Artist Interview: Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon

By Jessica Wolford on October 2, 2017

Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa performs with PCMS on Tuesday, October 17 with three of his Orchestra colleagues—violinist Juliette Kang, violist Burchard Tang, and cellist Yumi Kendall—and Curtis student guitarist Hao Yang. In addition to performing with the Orchestra, Mr. Matsukawa is on the faculty at Curtis and Temple and has performed with orchestras and festivals around the world, including Marlboro Music. He also conducts regularly. In our interview below, Mr. Matsukawa discusses playing with the Orchestra, his PCMS program, and his relationship with composer David Ludwig.

Jessica Wolford: You have been with the Philadelphia Orchestra as Principal Bassoon for 17 years. What have you loved about working with the Orchestra, and might you have any fun stories to share?

Daniel Matsukawa: I absolutely love my job and count my blessings every day that I get to play with such an incredible group of musicians. I also love the people with whom I work and get to make music. This is a very caring, loving, and funny bunch of people who I would consider to be probably the nicest group around anywhere.

In terms of a fun story, during an intermission of a concert once, I put a rag into the bell of my instrument to help me get some water (condensation) out of a key. At the beginning of the second half we played the great work “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel, which close to the beginning of the work has a famous bassoon solo. As I started playing, I thought that I was sounding funny and almost as if there was something stuck in my … wait a minute! … I realized then that I left the rag in my bell, and I was now playing this already hard and very famous solo with something stuck in my instrument! I started leaning in towards the second bassoonist trying to sort of signal to her that I have something at the top inside my bell. She started tugging and was trying to pull the rag out and we were literally playing tug of war ALL WHILE I WAS STILL PLAYING MY SOLO. That was definitely the hardest but also one of the funniest things I ever did.

JW: The concert on October 17 is a collaboration with some of your Philadelphia Orchestra colleagues. Could you talk about the process of switching gears for a night of chamber music and working together in a different environment?

DM: I love switching gears and being able to play chamber music with my friends and colleagues. It is definitely a much more intimate setting of course and the rehearsals are a blast where we could collaboratively say whatever we want to each other for a beautiful musical result in the end. The rapport and camaraderie is important, and we have a lot of respect for one another. We also joke around a lot during working rehearsals, which makes it all the more pleasant because that is what chamber music really is: having intimate musical dialogues and conversations.

Daniel Matsukawa

JW: Guitarist and Curtis student Hao Yang is joining you for the two Piazzolla pieces. How did this collaboration come about?

DM: I wanted to add something a little different to this program, which is mostly for bassoon and strings. And these lovely pieces with guitar in particular adds a delectable flavor, and the blend works remarkably well. The bassoon can be a very melancholic instrument, and the soft texture of the classical guitar makes for an alluring combo. I also happen to have been born in Argentina, so there is something extra special for me to perform Piazzolla on this program.

JW: At this concert, you'll be presenting the world premiere of a bassoon quartet by David Ludwig, a Philadelphia composer who has written for you previously. Tell us a little bit about the piece and your relationship with Mr. Ludwig.

DM: I like to joke around and call David Ludwig my pocket composer. Meaning I can pull my pocket composer out and say "Write me a piece," and he will! David is as brilliant a composer as he is a human being, and I am lucky to call him a friend. He composed a newly commissioned work for me, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was premiered in 2013. It is a wonderful work called "Pictures from the Floating World". I loved this piece so much that I asked David if he would transcribe it or rewrite a version of this work for bassoon quartet, and this is what we will be premiering for this performance.

JW: Could you share your thoughts on the evening's program as a whole? What was your process in selecting these pieces?

DM: In choosing this program, putting together a bassoon and a string trio is one of my absolute favorite combinations in chamber music. There is something about the brilliant tones of the piano which can sometimes take away from the mellow, softer quality of the bassoon sound. And when the bassoon plays with a string trio, the sound matches better in so many ways, and it is a lot more homogenous by nature. The string trio can provide the perfect cushion for the bassoon and all voices could either blend beautifully well or can let a solo line sing through without effort. These works are all very colorful in their own way and can showcase the bassoon as a soloistic instrument and show the many different qualities of this instrument much more so than hearing it in an orchestra.

Daniel Matsukawa appears in concert with Hao Yang, guitar; Juliette Kang, violin; Burchard Tang, viola; and Yumi Kendall, cello on Tuesday, October 17 at 8pm at the American Philosophical Society's Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.