For over three decades, bassoonist George Muller has performed with orchestras all over the globe—and he’s got the tales to prove it. George sat down with NEP’s board president Ann Teixeira to talk about his musical journey from Germany to his new life as a down easter, scary sight-readings, and the art of beekeeping.
AT: You’ve been performing with the NEP since 2011, but I’ve heard this is actually your 34th year performing in orchestras all over the globe. Did I do my math right?
GM: It’s true. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. We don’t have enough time to go through the list, but I can say that the ones I recall the most fondly include the Hamburg Symphony, Bonn Beethovenhalle Orchestra, Deutsche Oper Berlin (West), Nuernberger Philharmonker, and Bochumer Symphoniker.
AT: And it was always the bassoon?
GM: In fourth grade I started with the trumpet, and then we moved. Then in the sixth grade, I took up the violin, and then we moved again! It wasn’t until high school that I joined the band and was offered the bassoon, and I never looked back. That was in September of 1961.
AT: With a career spanning as many years, and miles, as yours, you must have some amazing tales to tell. Can you name one of your most rewarding, challenging, and/or comical memories?
GM: The first two years with the Hamburg Symphony were the best. I was just starting out, and I was totally immersed in daily rehearsals, concerts, and recordings. I recall getting paid $250 a month—this was 1971. I still have contact with my mentor from those days, a clarinetist who is in his eighties now.
There are plenty of challenging stories. Subbing with operas in neighboring cities was always nerve-wracking; I’d get a call in the morning and play that evening. In the Deutsche Oper, I sight-read almost every night over a seven-month period as a substitute for 27 operas!
AT: I heard you’re a busy man off the concert stage as well and that your hobbies include gardening, sailing, camping, hiking, pickup basketball, travelling, and beekeeping. I’d love to hear more about the last one! How did you get into it?
GM: Bees have always interested me, and eight years ago, I decided to try it. My property sits on a half-acre lot, so I had the space. I produce honey and sell to people I know, just enough to offset costs.
AT: A little bird told me you have quite a vinyl record collection. What is your most prized record in the collection?
GM: That would be the Verdi Requiem with the Hamburg University Orchestra, my first major work in my final year at Hamburger Musikhochschule. The soprano Luisa Bossabalian sang with acute appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital right after the concert. She could have died on stage!
AT: This year marks your sixth with the NEP. What is your fondest NEP memory?
GM: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012. It is just such a great composition, and I really bonded with the other wind players that cycle.
AT: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?
GM: The whole 40th season schedule is exciting; it’s hard to choose one piece. I just love playing my bassoon, and I’m looking forward to the season.