Interview: Bassoonist Wendy Holdaway

Wendy Holdaway holds several positions with orchestras and chamber music groups in Mexico. Since 1982 she has played with the Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas Artes (the Fine Arts Opera Orchestra), the Sinfónica del Estado de México, and the Mexico City Woodwind Quintet, and is currently the principal bassoonist of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México. She performs with Trío Neos, a trio comprised of clarinet, bassoon and piano, and she teaches bassoon and chamber music at the Ollin Yoliztli Conservatory of Music and the National Center of the Arts. Known throughout the world as a gifted performer of contemporary music, she gave the Mexican premier of Sofia Gubaidulina's Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings in 2000.

Jeff Lyman: Tell me a little about your musical education here in the US, and how you ended up working in Mexico.

Wendy Holdaway: I went to the New England Conservatory of Music and worked with the Boston Opera. I auditioned for the Mexico City Philharmonic, supposedly won but they didn´t send me the plane ticket, so I didn´t go. A year later, the Bellas Artes Opera in Mexico called and needed me in 2 days. It sounded like a fun adventure, thought I´d go for a year of experience, that was 25 years ago.

JL: As you are the dedicatee of so much of the new music for bassoon that is being created in Mexico, tell me how and when you started working so closely with composers, and how some of these works came into being.

WH: My first experience with new music was with Mario Lavista...he was working on a series of solo pieces and as we were friends we started working together for the bassoon and percussion piece Responsorio. I was lucky to be one of the first recipients for the Foundation for the Arts grants for commissioning new works and through that organization was able to work with many composers for works for my chamber groups Trio Neos and the Mexico City Woodwind Quintet.

JL: Your status as an American working abroad really interests me, particularly in relation to all of this creative activity. Are there other bassoonists from Mexico who have embraced these works that have been composed for you, and are some of them taking your example and having new works composed for them? If so, please tell us about them and what sorts of things they are doing.

WH: No, I´m the oddball here.

JL: I'd like to ask some questions about specific works and the part you played in their composition. The first work is Responsorio in memoriam Rodolfo Halffter by Mario Lavista, which you mentioned earlier. I think this work above all will have a long life, and it has already received many performances and is so unique in our repertoire. As it is a memorial to Lavista's composition teacher, can you tell us about the generation of the work? Did he suggest the bassoon as the vehicle for this memorial, or did you? Or had you already commissioned something from him, and did that commission simply take this form? As you have also had Mario Lavista compose cadenzas for the Mozart Bassoon Concerto and a trio for clarinet, bassoon and piano (Las Musicas Dormidas), has he ever told you any specifics about how he composes for the bassoon, or why the bassoon seems like such a perfect vehicle for his music?

WH: Responsorio is a piece in a series of works for solo instruments by Mario and it was his idea both as to format and instrumentation. We worked together closely on the piece especially on the extended technique, i.e. the multiphonics, trying several series of multiphonics until we found what he was looking for. It was my first foray into extended technique and made for a very difficult 3 weeks though now I´m known as the multiphonic queen. He likes the quality of sound from the bassoon and felt it embodied the soul on it´s journey.

JL: Rodrigo Sigal's Twilight is the only work for solo bassoon and electronics that I could find from a Mexican composer. He himself told me that he knew of no other works for this combination. How did you two work together, and do you know if this is in fact one of the only Mexican electro-acoustic works for bassoon? If not, what else is out there?

WH: I think that this is, to date, the only mexican electro-acoustic piece for bassoon and electronics. I have several composers now working on pieces, maybe next year. Rodrigo is a friend and his project for his doctoral project in London started me in a whole new direction for electronic music for bassoon.

JL: Just last night I performed Gabriela Ortíz' trio 100 Watts, which was composed for your group Trío Neos. Your trio has had numerous works composed for it. Can you tell me about some of the more memorable works composed for the group, or about the collaborations with composers that the group has experienced?

WH: With Trio Neos we have works by:

Graciela Agudelo Navegantes del Crepúsculo
Georgina Derbez Nocturno
Manuel de Elias Tri-Neos
Manuel de Elias Tri-Tono
Manuel Enriquez Tercia
Mario Lavista Las Musicas Dormidas
R. Medina Diean I
Ramón Montes de Oca Rumor de Follaje
Francisco Nuñez Pirekuas
Gabriela Ortíz 100 Watts
Victor Rasgado Quimera
Rodrigo Sigal Mudra
Juan Trigos Ricercare III
Juan Felipe Waller Neurótica - Luminosa

While it has been memorable to perform mexican music in Carnegie Hall, the most memorable performances have been in Oaxaca City performing Lavista there and in the Mixe mountains way outside of Oaxaca where we actually witnessed one of the funerals where they carry the body around the town so the soul can say good-bye to everyone before moving on.

JL: Another composer who has written both for you and for Trío Neos was Manuel Enríquez. In the notes to your recording of his work Tercia for clarinet, bassoon and piano, the author of the notes quotes Enríquez' assertion that in this piece one can hear his "return to nationalist matters." Have any of the composers you've worked with been especially mindful of creating a "Mexican" repertoire for the bassoon (or for the trio, the quintet, etc.)? I ask this simply because a project like mine either assumes that there IS something unique about this music coming from Mexico, or can help to dispel that idea, and prove that this collection of works is as varied as the music of any other country or culture. So what is your view of this music: is it music, plain and simple, or is it a specifically Mexican music that could only come from these composers working in this country? (Sorry to get so philosophical!)

WH: It seems to me that any body of music from any country will reflect many of the values and education of said country.
Mexico has been through many transitions and most of the composers who I have worked with 25 years ago were strongly influenced by the Nationalist movement. Now most composers are looking in a totally new direction and its almost an insult to say that someone is writing in a Nationalistic way. Everyone wants to be thought of as a "world" composer.
(We can talk more about the mexicaness of mexican music in depth, but better over a glass of wine ;-)





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