Amy Harman is Principal Bassoonist of the Aurora and ENO orchestras, and is a much-sought-after soloist across Europe. At the age of 23, Amy was appointed Principal of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Further credits include collaborations with Aleksander Madzar, Nicholas Daniel and Radovan Vlatkovic, soloist highlights with Birmingham Opera and the English Chamber Orchestra, and Guest Principal performances with the LSO and BBC Symphony Orchestra.
As a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Amy has a wealth of knowledge as a teacher and communicator, and she shares her performance experience in the Chester Bassoon Anthology.
She sat down with us to talk all things music and her favourite pieces from the Anthology.
What is it about your instrument that initially captivated you?
I began my musical life as a cellist and I’ve always loved instruments with low registers; I just adored the vocal sound of the bassoon and still do!
What is your earliest performing memory?
I think my earliest performing memory is my Grade 1 piano at some embarrassingly young age. They asked me to play Grade 1 and I refused because I had decided it was too hard! Things have most definitely improved since then.
Are there any points in your career so far that have helped shape your attitude to practising and performing?
I remember watching a documentary on Pavarotti and he said he practised until every other light went out in the practice room corridors. He unequivocally knew he was working the hardest out of his peers. This has absolutely stuck with me; there’s no substitute for the hours spent practising! When I became a YCAT (Young Classical Artists Trust) artist in 2014, it also revolutionised my attitude to performing. Going from an orchestral player to a soloist, you need to shape the music and hold the audience’s attention in a totally different way. It’s been a fantastic challenge.
Practising is often purely considered to be time spent honing repertoire and technique with your instrument to hand. What methods do you use to practise or memorise music that don’t necessarily require the use of your instrument?
I always listen to a lot of music and listen ‘around my subject’, too. For example, if I have a Weber concerto coming up, I will listen to his wonderful opera Der Freischütz as it’s so easy to get too insular in your practice room. This helps me remember how great these composers really were! Also for memorising, play things backwards – it really works!
Have you any advice for conservatoire musicians looking to break into the performing industry?
Seek out as many people’s perspective on your playing as possible. And never stop practising! Also, once you leave the comfort of a conservatoire, make lists to structure your time and set small goals each month. It helps you feel less adrift in what can be difficult years.
What is the most unusual or pioneering concert that you have taken part in?
I think these two:
- The premiere of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht, when I had to perform from a trapeze 50ft in the air suspended above the audience! It was an incredible experience.
- The second is the first ever Aurora memorised symphony in a BBC Prom. It was Mozart Symphony No.40 and we had never performed a symphony from memory, standing up before. It felt like sky diving! Six symphonies later and it still feels exhilarating!
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m about to perform Eroica from memory in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, with Aurora. Then the rest of my summer consists of some wonderful chamber music; a Mozart concerto in Lerici, Italy, another Prom, a tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and, thankfully, a holiday
Do you have a favourite work from those featured in the Chester Bassoon Anthology?
Without doubt the Mozart sonata. I perform it a lot and, as with everything Mozart wrote, it is so beautifully designed for the instrument. It really makes you feel you can sing.
THE CHESTER BASSOON ANTHOLOGY
12 popular works for Bassoon with Piano accompaniment featuring selected works from the major exam board syllabuses, spanning Grades 5 to 8 and beyond.
Includes pull-out part, and performance notes by Amy Harman.