CSO Musicians Brown Bag to shine spotlight on ‘unusual’ instruments

Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer

Nobody wants to be the third wheel, but being the third wind has its perks.

A score may call for two flutes and a piccolo, two oboes and an English horn. The third winds are specialty instruments, and for Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra musicians Kathryn Levy and Jason Weintraub, they also open up solo opportunities unavailable to other voices in the ensemble.

String bassist Peter Haas, although not a third wind, will represent an instrument less standardized than other members of the string family, which includes the violin, viola and cello.

At 12:15 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall, the Symphony Partners will sponsor the second Meet the CSO Musicians Brown Bag of the season. The theme will be “Unusual Instruments” and will spotlight the instruments’ sounds and the technique of playing them.

In Levy’s case, the soloistic nature of the piccolo often implies a great deal more pressure on accuracy.

“If you play a high note, somebody’s going to hear it. Everybody’s going to hear it,” Levy said. “If you’re playing some really fast, technically difficult piece, you’ve got the same thing the flutes do, but everybody’s going to hear you, not the flutes.”

Levy has played with the CSO for 36 years, and in the off-season teaches at Wake Forest University and serves as the principal flute of the Winston-Salem Symphony.

“I don’t play piccolo at home, so … the two months here I enjoy it,” Levy said. “It’s a little bit harder. With the piccolo being so much smaller, then your mouth has to be that much more exact, compact.”

Weintraub is in his 40th season as a CSO member, and he also conducts the Chautauqua Community Band. He originally was a clarinet player in junior high school, before his band director told him that if he switched to playing oboe, he could advance to the high school band a year early.

“I said, ‘Oh yeah? Great, I’ll do it,’” Weintraub said. “I had absolutely no idea what an oboe was.”

Weintraub had the same experience when studying at the Eastman School of Music, when asked if he would switch to playing the English horn to join the Philharmonia Orchestra a year early.

“It’s kind of fun to be a specialty role like that where you’re not playing so much with the group all the time, but sometimes you get to stand out in the solo role, so I enjoy that,” Weintraub said.

He described the tone of the English horn as “much more mellow and soothing” than the oboe, naturally due to its larger size.

Haas started to play the string bass in junior high, after the high-school orchestra conductor visited his class searching for someone to play string bass.

“All the guys in the back of the room thought it’d be funny to see a small guy like me playing the bass, so I took him up on it,” Haas said. “It’s stuck ever since.”

Haas is in his 20th season playing with the CSO, although he originally came to Chautauqua as a student in the 1980s. In the off-season, he serves as the principal bass in the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra.

And he has never considered picking up an instrument that was slightly easier to transport.

“To be honest with you, if I had a dime for every time somebody asked me that question, I’d be a wealthy man,” he said. “If you like an instrument, whatever that instrument may be, that’s usually why you take it up. It’s not a matter of convenience.”