Recital: John Fulton '22, Bassoon

NEC: Pierce Hall | Directions

241 St. Botolph St.
Boston, MA
United States

NEC's students meet one-on-one each week with a faculty artist to perfect their craft. As each one leaves NEC to make their mark in the performance world, they present a full, professional recital that is free and open to the public. It's your first look at the artists of tomorrow.

John Fulton '22 studies Bassoon with Suzanne Nelsen.


Thoughts on the program

This recital has been years in the making, and it feels almost unreal to finally present it. I’ve had the idea of presenting a recital that demonstrates music from a wide variety of eras, presented in chronological order, for a long time now; that has been the only thing with this program I was always 100% certain about.
        I’ve always been moved and inspired by pieces such as the Bach D Minor Cello Suite for years and knew I wanted to begin my graduation recital with this beautiful piece. When I first began the bassoon, I became infatuated with baroque music. I loved the simplicity of it, and it provided a great growing point for the passion of music I developed. Nowadays my passion for the genre comes from the freedom found in baroque music and the endless ways it can be interpreted. Despite being the oldest piece on the program and often affiliated with uniformity and tradition, I find the piece incredibly liberating and free.
        The program provides temporary glimpses into 300 years of artistic movement and style, and while the Bach is obviously not written for bassoon, I wanted the rest of the program to represent incredible instances of composition for bassoon and how the usage of this instrument has evolved. I made the decision to skim over the classical period where a considerable amount of music for bassoon was composed prior to the 20th century and to revisit a revitalization of the style later in the program. Russian Romanticism, specifically Pytor Illych Tchaikovsky, takes the most amount of credit for my decision to pursue music performance on the bassoon. While Tchaikovsky tragically kept all of his outstanding bassoon writing within the orchestral genre, he was a contemporary of a figurehead of Russian romantic composition: Mikhail Glinka. The Trio Pathétique is a wonderful example of the 19th century style of composition otherwise lacking in the bassoon repertoire, and one that I am thrilled to share with you all on this program.
        Of course, what would an undergraduate bassoon recital be without a piece of 20th century French music? Probably still a decent recital. That being said, so much of my favorite music I have played in the past 5 years has been that of midcentury French composers such as Ravel, Dutilleux, Messaien, Poulenc, Bitsch, and others that it felt almost obligatory to include the likes of these composers on this program. I’ve always enjoyed Françaix’s conceptualization of the bassoon’s character, and while I do not generally enjoy the “neoclassical” genre, the neoclassical style of that specific era satisfies the desire to represent the bassoon in a classical style and to evolve from a 19th century to a 20th century sound. This piece also serves as an aesthetic palette cleanser between the gloom of the first half of the program and the final act. After all, “divertissement” can translate to “diversion,” which is very appropriate for the function of the piece in this program.
        I first came across the works of Tania León a little over a year ago when performing her orchestral piece Batá. I instantly became obsessed with the composer and her wind quintet, and I quickly came across Pinceladas (thank you, YouTube algorithm). This piece is a blessing to the contemporary bassoon repertoire and is perfectly representative of the music that I would like to focus on going forward in my playing career. The first three pieces of this program serve as musical love letter to the music that has inspired me to be the player that I am today, and the Tania León work serves as a preview of what I would like my art to become in the future. 


This is an in-person event with a private stream available to the NEC community here:


  1. Johann Sebastian Bach | from Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1028

    I. Prelude
    IV. Sarabande
    II. Allemande


    Program note

    While we are not sure of the exact composition date of Johann Sebastian Bach’s melancholic Second Cello Suite in D Minor, the passing of Bach’s first wife in 1720 would make for ample inspiration for this solemn work. The Prelude beautifully balances the dark, mysterious themes expected of a d minor prelude, and the shadow of a more structured sarabande dance style, often placing the emphasis and stopping running 16th note patterns on the second beat of the ¾ time signature. Longer than most of Bach’s other cello suite preludes, the D minor prelude tells a story far more complex, tragic, and expansive than that of his other solo instrumental suite preludes. The fourth movement, a proper Sarabande by title and by form, is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching movements written by the composer. Primarily living in the bottom two octaves of the cello (roughly the same range in the bassoon), the dark and grave sound world created by Bach is filled with longing cultivated by double stops (not achievable on the bassoon) and trills that resolve as quickly as they lead to the next phrase. Like all movements aside from the Prelude, the Sarabande is in a binary form with repeats for both sections (repeats which I will not take in this performance). Playing all movements of this suite on a solo bassoon recital is not realistic given the air support required by the bassoon. Therefore, the last movement from this wonderful work I will perform is the lively 2nd movement, the Allemande. The movement moves at clip in comparison to the wandering nature of the Prelude and the longing found in the Sarabande. I will play the assertive Allemande in its entirety, taking the repeats for both sections of its binary form.

  2. Mikhail Glinka | Trio Pathétique

    Allegro moderato
    Scherzo: Vivacissimo

    Allegro con spirito


    Program note

    Remaining in the key of D Minor, the next piece on tonight’s program is Mikhail Glinka’s Trio Pathétique. Written for piano, bassoon, and clarinet in 1832, this piece comes at a point in Glinka’s life where he wanted to transition from the operatic style of the great Italian composers such as Donizetti and Rossini to forging a path to what would become a recognizable Russian national sound. In contrast to the dark nature of the key of D Minor, the moments in the major keys of F and B-flat Major are utterly joyful and, even among the gloom, gestures of laughter and joy can be found in the first two movements. Far more light-hearted than the Pathétiques of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, there is an aspect of operatic bel canto found in the work that is reflective of Glinka’s skill as an operatic composer. As in many operas, the idea of unrequited love was certainly on the mind of this 28 year-old composer.  The only writing found on the manuscript which indicates his inspiration for the piece reads: “I have only known love through the pain that it brings.”

    • Tristan Broadfoot, clarinet
    • Da-Yu Liu, piano
  3. Jean Françaix | Divertissement for Bassoon and Strings

    Vivo assai


    Program note

    Jean Françaix’s Divertissement for Bassoon and Stringscame at a time when the bassoon was experiencing a renaissance of compositions primarily coming from Russia and Françaix’s own French school of composition. When listening to the work, one can hear the influence of compositions such as Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, Stravinsky’s revolutionary Le Sacre du Printemps, and Poulenc’s Trio for bassoon, oboe and piano. One hears the genesis of music that inspired pieces such as André Jolivet’s Bassoon Concerto with its regular use of 2-3 octave jumps among technical running passages and the full utilization of the bassoon’s massive and accessible range. Unlike many of Françaix’s impressionist peers, he writes in signature neoclassical style that balances a classical form and melody with French witticism and a midcentury take on the function of tonality. The earworm of the first movement follows a pseudo-sonata form – a very abrupt ending after a modified recapitulation of the initial theme. The second movement primarily floats through a one and a half octave range in the tenor register of the bassoon, once again establishing a recognizable simple theme that will be identifiable later in the composition. The third movement in B minor, following a rondo form, is a masterclass in tasteful neoclassical composition and wit. The rhythmic theme in juxtaposition with off-kilter tonalities and rhythms the B and C sections of the work truly honor the literal translation of the scherzo (“joke”). The final movement is a lively arpeggio-studded movement that recalls familiar themes from the first and second movements and ends in a proper C major, something that the 1st and 3rd movements fall short of, beautifully bookending the entire work.

    • Natalie Boberg, violin 1
    • Katie Knudsvig, violin 2
    • Sophia Tseng, viola
    • Trés Foster, cello
    • Gregory Padilla, double bass
  4. Tania León | Pinceladas


    Program note

    The final piece on this program is a piece by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Tania León. Commissioned by Vanderbilt University and composed in 2016, Pinceladas for Bassoon and Piano is an outstanding demonstration of the capabilities of the instrument through a contemporary lens. “Pinceladas'' is a Spanish/Portuguese word that translates to “brushstrokes” in English. This piece is reminiscent of an artistic process with this translation in mind. The beginning of the piece is a cacophony of sounds and textures that create the base of a sonic canvas. Different textures are created by swooping 32nd note runs, incredibly measured and rhythmic sentences, and the use of multiphonics, tone trills, growling, and flutter tonguing. As the piece goes on, the artistic process becomes more refined. The gestures become less grand, more sparse, more precise, and more thoughtful as if to depict an artist using a smaller brush to paint detail work on a canvas. The middle of the piece features a quasi-cadenza contrasting the use of multiphonic chord progressions with metered gestures, each a repetition of the last with nuanced variations. When the piano rejoins after this quasi-cadenza, the artist is now concentrated and sees a vision of the final work as the bassoon and piano work in tandem through very precise rhythms and patterns to finish the piece. The artist then takes a few moments to revisit ideas generated earlier in the work and triumphantly puts the paintbrush down. The use of extended techniques in this work is a masterclass in the capabilities of the bassoon and vividly depicts a wide array of colors and textures essential to the piece.

    • Avi Randall, piano

    I would like to thank the following people:

    First and foremost to all of my collaborators on this recital;
    thank you all for helping me bring this wonderful music and program to life.

    Thank you to all of my undergraduate instructors:
    Margaret Phillips, Marc Goldberg, and Suzanne Nelsen.

    Thank you to my family for supporting the five and a half year rollercoaster
    that has been my undergraduate degree.

    And lastly thank you to my friends and support system
    that have been there for me as I’ve rounded out my time here at NEC.