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Interview with Bassoonist Elizabeth Gowen

Ms. Gowen has played in the orchestra for 20(!) of Toronto's Salute to Vienna concerts. Find out what it means to her to be part of this musical tradition in this interview conducted by our VP, Andrea Warren.

What does Salute to Vienna mean to you?

I love getting dressed up in my spiffiest black dress, wearing my fanciest jewellery, and being on stage with my colleagues, playing irresistible music for the audience who appreciates it so much. There’s such a sense of occasion to it. It’s amazing how the Toronto concerts have become an annual tradition for so many people, and it’s really a thrill to be involved in it. I’ve missed playing a few concerts over the years, and those years New Year’s just didn’t seem right somehow. Something was definitely missing.

How do you spend your time when you aren’t working?

I enjoy being outside walking through the woods and marveling at the power and beauty of nature. During the summers, I work in an award-winning winery. I guess music and wine really do go together!

What is the most challenging part of your job? And the most exciting?

Bassoonists always have to worry about reeds — those fickle bits of cane that create the vibrations that our instruments translate into sound. Virtually all professional bassoonists make their own highly individual reeds which are susceptible to weather changes and wear out after only a few hours’ playing time. So it’s a constant struggle to maintain a supply of good ones. But that challenge is outweighed by the sheer joy of playing in an orchestra, where everyone contributes to a sound that through some alchemy becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Describe your perfect New Year’s Eve.

Well, there would be champagne involved, for sure!

How many years have you performed in Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert?

I played the very first concert in 1995, and most of them since then. So nearly 20 years.

What is your favorite musical composition?

Can I pick more than one? Symphonic Dances by Rachmaninoff, or the opera Salome by Richard Strauss.

What is your favorite journey?

Taking the train across Canada is on my bucket list for sure.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve got a couple on the go right now — Life on the Ground Floor by Dr. James Maskalyk, about his experiences as an ER doctor at St. Mike’s Hospital, and The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson.

What is your favorite breakfast?

A handful of my homemade Christmas gingerbread biscotti dipped in a triple shot latte. It’s so decadently good that I only allow myself to have it on Christmas morning.

Photography by Barry Roden, 2018

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