?  Being present with others opens you in a different way to engage with the event taking place and connect through all the senses.  In our increasingly removed and device-focused world, having opportunities to fully engage and connect in real time is sacred.

amen sister!  um, during a preconcert chat with christa wessel earlier this season, you mentioned a controversy involving “flickers vs. non-flickers” ~ what the heck were you talking about and where do you stand?

There are five notes in the middle range of the bassoon that can crack at the start of the note if you don’t flick (or tap) the appropriate key with your thumb (these keys comprise three of the nine that the left thumb plays).  One school of thought is that flicking is optional, and with proper air support the notes won’t crack significantly.  The other is that without flicking, one wouldn’t be able to blow a proper phrase because the air would always be finessing those notes.  I learned to flick late in life and there is no turning back for me!  It takes a commitment to achieve technical ease with flicking, but once it becomes automatic, the security achieved is well worth the effort and the air is free to sing.

well, let’s toast to flicking then… what are you having?

Bourbon, neat.

my kinda woman – cheers!  alright, last question of the season: what sets the oregon symphony apart from other orchestras?

There are a lot of factors that set this orchestra apart from others.  For starters, Portland is such a satisfying place to live that people generally are happy here.  This translates to a work environment full of easygoing, collaborative, and genuinely supportive colleagues.  Putting 70-80 artists in a room together and ending up with the environment we have at work here is no small feat!  Secondly, our audience is to die for.  Playing to a nearly full concert hall night after night, with audiences that are engaged and responsive, is a classical musician’s dream.  The energy we get back from the hall inspires us to put out our best efforts on a regular basis.  Then you add a music director like Maestro Kalmar, who brings a visionary eye through programming and interpretation while demanding the highest standards from his orchestra.  And with an ED like Elaine Calder, who has run a tight ship through turbulent times while allowing the art to flourish.  This is a special orchestra in an exciting stage of its development and I feel extremely grateful to be a part of it all.

hey, me too!  oh carin, thank you, thank you, thank you for the brilliant responses ~ i really, really, really appreciate it.  cannot wait to hear you wail tonight!

bee-tee-dubs intrepid reader, if you’re eager to learn more about carin miller packwood and her kah-razy reed-making vocation, *click here and check out this kick-ass oregon music news interview.  and if you’re eager to learn a bit more about uncle igor’s revolutionary music, *click here and check out this oregonian article that includes some sweet quotes by (you guessed it) carin miller packwood.


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