Photography

Robert
Thompson

“Bassoonist Extraordinaire”
Milwaukee Sentinel

Biography

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ROBERT THOMPSON has enjoyed a career unique among bassoonists since his highly praised recital debut in Carnegie Hall. He is a graduate of Yale School of Music and studied with Bernard Garfield, Harold Goltzer and Robert Bloom and for several years was Principal Bassoon of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He has appeared and recorded with many orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, the Manchester Camerata, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, and the London Musici. His distinctive playing was recently praised by Andrew McGregor on BBC Radio 3: ‘There is something compelling about Robert Thompson’s tone and musicianship that makes his performances unforgettable.’
 
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Composer Andrzej Panufnik wrote the ‘Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra’ for Robert Thompson, who then gave acclaimed premieres of the work in Milwaukee and London with Andrzej Panufnik himself conducting. In 1987, in a historic first performance in the church of Father Jerzy Popieluszko (to whom the concerto is dedicated), in Warsaw, Thompson was received with great emotional response by the audience. On the occasion of the composer’s 75th birthday just prior to recording the Concerto, Thompson performed the concerto with Mark Stevenson and the London Musici in St Martins in the Fields Church, London, with the composer present. The recent re-release of the recording of the bassoon concerto with the BBC SO under the composer’s baton, to mark Panufnik’s centenary, has received huge acclaim. Andrew Clark wrote in the Financial Times: ‘Panufnik’s music of depth, poetry and emotion is revealed in this heartfelt reading by Robert Thompson of the elegiac power of the Bassoon concerto.’ And Paul Driver said in The Sunday Times said: ‘This recording of the Panufnik Bassoon concerto is notable for its dramatic impulse and Thompson’s beautiful lyric tone.’
 
 
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For many years Robert Thompson was Professor of Bassoon and Director of the Institute for Chamber Music at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is a member of the Woodwind Arts Quintet and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he has performed with many groups including the Fine Arts Quintet and the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He continues to give master classes all over the world including at the Royal Academy of Music, the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, and the Royal Northern College of Music. He has recorded for Columbia Records, Chandos, Gasporo, the Musical Heritage Society, Harmonia Mundi, and Conifer. His album ‘The 20th Century Bassoon” was nominated for both Gramophone Magazine’s “Outstanding 20th Century Recording” and the Koussevitsky Award for 20th century music.
 
 
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Robert Thompson is revered among lovers of wind instruments the world over for the ‘astonishing virtuosity’ and the ‘concentrated passion’ which he brings to his acclaimed performances and recordings on Chandos and Conifer. Most importantly, perhaps, Thompson has advanced the bassoon repertoire by his advocacy of neglected works such as the wind quintets by the 18th century German composer Franz Danzi, as well as new works, including pieces by his friend the late American composer, John Downey and of course, foremost among them, the Bassoon concerto of the great Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. It is a bassoon concerto unlike any other and, in fact, a work of signal importance in Panufnik’s oeuvre, for it expresses with great plangency and passion, the composer’s stylistic and spiritual aims. Panufnik wrote his concerto in homage to Father Jerzy Popielusko, a priest assassinated by the secret police in 1984. Conceived in tones of “deep brown and black”, Panufnik imagined the bassoon in a heroic role, “singing dramatically, almost operatically.”
 
 
Thompson’s performance and recordings with such major ensembles as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Cracow Sinfonietta and many others have earned superlative praise internationally.

80th birthday tributes

This August Mr Thompson celebrated his 80th birthday and the BBC played recordings of his on Essential Classics on Radio 3 on August 4th. Double Reed News has brought out a special tribute (see it HERE) and Musical Opinion (click HERE to read it) will likewise in their September issue.

Lady Camilla Panufnik who hosted an 80th birthday for Robert Thompson in August 2016

BBC In Tune Interview

Listen here to Thompson's interview with Sean Rafferty on 'In Tune' in August 2016
 
 

Reviews

Tempo ‘Panufniks’ Bassoon concerto…is a work that grabbed me so much at its UK premiere in 1986, that it moved me to tears, rare indeed for a contemporary work… Indeed, there has not been a bassoon concerto to match this since Mozart’s and, to be honest, I have to say that I prefer Panufnik’s. It is an unalloyed masterpiece. Robert Thompson performs it with a concentrated passion.
The Guardian, London With his new bassoon concerto, Panufnik joins the select company of composers, Mozart and Tchaikowsky among them, who take the instrument seriously. Thompson is a powerful and eloquent player with the stage presence and git of rhetoric that compels attention
The Milwaukee Journal The Bassoon concerto deserved the standing ovation. Panufnik tossed aside the instrument’s usual limitations and gave it a role of heroic proportions. Bassoonist Robert Thompson, who commissioned the concerto, brought conviction and mastery of his instrument to the piece.
 
CD Review UK Robert Thompson possesses a larger than life musical personality and imposes Panufnik’s solo lines on the listener with an almost desperate urgency.
Ruch Muzyczny, Poland Robert Thompson magnificently expressed the tragedy with extreme reverence in the Recitative as well as in the Aria, with its character of a prayer.
The New York Times The Bassoon concerto was inspired by the murder of a Polish Catholic Priest, and it lasts 23 minutes and rises in seraphic song towards the end of its climatic Aria. Throughout, however, the sensuous precision of its colours is constantly gripping.
Reviews for the historic reissue of the Bassoon Concerto 2014
ANDRZEJ PANUFNIK CENTENARY (1914 -1991)
The Financial Times: “Panufnik’s music of depth, poetry and emotion is revealed in this heartfelt reading by Robert Thompson of the elegiac power of the Bassoon concerto.” Andrew Clark
The Sunday Times: ‘The Bassoon concerto is a memorial for the tortured and murdered Polish priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko and is notable for its dramatic impulse and Thompson’s beautiful lyric tone.’ Paul Driver
BBC Music Magazine: “In this recording from 1987 with the original soloist….the work shows its deep humanity and the soloist’s singing lines carry great conviction.” John Allison

Reviews of the Art of the Bassoon Box set
Musical Opinion: "The Art of the Bassoon is one of the most significant collections of music written for the Bassoon over the past few centuries....so well chosen and so wide ranging in its repertoire, making a set of records which to both the aspiring composer and the aspiring bassoonist, will prove positively inspirational. Robert Thompson's artistry is rare indeed and considering the consistent quality of the music making on these CDs, one fully comprehends the fascination for and the musicianship it has brought forth from this wholly exceptional musician. This set of CDs has a musical importance which goes beyond any specialist appeal and one cannot imagine a finer set of discs to demonstrate the unique qualities of this extraordinarily expressive instrument. A truly important release, very strongly recommended." James Palmer
Musical Opinion: "One of the most significant collections of fine music written for the bassoon. Robert Thompson’s artistry is rare indeed and when one considers the consistent quality of the music-making on these very well recorded CDs, one fully comprehends the fascination for and the musicianship it has brought forth from this wholly exceptional musician. This set of CDs has a musical importance which goes far beyond any detailed specialist appeal, and one cannot imagine a finer set of discs to demonstrate the unique qualities of this extraordinarily expressive instrument than this eminently well-presented and packaged issue.” Musical Opinion, July 2015
"As a testament to Thompson’s art, the set is a fine document." Musical Opinion, November 2015
"What a bargain! I will be recommending this CD to all my students and colleagues. There is plenty here for all bassoonists and music lovers." Miles Nipper, Double Reed News, November 2015
"A set of records… that will prove positively inspirational. Robert Thompson’s artistry is rare indeed… one cannot imagine a finer set of discs to demonstrate the unique qualities of this extraordinarily expressive instrument… A truly important release, very strongly recommended." Jonathan Palmer, Musical Opinion, October 2015
"This is a thoughtful and well-produced set of CDs that showcases Robert Thompson in a wide range of musical styles. The sound is consistently good and the majority of the performances are well presented" John Whitmore, MusicWeb, October 2015
"People often nod sagely, and say of the bassoon “Wonderful instrument. No solo repertoire at all though; pity.” Well, if needed, here is concrete proof not only that such repertoire does exist, but that the bassoon is only rivalled by the flute amongst wind instruments in terms of the historic breadth of its music, from mid-Baroque through to the present day. Robert Thompson’s ambitious 4 CD set does indeed range from Vivaldi concertos of the 1720s to John Downey’s quintet of 2002." Gwyn Parry-Jones, MusicWeb International, September 2015
"The recordings of Vivaldi's concertos for bassoon (B flat major, RV504, A minor, RV498, C major, RV472, C minor RV480) recorded in 1980 with Philip Ledger and the London Mozart Players…..with fine and stylish playing from Thompson. ‘Gordon Jacob's Concerto for bassoon and strings, written in 1947 and performed by Thompson with the English Chamber Orchestra and Geoffrey Simon is by turns playful and serious; a most attractive work which deserves more outings.
Then there is one of the classics of the repertoire, Mozart's Bassoon Concerto here recorded live with the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, conductor Stephen Colburn in 1990, a fine testament to Thompson's art.
Robert Thompson was an important advocate for the bassoon as an all-round soloist, as he played classic repertoire as well as discovering new works and commissioning pieces, and as a testament to Thompson's art the set is a fine document."
Robert Hugill/Planet Hugill October 2015

Discography

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The Art of the Bassoon - 4CD Box Set (HTGCD 402)

A unique collection of music for the bassoon, comprising famous classical pieces by Vivaldi, Danzi and Mozart; great twentieth century works by Gordon Jacob and Arnold Bax as well as contemporary American pieces by John Downey. This set includes the first performance of Threnody and Scherzo by Arnold Bax with full orchestra (sponsored by the Arnold Bax Trust) and the first recording of Quintet by John Downey. It's a wonderful compilation to inspire lovers of the instrument as well as students. Robert is accompanied here by the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, the Fine Arts Quartet and the Coull Quartet.

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Panufnik Bassoon Concerto/ Sinfonia di Sepranza Heritage Records (HTGCD 266)
Robert Thompson with the BBC SO, conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik

This recording, specially issued to mark the centenary of the birth of the composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik in 2014, is also a tribute to what the composer’s widow Lady Camilla calls “the extraordinary warmth of timbre and expression of the outstanding USA Bassoonist Robert Thompson” which led the composer to write one of his masterpieces especially for him.

The CD also features another historic recording from the BBC archives of the his 9th Symphony, the Sinfonia di Speranza, commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Society with Sir Andrzej also conducting, demonstrating, to quote Lady Camilla again “that the composer’s unique musical personality was as strong in his conducting as it was in his spiritual and vivid compositions.”
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Franz Danzi Bassoon Quartets CRD 3503
Robert Thompson with the Coull String Quartet

The German composer Franz Danzi (1763-1826) is best known today chiefly for his woodwind quintets, and for the idiomatic treatment of the individual instruments. These bassoon quartets present the instrument to its very best advantage, as another bassoonist, William Waterhouse wrote “Danzi has made full use of the opportunities of the bassoon and allows the soloist, (as here with the fine playing of Thompson) to effortlessly appear both as soloist and accompanist to the strings”.
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The Edge of Space (CHAN 9278)
Robert Thompson plays music by Gordon Jacob with the English Chamber Orchestra;
John Downey with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Jurriaan Andriessen with the wind players of
the English Chamber Orchestra. Conductor Geoffrey Simon.

This splendid collection of contemporary works includes music from the UK, Europe and America. Gordon Jacob’s Concerto for Bassoon and strings blends the style of a traditional 18th century concerto with the shifting tonalities, so typical of Jacob’s style. It was originally dedicated to the great British bassoonist Archie Camden and Thompson here imprints his own unique timbre and musicality on it. The late American composer John Downey, was a close friend of Thompson’s, and he has always been a fervent promoter of his music. Downey’s scores are frequently imbued with what he described as ‘undercurrent jazz’ and here Thompson gives full voice to the glorious instrumental colour of Downey’s Fantasy for Bassoon and Orchestra. Andriessen’s Concertino for Bassoon and Wind Ensemble provides an ideal piece for the solo bassoon which often soars above the general texture in long cantilenas.
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Vivaldi 4 Bassoon Concertos (CHAN 6529)
with the London Mozart Players with Philip Ledger as harpsichord Director

Vivaldi was the first composer to give the bassoon solo status, by exploring its range and character and Robert Thompson’s virtuosity and warmth of tone suit them ideally. This is apparent in the legato writing in the A minor concerto as well as in the semi improvisational nature of the solo introduction of the opening of the C major, while the technically demanding writing of the C minor exploits his virtuosic skills to great advantage.
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Masterclasses

Thompson has a life time’s experience of music making to draw on and is well placed to pass on his expertise to a new generation of bassoon players. In particular, as the soloist who commissioned one of the finest additions to the bassoonist’s repertoire in recent years, the Panufnik concerto, he can pass on his knowledge of working with the composer in rehearsals and how Panufnik demanded certain sections should be played. These master classes provide an unparalleled experience for young players of today.

The book

AN INNOCENT IN THE ARTS
By Robert Thompson

 
The distinguished American bassoonist, Robert Thompson tells in his hilarious memoirs of experiences from his earliest days in the business as an Usher at Carnegie Hall, or when He received a last minute call to perform and record 'The Rite of Spring' with Igor Stravinsky, but had to improvise and locate a contrabassoon of dubious condition named Sally, that emitted strange noises, to perform on, to his fiery and dramatic encounter with the legendary Holywood actress Katherine Hepburn at her tempestuous best. More soberly, he also recounts his times working with such famous composers as Villa Lobos and Khachaturian as well as his great friend, the American composer John Downey, many of whose works he premiered. Perhaps most moving of all, is his account of commissioning the now famous Bassoon concerto by the Polish born composer Andrzej Panufnik, which commemorated the murder of the Polish priest Father Popielusko and the sensational and emotional premiere of that work in Warsaw. This promises to be a musical memoir with a difference, that will appeal to all ages.

Contact

Music Consultant: Tony Barlow BA Hons, MIPR
Flat 4
15 Brambledown Road
Wallington, Surrey SM6 0TH

email: artspublicity@hotmail.com
Tel: +44 20 8401 1108
Mobile: +44 7711 929170

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