We welcome Zachary Cohen, our Principal Bass for the 14-15 season

Zachary Cohen, a native of the Bronx, won the position of principal bass of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in his senior year of Juilliard at the age of 22. Mr. Cohen received his Bachelor of Music from Juilliard where he studied with legendary bassist Homer Mensch. During his summers Mr. Cohen has performed at the Marlboro Music Festival, Grand Teton Music Festival, and The Dresden Musikfestspiele.

As an active chamber musician Mr. Cohen has collaborated with a wide range of artists such as Ithzak Perlman, Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, Midori, Mark O’Connor, and members of the Guarneri and Mendelssohn quartets. He has also worked closely with some of today’s most respected composers such as Henri Dutilleux, Osvaldo Golijov, and Mario Davidovsky. While attending Juilliard, Mr. Cohen became principal bass of the chamber orchestra ‘The Knights’. He has recently recorded two albums with them on Sony Classical.Bassist Zachary Cohen, 2010. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

Ever wonder what kind of wood a bassoon is made from? Here is our 2nd bassoonist, Carole Mason Smith, to answer some questions about her instrument.

 What kind of wood is a bassoon made from?CMS professional photo 

Maple is the preferred wood for making a bassoon, and it has to be aged and processed before it is ready to be made into a finished instrument.   A bassoon can be stained different colors such as mahogany, black, brown or even light brown, but maple is the material. However, student model bassoons are often made of polypropylene, a sturdy plastic more advantageous to durability than tone.


What are reeds made from?

Bassoon reeds are made from the same material as other woodwind reeds, a variety of cane known as arundo donax.   Many professional bassoonists make their own reeds, tailoring the reed to their own specific ensemble, repertoire, concert hall, and even the requirements of a particular piece of music.


How long does it take to makeIMG_20140228_103452_605 a reed?

To transform a tube of arundo donax into a bassoon reed can take several months since there are several procedures and the cane benefits from some rest between the procedures. If one does not want to undertake the entire process, there are double reed making companies which will do the rough work of splitting the tube, sizing the cane, pre-gouging, gouging, and profiling, leaving only the shaping, tubing, wrapping and finishing to the player. Even these last steps can take weeks as a reed benefits by several hours of ‘playing in’ accomplished over several days.


Why did you choose the bassoon as an instrument?

I was fortunate that my fourth grade band director, Carl Karoub, played horn in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra with my bassoon playing brother, James L. Mason. Carl realized our band did not really need me as thirteenth saxophonist, plus the school had a bassoon going unused, and most importantly, my brother might be coerced into providing me with lessons and reeds. I began studying with Jim that summer, and eventually even played two seasons with him in the Toledo Symphony!


What is your favorite repertoire to play in the SPCO and why?

Usually whatever we’re playing in the orchestra is my favorite. Melodies, harmonies and rhythms of that week’s repertoire stay with me; they stick with me until the next week’s music takes over. Of course it is a special pleasure when the wind section is featured in a Mozart, Strauss or Dvorak wind serenade, but almost every piece the SPCO plays has something exciting or beautiful which I enjoy.

What do four musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have in common? They all play on instruments made by the Brooklyn-based luthier, Sam Zygmuntowicz.

It is rare to have so many musicians in one orchestra own instruments by the same maker, but violinists, Steven Copes, Ruggero Allifranchini, Nina Fan, and cellist, Joshua Koestenbaum are all proud owners of Zygmuntowicz instruments.

Click on this link to see a video of Sam Zygmuntowicz at work.


Nina –

I remember reading about Sam in Strings magazine a long time ago. It seems that David Finckel, the cellist of the Emerson Quartet, had brought into rehearsal a cello by some young New York maker, and it shocked the other members with its quality. Soon they were converts, as were many of the top players around, including Isaac Stern and Cho-Liang Lin. Nowadays it’s hard to get your hands on a “Sam.” (I’ve heard that there’s a bumper sticker around that says, “My other instrument is a Strad”!)

Mine is not brand-new; it was made in 1994 (still a baby, by violin standards). It is made on a Guarneri del Gesu model, though not a copy of a particular instrument. I love how responsive it is, and how “healthy” and powerful the sound. It’s also nice to know it’s in perfect condition, with no hidden cracks or repairs–and if something happens to it, I can go back to the maker and have him fix it!

Sam is a brilliant man. He is very interested in the science of acoustics, and he’s constantly experimenting. His craftsmanship is impeccable. I’m on the wait list for another one, and I can’t wait to work with him and see what he comes up with.


I first heard about Sam Zygmuntowicz from violinist, Daniel Phillips, in the early 90s. He’s a very fine , accomplished and knowledgeable violinist and I trusted his opinion as I was getting a little tired of borrowing instruments.

My current violin was made late in 2012 and it is patterned after  the Heifetz 1741 Guarneri del Gesu.

What makes Sam’s instruments so popular is that they are both easy to play and they “functions” and behave like a great instrument .

I enjoy playing on Sam’s violins in part because, like playing a piece of contemporary music of a living composer, you can ask questions and develop a relationship ,make a connection that can last a lifetime in which you can learn and improve from this interaction .


I heard about SZ through cellist David Finckel, who was in St. Paul on a few years ago.  We had dinner and talked about our musical hero, Mstislav Rostropovich, whom David knew very well. Afterwards he showed me his cello, not having told me anything about it.  It was gorgeous.  I assumed that it was—somehow– Rostropovich’s Strad.  David then told me about Sam Z. and his remarkable instruments.

My cello was made in 2006.  It’s Sam’s modification of the “Duport” Stradivarius form.  It’s one of the two cello patterns that Sam uses—the other one being an Amati-style. I’d put my name on Sam’s waiting list about three years beforehand.  In the interim, I bought one his Amati-style cellos, which I then traded in for my current cello.

It has a big, beautiful, clear sound.  It’s brilliant without being harsh.  If I had to describe the sound in terms of color, I think I’d call it “orange-silver.”  It has lots of reserve power—the cello sends out whatever I can put into it.  It responds quickly.  Some cellos have a forgiving delay; this cello speaks immediately.

My cello is an “antiqued” model.  Sam gives clients the choice of “new” or “antiqued.”  He is a famous for his skill and artistry at this processs.

His work is beautiful, nuanced—the antiquing doesn’t subtract from the appearance or integrity—it augments it.  It’s an honoring of history and tradition, I think.

Steve –

I heard about Sam through Ruggero, and I now own his old violin, which was made in 1997. It was modeled after a Guarneri, the  “Pannette”, made in 1737.

Sam’s instruments are designed to project well in modern concert halls. They operate like great, old Italian instruments. IMG_9081I enjoy playing on this violin because it is dependable, has a consistent sound, and does everything that I need it to do.





SPCO Flutist, Alicia McQuerrey, talks about her experience as a Suzuki student, one of the first flutists to be taught in this method in the US.

Alicia, how old were you when you started the flute?

I was 7. I started piano at 5 and was better at piano until I was about 13 or so.  Now the only thing I can play on the piano is The Hokey Pokey!

How did you decide on the flute as your instrument?

At 7 my dad asked me what instrument I wanted to play in addition to the piano.  He was a high school band director and had a majorette in his high school band that was very nice to me.  She played the flute so I said, “flute, like her!”

When did you learn to play the piccolo?

I didn’t add piccolo until I was 15.  Our high school band didn’t have many at the time and every marching band needs a piccolo, although really, one is plenty!  My mom took me to the National Flute Association Convention in DC the summer before 10th grade and we found a used piccolo that did the trick.  My first was a wood Emerson.

Is it very different from playing the flute?  

The principles are the same but the embouchure aperture is much smaller.  The fingering system is the same however, piccolo players use “fake” fingerings.  These are special fingerings that don’t always work or aren’t needed on flute but that make intonation much better.  I didn’t have a piccolo teacher until Jack Wellbaum, former piccolo player of the Cincinnati Symphony, while attending UC-CCM for undergrad.  I enjoyed piccolo before but he helped me love it.  We had weekly studio classes and I had private lessons with him.  Mr. Wellbaum had a little black cat named Bob that sat on the music stand legs during lessons.  I never asked if he was born deaf or if he became that way from sitting through piccolo lessons.  Poor Bob!  A lone piccolo can play as loud as a full symphony orchestra so it is a powerful position to be in.  I like to think I use my power for good!

We always think of violin when it comes to Suzuki training.  Tell us something about the Suzuki method for flute.

Suzuki flute method was created with Mr. Suzuki by Toshoio Takahashi, who was a student of Marcel Moyese, the famous French flutist.  Moyese’s influence is seen in the Suzuki method from beginning articulation practice to the repertoire in every book. Suzuki flutists first learn to spit rice.  You literally put a piece of rice on your bottom lip and spit it off using your air and tongue.  This is called French tonguing.

How did your parents decide to start you in the Suzuki program?

My dad played 2nd horn in the West Virginia Symphony for 22 seasons and when I was ready to start flute, there was no question with whom I would study.  I was fortunate enough to start flute with June Warhoftig, then principal flutist of the West Virginia Symphony.  June was one of the first flute teachers to bring the Suzuki method to the US.  I believe there were only 3 certified teachers in the US at the time.  I feel so lucky to have started and graduated from the Suzuki method.  I really feel like it gave me the ear that musicians use their whole lives.  Suzuki’s methods are built on the idea that children learn their mother tongue by hearing it, repeating and being encouraged.  Suzuki students practice pieces at home, listen to and play along with recordings repeatedly, play together at monthly group classes and attend master classes throughout the year. Suzuki also uses triangle teaching-teacher, parent and child.  My parents had to come to each lesson and take notes.  They also had to learn to play a little so they could be my teachers during the week, between lessons.

What repertoire do you most enjoy playing with the SPCO?001A-crop

I have so many favorites!  I love playing the Beethoven Symphonies on flute and piccolo.  Mendelssohn always writes really beautiful flute duets within his works, so that’s fun, too.  I love doing really hard modern pieces that require me to play flute, piccolo and alto flute.  I have to totally focus allowing me to escape the daily life (shoveling snow, toddler melt downs from time to time, a dog who decides it’s too cold to go potty outside, etc.).  Recently I got to play a piece by Paul Schoenfield called Slovakian Children’s Songs with Stephen Gosling on the SPCO chamber music series.  It was so satisfying-beautiful lines, jazzy feel plus being very technically challenging, which for me equals a good pay off!  I’m looking forward to the chamber music week in March.  I’m playing Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Flute and Bassoon with Carole Mason Smith, and Jet Whistle with cellist Sarah Lewis, both compositions by Villa-Lobos.

( Alicia at age 10 )

Did you know that SPCO violinist, Daria Adams, and her husband, Minnesota Orchestra violist, Michael Adams, are co-directors of a summer chamber music festival in Napa Valley?


How many years has the chamber music festival existed?

This summer will be our 20th season.

What made you want to start your own chamber music festival?

Michael and I love to play chamber music, and have played in many festivals over the years, but decided it was time to create our own festival.  This was an easy idea to come up with, but not so easy to accomplish!

Why did you pick Napa Valley?

Actually, our first idea was to start a festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but that didn’t work out.  We have family in the Napa Valley area, and have visited the area often, so we thought it would be a great place to start a festival.

Where do you perform?

We perform in different wineries every year, although some are regular venues.  We play at Clos Pegase Winery every year.   The daughter of Walt Disney, who recently passed away, was the owner of the Silverado Winery, one of our biggest supporters.  Other regular venues are Hess, Beringer, Frog’s Leap, Markham, and Merryvale.

What are the dates?   M & D at Tonella's

This summer we are expanding to four weeks.  The dates will be July 29 – August 24.  We will be performing four different programs, and also open rehearsals.

For more information, visit: musicinthevineyards.org



How many trumpets does Lynn Erickson play? Our Second trumpet, Lynn Erickson, answers questions about her trumpets and talks about what it feels like to work with a therapy dog.

How many trumpets do you play?

Two of each of the following trumpets:  Bb, C, D, Piccolo.

One of each of the following:  Eb trumpet, Flugelhorn, Bb Cornet.Lynn wiht trumpets

The SPCO owns the rotary trumpets that we use, as well as the set of natural trumpets.

In addition to having a variety of trumpets, I also have to have a large number of mutes.  Each mute has a different timbre, and it’s nice to have a large selection so you can get the exact sound that you want.

I also use a number of different mouthpieces:  slightly smaller and shallower mouthpiece for the high piccolo trumpet, and a larger, deeper mouthpiece for most of the playing I do in the orchestra.

Trumpets, mouthpieces and mutes are tools, and as players, we need to determine which tools are best for the piece of music at hand.

How are they different?

The repertoire we play in the SPCO requires the trumpet players to be able to play on a number of different trumpets pitched in different keys.  In addition to modern piston trumpets, we also play rotary trumpets and natural trumpets (trumpets that have no valves at all).

The largest trumpet we play in the orchestra is the Bb trumpet, which is also the instrument that most trumpet players learn to play on.  The trumpet we play most often in the orchestra is pitched in C.  The higher the key of the trumpet is, the shorter the length of the instrument. We also use trumpets pitched in D, Eb, F, G, and the piccolo trumpet which can be pitched in A , Bb or C.  The Bb/A piccolo is half the length of the large Bb trumpet, and we use this instrument mainly in Baroque music (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, etc.)

In addition to these trumpets, we also play cornets pitched in Bb or C, and the flugelhorn.  One question that is often asked is ‘what is the difference between a trumpet and a cornet?’  The cornet (and flugelhorn) has tubing that is more conical, the trumpet has tubing that is more cylindrical.  The cornet/ flugelhorn uses a more V-shaped cup mouthpiece, the trumpet a C-shaped cup.  The cornet/flugelhorn are coiled in a slightly different way from the trumpet, and look a little more compact.  Due to the different design of the instruments and mouthpieces, the sound of conical instruments is mellow and darker; the sound of cylindrical instruments is brighter, and can be more brilliant.

The rotary trumpet has rotary valves like a French horn, and has a darker sound that blends well.  The natural trumpet with no valves is the most challenging to play, is not as loud as a modern trumpet, and also has a unique sound.


Why did I choose to play the trumpet rather than the viola?

I started playing the trumpet when I was in the fourth grade, and chose this instrument because I liked the trumpet sound and thought it would be a fun instrument to play.  My parents enjoyed listening to classical music, and I regularly heard orchestral music that featured brass instruments.  The first classical recording I bought was one of the 1812 Overture-brassy stuff!


What is your favorite repertoire to play in the chamber orchestra?

Baroque!  I really enjoy playing the piccolo trumpet.


What steps did you go through to train your dog to be a therapy dog? 

My golden retriever Lacey and I are a therapy dog team, and do volunteer work at Methodist Hospital each week.  In order to become a therapy dog team, you have to first pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.  We went to classes at the Humane Society in Golden Valley, and worked hard to master all of the obedience training required of this test.  Once we passed this level, we were able to register for the ten-week therapy dog training class.  When we had both passed the test for the therapy dog team certification, I explored volunteer options for a therapy dog team in my community.  We now volunteer on a weekly basis at the Melrose Institute, a part of the Methodist Hospital system.  Lacey brings a lot of joy to people with her visits, and also loves the attention that she gets.  It’s an enjoyable and unusual way for me to make a difference in my community.







Musicians of the SPCO honor retirees

We would like to acknowledge and thank those musicians who are leaving the orchestra for their musical and personal contributions that have helped to make the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra a world renowned ensemble.  Over the course of their tenure, the SPCO has done twelve international tours of Europe, Asia, and South America, many domestic tours, including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and the Ravinia Festival. They have also performed in 49 recordings with artists such as Pinchas Zukerman, Hugh Wolff, Christopher Hogwood, Mstislav Rostropovich, Douglas Boyd, and Bobby McFerrin.  We are very grateful to them for their talents and friendship over the years.

The following is a list of the musicians who have elected to retire, along with the number of seasons performed with the SPCO:

Gary Bordner, Principal Trumpet – 31

Fred Bretschger, Assistant Principal Bass – 32

Christopher Brown, Principal Bass – 34

Evelina Chao, Assistant Principal Viola – 33

Thomas Kornacker, Co-principal Second Violin – 36

Brenda Manuel Mickens, Violin – 33

Michal Sobieski, Violin – 34

Paul Straka, Horn – 31

Tamás Strasser, Viola – 38

Thomas Tempel, Oboe – 44