by Len Lear
Daniel Matsukawa, 48, a Mt. Airy resident for the past five years, has been principal bassoon of The Philadelphia Orchestra since 2000. Here is the second half of a two-part interview with him:
How has the classical music world changed since the beginning of your career?
There is a lot more instant access now to classical music, which is a great thing. In the old days, we had to buy CDs and could only listen that way other than going to concerts, of course. Now, we have iTunes and YouTube and Pandora and so many other unlimited ways to download and listen to music.
Social media, of course, also helps as it is a great way to get the word out of upcoming exciting performances that we are doing. And then we have the visual aspect, where more concerts are being live streamed and/or video recorded, and with the help of the above such as YouTube and then social media, we are able to utilize this to reach more audiences globally.
Fifty years ago, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra were household names, but we can no longer just ride on the coattails of our name. We have more competition now, varying from instant movies — Netflix and On Demand — to 1,000 cable channels to more pop artists and also sporting events on most given nights. Luckily, Philadelphia is a very cultural city, and I find it to be a musical town. I am impressed by our audiences, and they seem to be getting younger, which is wonderful. The stereotypes have been disappearing, such as classical music being only for the elite or the well educated or is uncool, stuffy or inaccessible. With our wonderful and awe-inspiring Music Director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, our audiences today are even more enthusiastic, and often we get great rock-star like ovations, and it feels amazing.
What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?
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 had 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.
What is the best advice you ever received?
To just be authentic and be yourself. And the best advice I ever give to my students is: if you practice all the time and master your instrument, then call yourself a great instrumentalist … And if you learn the grammatical structure of music and theory and harmony and how to phrase, then call yourself a great musician … but until that person sitting in the back row gets some kind of goose bumps, then don’t call yourself an artist. We have the power to move people and touch them, and that should be our goal, and never the other way around to try to be able to play as many fast notes as you can.
Which talent that you do not have would you most like to have?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a baseball player. It would be cool to be able to throw a 100-mile-an-hour fastball and be a starting pitcher for an MLB team. I wish I could have started my musical career on the piano and had that skill and talent and on top of that still do what I do today. We all had to take supplemental piano so I can play a little bit, but it’s not the same as having that skill of a concert pianist.
What is your most treasured possession besides your bassoon?
I would have to say that my children, two incredible daughters, are my greatest possessions in life, much more than my bassoon. Hanna, 13, and Meg, 11, are the joy of my life.
You’ve been in many cities and countries. What is your favorite city?
I love the buildings in Vienna, Austria. I love the streets in Paris, France. I love the coffee in Valencia, Spain. I love the food and also how people are so civil towards one another in Japan. I love the diversity in New York City. I love the speaking accent in England. I love the weather and different cuisines in San Francisco. I love the atmosphere in Quebec, Canada. I love the culture in Philadelphia.
What is your most impressive characteristic?
I think I am good at making people feel comfortable, and somehow I hope bring a little joy to most anyone I meet.
If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be?
I wish I could spend time with Mozart and get to know him a little. I also would like to thank him in person for writing what he wrote. Beethoven would be harder to talk to. Not funny, I guess. I wonder if I could make Napoleon laugh. Though Shakespeare spoke English, I wonder if he and I would understand each other’s sentences in dialogue. I think the Pope right now is a really cool guy. (OK, that is not respectful.) He is a really great man, and it would be great to hang out with him and maybe play some ping-pong together.
For more information about Daniel, visit www.philorch.org/about/musicians/daniel-matsukawa#/.