05 Sep 2017

Can you name these musical instruments?

Four SSO musicians explain what makes their instrument special.

One great pleasure of a symphony concert is seeing around 100 musicians on stage, all working together to produce the incredible sound we call orchestral music. Partly through their position on stage, or sometimes because there are fewer of them within the orchestra, some of those musicians are less visible – but no less important – than others; in SSO's 2018 program, you'll have the chance to experience centre stage some of the more unusual instruments in the orchestra.

The human voice in instrument form
Matthew Wilkie, Principal Emeritus Bassoon, aims to highlight his instrument's versatility and character in his Playlist concert. "I used to sing a lot as a boy, and I'm always trying to recreate that sound on the bassoon." If you only know the bassoon via the lumbering grandfather in Peter and the Wolf, you're in for a surprise. "In the low register, it makes a good bass line for the other woodwinds, the tenor register has a beautifully expressive quality, and the high notes are more ethereal in nature."


The instrument with a misleading name
Another woodwind instrument that doesn't get much of a look-in sometimes is the cor anglais, a cousin of the oboe that has, according to Principal Alexandre Oguey, "a very distinctive melancholic sound". It also has a mysterious French name. "It means English horn – it's not a horn and is no more English than the French horn is French," says Oguey. Listen out for it, he says, in November in Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, which "definitely has one of the most amazing cor anglais solos".

Image credit: Christie Brewster


This one definitely rocks
Principal Bass Trombone Chris Harris reckons his instrument "rocks"; an orchestra without one "would be like a builder having a ute-load of fancy tools without 240 grit sandpaper and a jackhammer". If you want to hear the bass trombone "in its full battle gear, you can't go past The Ride of the Valkyries and Siegfried's Funeral March in the orchestral highlights from The Ring."

Image credit: Julian Kingma


Much more than drums and triangles
They're usually at the back of the stage, but it's hard to ignore the percussion section. What you might not realise, though, is that "we're called on to play well over 100 instruments, some of which we may or may not have encountered before," according to Assistant Principal/Tutti Percussion, Mark Robinson (pictured). "It's never a dull moment."

Image credit: Christie Brewster

For an all-percussion experience, check out SSO Percussion Stars. If that's not enough, Claire Edwardes is performing Percussion Concerto No. 2 by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. "That's also a very big piece for the percussion up the back," says Robinson. He's also looking forward to Taikoz's concerts with the SSO, featuring Japanese taiko drums and bamboo flutes, instruments not often heard in the concert hall. "Ian Cleworth, former Principal Percussion for SSO will be playing the taiko – it's going to be amazing."

Season Packages to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 2018 season are now on sale.

Can you name these musical instruments?Can you name these musical instruments?Can you name these musical instruments?