Bassoonist Milan Turković
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
It's extraordinary how life can juxtapose sadness with happiness. Funerals and memorials are, by definition, sad times, and yet they often bring together family and friends both old and new.
As a young boy growing up in Evanston, the first orchestral instrument I took up was the bassoon. I was singing in the choir at church and had begun to play the piano, and something pushed me toward this funny-looking, odd-shaped double reed noisemaker. To my delight, I took to it quickly and immediately began lessons with Wilbur Simpson, long-time Second Bassoon of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He'd started as the Contrabassoonist and switched to Second very soon after joining the orchestra. I would later take some lessons on Contra while in graduate school at Northwestern, but for my high school years, it was my Saturday ritual to pedal my bicycle across town for my lesson.
I enjoyed it very much and relished playing in both band and orchestra at ETHS, as well as a few smaller ensembles. I remember even saying occasionally that I'd like to go into professional playing, but my musical interests were too diverse to confine myself to the practice room. I was not single-minded enough to make the bassoon my sole life's work. But I did continue in undergraduate school (Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington), and was lucky to have a teacher who was patient with me.
Back home to do my Master's Degree in Music History and Literature, I was forced to have some kind of instrument as a "major," so I persuaded Wilbur to let me honk around on the Contrabassoon. We had a blast in my lessons, often playing duets and just horsing around in musical ways. I think it pleased him that I was doing so well in music despite being a rather pedestrian technician. We stayed in touch as I taught elementary school music for two years and then was hired by WNIB, Classical 97, where my talents and imagination found their best uses. During the 100th season of the Symphony (1990-91) I presented a special series of programs, and one featured an interview with the two senior members of the orchestra - Adrian Da Prato, one of the second violinists, and Wilbur Simpson, who had both joined the orchestra in 1946. I included recordings of each of them in small ensembles made up of CSO players, and I freely admit that it simply provided an appropriate excuse to chat on the air with my old teacher.
In October of that year, Wilbur won the Theodore Thomas Medal and retired from the orchestra. After that, he attended concerts periodically, and we'd see each other in the lobby before the performance or at intermission. He often said how very proud he was of my radio work, and his approval touched my heart.
In June of 1997, Wilbur died, and there was a memorial service at the beautiful Alice Millar Chapel at NU. This coincided with the opening of the 26th Conference of the International Double Reed Society which was being held at Northwestern, and many of his friends and colleagues were there. Among them was Milan Turković, and as can be seen in the note shown at left, we had arranged to meet and have an interview at that time. So the sad loss was paired with the happy meeting of this internationally known soloist. Juxtaposition.
A short biography of Turković appears at the end of this interview. For more information about him, including details of his repertoire and recordings, visit his website .
Here is our conversation from that afternoon . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: Why did you take up bassoon, and not flute or clarinet?
Milan Turković: That was just by coincidence. My mother and I had emigrated from Croatia, in the former Yugoslavia, to Austria. We were very poor, and I knew I wanted to be a musician.
MT: Well, you don't really know why you want to become a musician. It's some kind of "must." My mother said, "Okay, but it has to be an instrument where you know you have some chances to be successful," because we didn't know whether I would be qualified enough. We realized that bassoon was in demand, and there weren't so many good bassoonists around back in that time, though things have changed, of course, in those 40 or 45 years in between. So we went to the president of the Vienna Music Academy, and he said, "We have a wonderful bassoon teacher. He's very special, and there is always demand for good bassoonists, so why don't you do the bassoon?" And this is how it happened. The love for the bassoon came much later.
BD: When you first started, were there times that you thought, "Oh, this is not what I want to do"?
MT: Not really. I liked it immediately, and I thought, "All right, I'm going to work on an orchestral career, and I'll try to be as good and as successful as I can with that." I wasn't very convinced of myself, and I was rather shy as a musician in the beginning. Also my teacher, who was wonderful, said to me, "The bassoon is an orchestra instrument, it's not a solo instrument." This statement made me think a lot, and I thought, "Why does he say that? Why can he say that?" Maybe it's not true. The controversy of this statement encouraged me to not only become an orchestra musician, but also to work on a solo career.
BD: So you took it as a challenge.
MT: A challenge, and I wanted to prove, "No, he's right in so many things, but not in this. You have to realize, back then there were no bassoon soloists running around. Now we have maybe one or two handfuls of bassoonists who do make their living as soloists around the world. But back then there was more or less nobody.
BD: Now you tour as a soloist, and you have also played in several orchestras. Aside from the obvious, what are the major differences between playing a solo and playing in an orchestra?
MT: The very obvious differences are as they are with any other instrument. If you play the violin, you will use different bowings and different vibrato, different strength of bow when you play in the orchestra, or when you stand in front of the orchestra, or play sonatas. And it will be the same with a wind instrument; of course, with a bassoon as well. You have to have a different approach to sound production, to sound projection. Generally you have to play a little louder, but I say "generally" because sometimes in an orchestra you have to play immensely loud to project.
BD: You're fighting the strings in front of you and the brass behind you.
MT: Exactly, but those are the technical factors. What is even more important is the intellectual approach to playing your instrument. If you play the bassoon in an orchestra, you are, practically, following instructions that you are given, how to play a particular phrase, how to play a particular chord, how to work with the intonation. If you play as a soloist, practically put, you should, at least, put your instrument in the service of the music, but sometimes it's very much the other way around.
BD: The music is in the service of the instrument?
MT: Somehow it's taken that way. I know of soloists who would rather use music to play an instrument, and I think it really has to be the opposite, that you put your instrument into the service of the music. In other words, if you play a recital and you start with some Baroque music and you end with some dodecaphonic music, or with some Romantic music, you will have to play your instrument totally differently in each of these pieces.
BD: Do you always use the same instrument, or do you go back to a Baroque instrument for Baroque music?
MT: I have a very clear policy about that. I play Baroque and Classical instruments only when I play with Concentus Musicus, of which I have been a member since 1967, working with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. There I use original instruments; we are lucky to have period instruments, not copies, but original period instruments.
BD: Is it satisfying to play a Baroque bassoon?
MT: It is very satisfying. Because the blend that you get with the other instruments, within the continuo especially, is so natural, you don't have to work on it. It comes by itself. You play with a cello, or with a harpsichord, or with the organ in the Bach cantatas, and the blend and the balance falls into place more or less, if everybody does his or her job well. So this is what I do. But I don't play with old instruments as a guest soloist anywhere. Then, I always use the modern instrument, whether I play a Vivaldi bassoon concerto or whatever else. I only made one exception and that was about eight years ago. I was invited to participate in a Vivaldi CD for Archiv Produktion of Deutsche Grammophon with The English Concert under Trevor Pinnock. On that one occasion I used my old instrument, and worked with them.
BD: But you were surrounded with old instruments, just as you are in the Concentus Musicus.
MT: That is right. We had a tour of England, and then we made this record in London. But that was the only time that I went away from Concentus Musicus with my old instrument.
BD: Are there times when you're playing the old instrument that you wish you had an extra key, or a little something else that has been adapted and made onto the modern bassoon?
MT: Of course! [Laughter] But if I had those extra keys, then it wouldn't be the instrument that I selected for that particular choice of repertoire. Of course, recording the Mozart Bassoon Concerto on a bassoon that was made around the composing date, a Kaspar Tauber bassoon from around 1800, was a real pain. It was a hard fight to integrate instruments of that period of time, with their specific problems, into the modern technology of digital recording, where you can hear the cough of a flea. [Both chuckle]
* * * * *
BD: I assume that the repertoire for bassoon is small but expanding. Can I assume that you play virtually everything that is written for the solo bassoon?
MT: I wouldn't be able to play virtually everything that is written for the bassoon, because I'm a slow learner. I'm not that kind of person who picks up a piece and plays it next week in front of an audience. I need a lot of time to study works. I take a lot of time to study details and I need a lot of time to get technically ready for something. So I wouldn't be able to play everything that there is. Also, I'm not interested to play everything that there is, because, obviously, we have a lot of repertoire that's just not good, to put it simply. We have a lot of second-class repertoire.
BD: Let me pounce on this just a moment. What is it that makes a piece of music "good"?
MT: [Thinks for a moment] Quality, I think is undescribable. You may think differently about the quality of a piece than I do, and this is legitimate. This is a democratic principle which also exists in music, so we may have an argument about one or the other piece. Let me go a little away from the bassoon repertoire because this problem probably applies for any kind of music. We could claim that the wind quintets by Anton Reicha, the teacher of Beethoven, is great music. Some people say it's absolutely great music, and it's neglected music. My personal opinion is that just a few of these many, many pieces (don't ask me how many there are, I don't know) are good second-class composing, and some are third-class. This is my personal opinion, and some people will probably yell at me if they hear that... if they have a chance. [Chuckles]
BD: Well, even if they are second- or even third-class pieces, are they not worth playing once in a while?
MT: They are worth being played once in a while because they're this kind of serenade music, where they were played at occasions where people would chat, and maybe even eat at the same time, and occasionally listen to it. They maybe applauded in between some movements, and then go on with their chatting. That's the way the music is meant to be played.
BD: Live Muzak?
MT: In a way. In a way, that's true.
BD: [Chuckles] Then how do you sort out the first-rate from the second-rate, from the third-rate?
MT: I guess you are asking me now as a soloist, again.
MT: Well, let's take the Vivaldi concerti. We're lucky to have 37 bassoon concerti by Antonio Vivaldi, which is a miracle and a great blessing for bassoonists.
BD: It's a miracle that they still exist.
MT: Yes, they all exist, and and we even have the autographs. It's just wonderful that he was a teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, where he was teaching orphan girls, of whom some must have been quite good, or great bassoon virtuosos. That seems to be the reason that he wrote so many bassoon concerti. Not all of them are really great, but some of them are absolutely beautiful and wonderful. I have not played all of them, and I'm even not really interested to play all of them. There are some of my colleagues who even intend to record all the Vivaldi bassoon concerti. This is not such an important question for me, because studying them, I find out that some are stronger and some are weaker. For me, personally, the question is, "Are all the three movements of each of these concerti equally good?" Rarely you will find some where all the three movements are really first-class in imagination and in spirit.
BD: You haven't tried to mix and match, have you?
MT: [Chuckles, then responds as if he would never consider something so unorthodox, in a low voice and holding out the word "no"] Oh, no!
MT: Oh, no! Maybe, if I'm asked to record a Muzak tape for airports for a fee of two million dollars. [Both laugh]
BD: At least now we know your price.
MT: Yeah, yeah. [Chuckles] Well, that would be the price because it would be some kind of prostitution, because I hate Muzak. But that's another question. Some of Vivaldi's concerti are very good. Let me mention one example. There is one concerto that is played practically by everyone, the Concerto in E minor. There is also a Concerto in A minor, and most bassoonists eventually play these concerti. Most don't know the others, but the three movements of each of these two are really excellent.
BD: So you're proud to have that be the representation for your concert.
MT: [Without hesitation] Absolutely.
* * * * *
BD: What is the purpose of music?
MT: We know that music has a healing effect, a positive effect, on probably 98 percent of the human beings. You know that music is used for therapy. I don't know how much it is used for that effect in the United States, but I know that in Europe we have institutions that are getting larger and larger, and more important every year, that use music therapy to heal certain diseases. Of course, you cannot heal cancer with music, but you can work on diseases that have a mental basis, or that have to do with the psychological state of mind.
BD: Does this help with a "total wellness?"
MT: Exactly. Exactly. Thank you for that word, that's a really good word, because when you are in a hospital, your healing will not only depend on the kind of medication that you get, but it will depend on the kind of color you see in your room, the kind of food that you get, the kind of treatment you get from the people who work there, and then comes the music. It is proven that music has a good effect, and if it has a good effect on sick people it must have a good effect on healthy people as well. I think this is enough reason for music to be there, and to be performed, and to be used, and to be consumed.
BD: The music that you play - we're talking about concert music - is it for everyone?
MT: I wish it were for everyone. We are doing a minority thing, and we are serving a percentage of the population that is a one digit number. I'm lucky to live in a country where supposedly this number is higher than anywhere else; we are speaking about four to seven percent. I hear that in other countries it's between one and three percent of the population of the entire country that is interested in the so-called "classical" music. What a terrible word for it, but we haven't found a better one yet.
BD: What is it about the Austrian climate or the Austrian psyche that makes them more receptive to it?
MT: I think it's simply the tradition, the fantastic tradition that we have, the tradition of great music that has been produced in our surroundings. Consequently there is a great tradition in the consumption of the music that has been produced. We're lucky that the numbers of concert listeners still don't go down in our country. The city where I live, Vienna, has never had as many music events in its history as it has today. Just recently I spoke to a music critic, complaining to him that he didn't cover an event that I thought was really important. To be clear, I was not involved in that event, but I complained to him, and he said, "Well, what shall we do? We have three critics on our paper, and we average seven major music events every day." That's in a city of maybe one third the size of Chicago and one fourth of the size of Manhattan.
BD: Is the answer to have more critics??? Or to clone them???
MT: [Clearly not enthusiastic about such a prospect] Well, I wouldn't like to read the same kind of review twice - whether it's good or bad. [Chuckles]
BD: [Laughs] Speaking of numbers, you say that we are getting more and more bassoonists. Are we to the point now where we have enough bassoonists, or even perhaps too many bassoonists?
MT: I cannot speak about the United States. I have some information about this country, because I come to this country quite often. But, for instance, if the Chicago Symphony Orchestra listens to 120 bassoonists to fill an open position, that is quite a lot. In Austria, we used to have too few bassoonists to fill important positions in a very qualified manner. So for several years a lot of foreign bassoonists won auditions in our country simply because we didn't have enough good people. This has turned around completely. I would say very rarely a foreign player would succeed in an audition in one of our orchestras, because we have quite a few good talents now, which makes me very happy. At the same time, I have to say we have exceptions. One of my Japanese students just recently won the audition for principal bassoon in the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. But, as I say, this is an exception.
BD: So, what advice do you have for young bassoonists coming along?
MT: [Thinks for a short moment, then chuckles] Do you want to speak for another three hours? [Laughter]
BD: Well, what are some of the general traits that you feel many of them need?
MT: My advice to most of the people, when I travel and have the opportunity to speak at master classes or symposiums, is to concentrate more on the background of the music that you play. In other words, to be more intellectual about the repertoire that you work on. As I mentioned before, don't use music to play your instrument, but rather put your instrument in the service of the music. I know we are in a dilemma, because the Mozart Bassoon Concerto more and more has become a piece for auditions in orchestras. Usually, we use the first and second movements, up to the recapitulation, and then we stop. We don't even think about the rest that's coming, this beautiful, wonderful, elegant third movement, because it's usually not needed for auditions. Now we are in the dilemma of working on a piece of music in a very practical manner, trying to have a streamlined performance that brings us as much forward as possible in the audition process, to the second and third, or fourth round, and we forget to think about what happened in 1774 when Mozart wrote the concerto in June. It was a rather relaxed time of his life; he didn't have any travels on his schedule. He stayed in Salzburg during that time. It was a peaceful period in his life - of which there weren't many - which is the reason that the bassoon concerto is not really a virtuosic piece. It is not that witty kind of piece like the Oboe Concerto [K. 271k, composed in Salzburg in 1777]. It doesn't have this nervous quality.
BD: Is it a more pastoral piece?
MT: I wouldn't say "pastoral," but it's more festive. The first movement is very festive. That's how I see it. It's not a rushing piece. The second movement is quite a phenomenal piece, because the theme of the second movement appears in other compositions again. You hear it played by the violin in the sixth movement of the Serenade, K. 203 [for 2 ob/fl, bn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, vn solo, str; composed in Salzburg, August 1774], and again, several years later, it's the Cavatina ["Porgi, amor"] of the Countess, in the second act of Figaro , which is the reason for me to quote this aria in my cadenza in the second movement. So there are many interesting aspects, and I wonder how many of my colleagues really take all of this into account. I don't want to sound arrogant, because I realize that I don't have to audition anymore. So I can be relaxed enough to see the piece for what it is, and I don't have to be determined to please a jury in an orchestra. I can do what I feel is right, and if people think it's wrong, that's all right. I did my thing. If it's bad, that's my bad luck, and if it's good, then I'm lucky.
BD: Without mentioning any other names, are there other works that are as good, or almost as good, for the bassoon?
MT: There are works that are almost as good. For instance, a concerto by Leopold Anton Kozeluch [(1747-1818)], a contemporary of Mozart, Czech composer. It's a concerto in C major, a very witty piece. It's quite virtuosic and has a beautiful second movement with very lyric qualities. It's easy to play - I mean easy to make a good musical impact and feeling for the audience. And then there is quite a gap. We have two nice concertos by Johann Christian Bach from the early Classical period, and I have to admit that I neglected these concerti for quite a few years, and I wasn't really aware of them until I had the chance to record them a year ago together with the Kozeluch that I mentioned. I'm quite pleased to listen to these two concerti, and I think, "Oh, I should have tried to record them earlier." But at least I got them recorded before I lost my teeth. [Laughter] [I assume he was meaning the colloquial phrase "lost my chops."]
BD: Talking about the physical properties required to play the bassoon, you need air, you need embouchure, you need fingering... Is there a limited amount of time that one has to play the bassoon?
MT: I really don't know. It probably will be different for different people. There are some people who can sustain their work for a miraculously long time, and I admire these people. Just to mention Leonard Sharrow, the legendary bassoonist of Toscanini's NBC Orchestra. Even at a relatively higher age, he was able to play the Hummel Bassoon Concerto, a very virtuosic, Romantic concerto, and not just in any city, but Aspen at the high altitude. You know what that means! But some people will wear out quicker. You'd have to ask a doctor what happens in those cases. [Chuckles]
BD: Might that make a difference to you, in selecting repertoire, if you were playing in Aspen or Mexico City, rather than in someplace that's much closer to sea level and the air is heavier?
MT: I haven't been to Aspen, but I have been to Mexico City, and I have even been to Toluca, which is next to Mexico City, and is 400 meters higher. [Toluca, the state capital of México State in central Mexico, is 8,790 feet (2,680 meters) above sea level. Mexico City is 7,349 feet (2,240 meters) above sea level.] I played two concerti there, with orchestra. I was careless enough to accept the programming of two solo pieces with the orchestra.
BD: Oh, on one program?
MT: On one program. One before intermission and the other after. That was quite a few years ago when I was younger. I thought, "Oh, that's no problem," and the rehearsals were very easy and fine. I was prepared for the worst and was surprised how well it went. Then, before the concert, they told me, "Mr. Turković, just so you know, we always have our doctor behind the stage, and he has an oxygen mask. So whenever you feel a little dizzy, he's ready for you." I said, "Oh, no. I don't need that. I feel fine. I'll just come backstage and have a glass of water, and then I get ready for the next concerto after the intermission." You wouldn't believe how happily I ran into that oxygen mask after finishing the Mozart concerto. The stress and the adrenaline that is connected with a live performance in front of audience, makes your breath shorter.
BD: Are there times, perhaps at competitions, when you wish there was a doctor with an oxygen mask offstage, even at low altitudes? Not for you, but for some of the other performers, especially younger ones?
MT: I'd think, in that case, it's not the oxygen problem, it's just a problem of nerves that we all have. Tell me a musician that has no nerve problem.
BD: How do you steel yourself, then, for a performance?
MT: I have a method that is called Autogenic Training. It's some kind of self-hypnosis that was invented by Professor Schultz in the '30s. [German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz (1884-1970), published in 1932.] It's nothing new, it just has become quite typical in this kind of world in which we live, and in which we need all kinds of gadgets or methods, or books to support our state of mind. I use this just to relax a little bit before the concert. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't.
BD: This brings up an interesting point. If you're playing, say, the Mozart concerto, or one of the Vivaldi concerti, they were written at a time when life was much slower, and we didn't have the atomic bomb, and we hadn't gone through so many wars. And yet you're playing this music which was written a certain way, for an audience which is now much more hyper. Does that affect your interpretation, or your idea, or your presentation in any way?
MT: I wish I knew! I often have that dream, to go back in time, and meet Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and talk to him now. I'd like to ask, "How should it really be?" Have an audience with him, like one does with the Pope. [Both chuckle] But I think we do know more about performance of that time than we think. If we read carefully in reference books, if we read Mozart's letters, if we read the reference books of Quantz and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, or if we read Leopold Mozart's Violin School, [Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, published in 1756], then we know quite a lot about how people did things.
BD: But even if you get the spirit right, you're performing for a different audience, an audience that has come through so much, and has so much more experience, and so many more experiences.
MT: Yes. I often thought about that, but, on the other side, people listened to music back then in a much more detached way, because music was not for people who would sit lined up, like in an airplane, and avoid coughing and sneezing, and would not applaud between movements. People were much more relaxed back then, and used music as an entertainment.
BD: So we have more reverence for it now?
MT: I hope we do. Some audiences in some cities don't, but in general I think we have high esteem for what happens on stage, which is all right. This is our time, and probably it has to do with the fact that today there is not that much music written as there was back then! Music was written in a much faster way. Just think of the Overture of Don Giovanni that he wrote on the day of the premiere. Something of that kind could not possibly happen today, where everything is organized.
BD: [Expressing doubt] Oh, I think some guys who are writing for the Broadway stage might throw together an overture done on the afternoon before the performance.
MT: All right, but then we talk about entertainment. We were talking about the so-called "classical music." I wish I had a better word for that.
BD: Well, in the music that you play, where is the balance between the entertainment and the art?
MT: [Thinks for a moment] The balance lies where you try to find out which parts of the particular music have an entertaining aspect, and which don't. We were talking about the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. The second movement is an aria-like serenade. It certainly is not entertaining. It should be something with a touching, tender quality. And then follows a minuet, which is a stylized dance. This should really be a dance. We should try to play it in a way that the audience feels they'd like to get up and start dancing. There you have the entertaining part of it. So every kind of music will have its entertaining parts, or lots of them will, though certainly not the Wind Quintet by Arnold Schoenberg. [Op. 26 (April 1923-Aug 1924)]
BD: [Chuckles] Well, now that we move into 20th century, what advice do you have for someone who wants to write music for the bassoon these days?
MT: [Thinks for a moment] Use all the modern playing techniques that we have, like the chords we can produce, the circular breathing that we can produce, but don't make over-use of it. And don't forget about the simple musical line that may just consist of four notes following each other in a beautiful legato, just using the qualities of the music. It doesn't have to be [makes, with his mouth, a series of crunching sounds on various pitches] all the time.
BD: [Laughs] Use those for effect, and that's all.
BD: Where is music going these days?
MT: It obviously is going back to tonal.
BD: Does that please you?
MT: It pleases me as long as I hear good new music. It turns me off if it's bad music, of which we certainly have a lot. This is a question of very personal taste, but I think the diversity of music that is written today is certainly a good thing, and it reflects the world in which we live - the world after the atomic bomb, or with the atomic bomb, and all the things that you mentioned before.
* * * * *
BD: Are you at the point in your career that you want to be at the age you are?
MT: [Thinks for a moment, then chuckles and continues thinking] If I would answer this question to you honestly, I would probably give away too much of my soul and my privacy, so I want to keep the answer for myself.
BD: [Chuckles] That's perfectly all right. Let me ask a bit about recordings. Do you play the same when the microphone is hanging there as you do when there's an audience in front of you?
MT: I certainly don't. I think there are very few artists who are able to do that. What I try to do create the atmosphere that exists in a concert. and that you do, very simply, by playing very long takes. Twenty years ago we used to record in many little takes and splice these things together. When I record a solo piece, I can decide about how it goes, so I try to record entire movements and then make little corrections. This creates some kind of concert atmosphere for me, so it will probably come as close as possible to the performance conditions. I remember my very, very first recording experience in 1969. That was the first record I made for Deutsche Grammophon, with three bassoon concerti. It happened in Brussels, and we had, as always, very limited time to rehearse and record these three long pieces, and we had several technical problems. First, the heating of the building made such noises that we constantly had to interrupt. Then machines broke down because of electrical failure, and to make a long story short, in the last concerto we decided not to record my cadenzas, but to do them at another time. So a half year later I had to go back and record these cadenzas in a different place, in a different city - Munich. They put two microphones in a hall, and I was totally by myself. There was no orchestra, no human beings. Over the loudspeakers I could hear the orchestra come in so that I could get prepared for the pitch, and the speed, and the tempo, and all of that. When I started playing, I felt absolutely dead in inspiration. I said, "Please, send somebody up into the studio. Send me the engineer, or pick somebody up from the street and let them come in and sit here. I have to play for people. I cannot stand to be so alone in the studio. So this is what we did, and then it turned out all right, I think.
BD: Are you basically pleased with your recordings?
MT: Almost never. Maybe out of the 14 or 15 recordings that I have, there are two with which I am really happy. Those two I like to listen to occasionally, but all the others I've never listened to, except for the one time when I first got them for splicing approval.
BD: So what happens when someone comes up to you and says, [excitedly] "Oh, I love that record"?
MT: Well, I would say, "I'm glad you love it." [Laughter] But this is very common that people don't like their own recordings. Once they are out on the market, there are so many things you know you can do better if you are self-critical.
BD: [Chuckles] Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?
MT: Not for me! [Laughter] I've never thought of being able to be perfect! But there are certainly some people who can be incredibly perfect to an almost inhuman extent. I'm very human; I react to many things. I react to climate, I react to reactions of audiences, I react to my personal feelings in that day. I think nothing in life can be perfect for me, so no performance can be perfect.
BD: But you still strive for it.
MT: Of course I do, every day!
BD: Well, we hope you always improve.
MT: That's it. That's it.
BD: Is playing the bassoon fun?
MT: Sometimes it is!
BD: No regrets about picking it up?
MT: [Without hesitation] No, absolutely not.
BD: That's good. Tell me about the work you're doing now in Lincoln Center.
MT: That's wonderful work. In '92 I was invited to play as a guest of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which is the most prestigious chamber music group in New York City. They very often invite guests to perform with their regular artists. Around the time the bassoonist who played with them all the years retired, David Shifrin, the musical director of the Society asked me whether I would like to become a member and I very happily agreed. It's very refreshing, beautiful work for me. I'm the only non-American member in the group, so for them I'm probably the exotic person, and for me it's like a change of climate.
BD: It sounds like a wonderful variety.
MT: It is a great variety; it also is a great variety of repertoire. I have to say that I admire this institution very much. The people who work there are incredibly devoted to their work. They don't only go for the flashy things, like the project with Wynton Marsalis, but they also have a wonderful children's program with composer Bruce Adolphe who gives wonderful introductions to the music. We have a contemporary music series that has very nice attendance, where they do the most interesting new American works. I learn a lot of American repertoire that I wouldn't hear in Europe. And we also have Chamber Music Two, that is a special series for rising young artists that are integrated into the Society. So it really has become a big institution within Lincoln Center that has a lot of effect on New York's music life. I'm very lucky to be part of it.
BD: Good. Thank you for presenting your artistry all over the world!
MT: [Chuckles modestly]
Milan Turković comes from an Austro-Croatian family. He grew up in Vienna, and today is one of the few internationally known bassoon soloists. He is a member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin (a woodwind quintet he formed together with principal players of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics), the Concentus Musicus of Vienna, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York.
From 1984 until 1992, he was professor of bassoon at the Universitaet Mozarteum in Salzburg. Then, in 1992, he moved to the Hochschule in Vienna where he resided until 2003. Mr. Turković left the university in order to concentrate more on his conducting endeavors.
His discography currently consists of 15 CDs with solo repertoire, 26 CDs with chamber music, and over 200 CDs with Concentus Musicus. He has recorded the Mozart Bassoon Concerto four times, of which the third was played on a period instrument with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting. His most recent releases include the concerti of C.M.v.Weber led by Sir Neville Marriner, five bassoon concerti by Vivaldi (I Solisti Italiani) and concerti by Joh. Chr. Bach and Kozeluh.
As a conductor, Milan Turković appears regularly with chamber orchestras and large wind ensembles. He has conducted in Vienna, Salzburg, Venice, Milano, Florence, New York, Osaka, and many other places. He also hosted his own music show on Austrian television for two years. In the fall of 1998 Turković's book, Was Musiker Tagsueber tun: senza sordino, was published by Kremayr & Scheriau, Vienna (in German).
In March of 2003 Turković, along with co-author Monika
his new book in Vienna. Die seltsamsten Wiener der Welt - Nikolaus
und sein Concentus Musicus was written for the 50th anniversary of
the famous Concentus Musicus and is published by Residenz Verlag.
In spring of 2005 Residenz Verlag will publish another of Turković's
dealing with the international music life (also in German).
© 1997 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded at my studio in Chicago on June 23,
Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB in 1999. This
transcription was made early in 2007 and posted on this website at that
time. The box of images at the bottom and the note to me were
added in 2016.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.