nate helgeson

Portland Baroque Orchestra review: boss bassoonist

Nate Helgeson shines in concert featuring an instrument rarely in the spotlight


He might as well have been a rock star. Every time baroque bassoonist Nate Helgeson finished a piece, there were cheers, whistles, and prolonged applause from the April 29 audience at Portland’s First Baptist Church. Helgeson might as well have been performing by himself instead of with a crack quartet from the Portland Baroque Orchestra in which he plays principal bassoon: violinists Monica Huggett and Adam LaMotte, harpsichordist Ignacio Prego, and violone player Curtis Daily. The young bassoonist’s headlining was more than appropriate for a concert called Spotlight on Bassoon, specially designed to showcase the player Ms. Huggett calls “one of the pre-eminent period bassoonists of his generation.”

And he’s from Oregon! Helgeson grew up in Eugene and honed his bassoon chops before receiving a degree from Juilliard. He’s Artistic Director of Sacro Profano, a northwest chamber quartet specializing in old music, and also a founding member of the New York groups Grand Harmonie and New Vintage Baroque.

This PBO concert

Nate Helgeson. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

, given just once, featured music by only two composers: Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), known as a great violinist, and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), esteemed during his long life as the foremost composer in Germany, notwithstanding the concurrent existence of  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Telemann was certainly an imposingly fecund composer, with hundreds of pieces of music in a great variety of genres. Comparatively, Leclair wrote a small number of pieces, all 92 of them featuring the violin in some capacity.

Nate Helgeson, a superb bassoonist but doomed to play an instrument very rarely used for solos, was at some pains to produce music for this concert. Telemann’s Sonata in G Minor for Violin, Viola da Gamba, and Continuo (harpsichord plus violone) was transformed by substituting the bassoon for the viola da gamba, a fretted precursor of the cello. All four movements of this eleven-minute piece are duets, the most arresting being the second-movement Vivace, in which Mr. Helgeson danced a very fast pas de deux with violinist LaMotte.


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