Bassoonist Peter Musson was born in Auckland, one of three brothers, all of whom became professional musicians. From five years old, he studied clarinet and saxophone with George Hopkins, the influential American teacher who produced many fine New Zealand wind players. Childhood was spent playing in dance bands alongside adult musicians and in the Auckland Junior Symphony Orchestra. At eleven, he and another Hopkins student, Gordon Skinner, were both given bassoons to play by the AJSO: both went on to become professional bassoonists.
From musical prodigy to principal bassoonist
Thanks to chief conductor James Robertson’s policy of engaging talented young New Zealanders, at the age of sixteen Peter auditioned and became the youngest-ever member of the NZBC Symphony Orchestra (now the NZSO) in Wellington. Over the next 11 years, he became Principal Bassoonist and a member of the New Zealand Wind Quintet.
The years with the NZSO provided wonderful opportunities to play a wide repertoire with many of the world’s leading soloists, among them pianists Claudio Arrau and Gina Bachauer and violinist David Oistrakh. The conductors included John Hopkins, Sir William Walton, Karel Ancerl, Alceo Galliera, Josef Krips and Igor Stravinsky. Peter particularly values the knowledge of the romantic Russian repertoire passed on by conductor Nikolai Malko, himself a pupil of Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Expanding horizons to the United Kingdom
In 1967, wishing to widen his musical horizons, Peter set off for London where he freelanced for two years. This was a time when the London orchestras were renowned for their very flamboyant and individualistic, even eccentric, principal players.Mentored by hornist Ray Few, Peter found himself playing Principal with the Royal Philharmonic alongside such great names as James Galway on flute and James Brown on horn. RPO conductors at this time included Rudolf Kempe and Sir Adrian Boult. He was also privileged to play in the Sadlers Wells Orchestra with Cecil James, the last great London bassoonist to still play a French-system bassoon, albeit with a German-style reed.
However, UK work permit requirements necessitated a permanent position and Peter took up an appointment as Principal Bassoon with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast. In contrast to the NZSO, this was a chamber orchestra with a repertoire dominated by the works of Mozart and Haydn, ‘The best possible way to refine one’s playing’, as Peter recalls it.
Of the many fine artists appearing with the Ulster Orchestra, Peter particularly remembers cellist Jacqueline du Pre and Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, who specialised in such works as de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat”. A frequent conductor of this period was Nazi concentration camp survivor Rudolf Schwarz, who proved a very strong influence on Peter’s musical ideas.
Peter also toured throughout the UK as soloist with the orchestra in the Mozart bassoon concerto. During the four years spent in Belfast, Peter formed the Ulster Soloists Ensemble, with whom he played a wide range of chamber music and recorded for the BBC. He also performed with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and the orchestra of Raidio Teilifis Eireann in Dublin.
Sojourn in South Africa and return to Europe
From 1972 to 1976, Peter was Principal with the Durban Symphony Orchestra in South Africa where he met and married English ballet dancer, Joanna Dean.
1976 saw a return to Europe with an appointment as Associate Principal with the Niederrhein Sinfoniker in Krefeld, Germany. Here Peter had the opportunity to play some of the larger operatic works of Wagner and Richard Strauss. The period spent in Germany gave him the chance to visit several instrument factories, learning about the manufacture and repair of bassoons, and to acquire some of the best German reed-making equipment. Peter also returned briefly to the UK as Guest Principal with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Kiril Kondrashin and with Gidon Kremer as soloist, performing in London, Bournemouth and Leeds.
Arrival in Australia
In 1979, Peter was appointed Principal with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and has lived in Brisbane since then, later leaving the orchestra to become a full-time lecturer at the Queensland Conservatorium. With the QSO he performed and recorded as soloist the Mozart, Weber, J C Bach, Danzi, Gordon Jacob and Jiri Pauer bassoon concertos, the Elgar Romance, the Weber Andante and Hungarian Rondo and the Richard Strauss Duet Concertino with clarinettist Paul Dean. As a chamber musician, his many performances have included the Townsville, Bowral, Tyalgum and Orange Music Festivals. He toured the US and Canada as a member of the Queensland Wind Soloists. Peter has also played as Guest Principal with the Sydney and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Teacher and craftsman
In addition to his performing career, Peter has been a very successful teacher with former students having held performing and teaching positions on four continents. He was a Senior Lecturer in Bassoon and Chamber Music at the Queensland Conservatorium until 2001 and is currently a part-time staff member.
In 1979, Peter and Joanna started their reed-making business, Musson Bassoon Reeds, supplying customers around Australia and overseas. Peter has played his current 11,000-series Heckel since 1978. Earlier experience on various inferior instruments has made him acutely aware of the many potential problems bassoons can have and the importance of always keeping instruments in optimum playing condition. Today, Peter is still involved in reed-making and instrument testing.