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The Long Path Together

editorial.notes: In the first issue of Clarinet News, we honoured the memory of Wes Foster through a series of articles by people who knew him well and loved him dearly.

By: author.name: Christopher Millard

No relationship is as important to an orchestral principal bassoonist as the one we share with the single-reed specialist who sits to our right. From Beethoven to Brahms, Schubert to Schoenberg, the search for that perfect blend of bassoon and clarinet is an endless quest.

Wes Foster and I sat side by side for twenty years. Day after day, season after season, we paid close attention to each other, to every shared phrase, to every unison, the vagaries of cane, the changes of weather. He even asked me for input on ligatures. We cultivated a single- minded approach to intonation, colour, and a happy tonal balance. Building a good woodwind section is about patience, perseverance, and the refinement of craft. You need partners willing to bare their faults and expose their artistic fragility in the hope of achieving great music making.

In this long path together, I could not have wished for a better partner than Wes.

Robert Marcellus instilled in Wes a passion for the warmest, most homogeneous sound as well as a commitment to mastering the intonation challenges of the modern clarinet. Wes’s relentless perseverance in exploring improved bores, in both barrel design and eventually the whole instrument, was the seed that grew into Backun Musical’s remarkable growth. His musical DNA is embedded in these wonderful new instruments.

When I play a passage in a Brahms Symphony with a Backun Artist, I can’t help but recall Wes’s impeccable tone, his determination and patience, and the thousands of hours we devoted to blending our individual musical voices.


Christopher Millard is Principal Bassoonist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and was Principal Bassoonist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from 1975 to 2004.

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