Lorelei Dowling

9 October 2021

ARTikulationen 2021
Artistic Research Journeys


Tabula Rasa
Contraforte, collaborations and borrowed theories

  • Contraforte
  • new instrument
  • roles
  • choice
  • phenomenology

When I began my artist research topic on musical ways the contraforte could become a viable instrument for expanding the colour palette of twenty-first century ensemble composition, I didn’t realize that ‘choice’, ‘roles ‘, implicit knowledge and physiology would play a major part.

The contraforte, introduced in 2001, is an entirely new instrument designed as an improvement to, and ultimately replace, the contrabassoon. While a limited amount of information exists about the contrabassoon, there is even less information about the contraforte. Hence, the writing for the contraforte in both solo and ensemble works is yet to reveal its full potential. The challenge is to take this instrument beyond the sustained notes of its predecessor, the contrabassoon, and launch it into untapped explorations of greater heterogeneous and homogenous sounds in new music.

I chose to collaborate with established composers, as part of my methodology for this artistic research.

The more technically adept I became on the contraforte, the more freedom I had, and therefore the more options I had to create new sounds.

As I added to the spectrum of extended techniques I discovered, and could fluently execute, I was able to offer a rich colour palette to inspire the composers I was collaborating with.

My choices often led to ‘controlled accidents’ (Gorton and Redgate 2018): an aficionado’s dream of unexpected discoveries.

Composers tend to pigeonhole large, low resonating instruments as slow, sluggish Neolithic creatures, unable to innovate or break out of this mold. This is how the contraforte (and contrabassoon) is perceived. I have strived to challenge and change this picture. I chose to have this role in my collaborations. So how did I make that work?

All instrumentalists make choices: from fingerings through extended techniques to improvisations. Most composers leave the ‘choice’ of a multiphonic up to the instrumentalist.

In the new pieces that were developed for the contraforte from my instigation, I began asking myself why I chose a certain multiphonic when no specific one was stated? Why this quarter tone fingering when I had developed several for each note? Which range to sing while playing? Which partial to bring out when overblowing?

Choice is often over ridden by intuition or implicit knowledge. Why? and what is the role of the composer and the performer in the development of this new instrument?

I will look at the following three new pieces composed for me to discuss this:

Alberto Posadas: GA
Georg Friederich Haas: Was mir Beethoven erzählt
George Aperghis: Tag ohne Nacht


Lorelei Dowling is a world-renowned bassoon and contraforte contemporary music specialist. Since winning a position in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra aged 24, she has appeared with many esteemed ensembles including: Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Mozarteum Orchestra, Orchester-RSO Wien, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, Esbjerg Ensemble, Musikfabrik, Lausanne and Munich Chamber Orchestras.

In addition to premiering the Jolivet Bassoon Concerto with a major Australian orchestra, she was the first bassoonist to play Sequenza XII by Luciano Berio in Spain, Singapore, Hong Kong and Russia. Since 1994, Lorelei Dowling has been the bassoon/contraforte player of Klangforum Wien.

She is also a member of the all amplified bassoon quartet “The Lindsay Cooper Quartet” which focuses only on new music, improvisations and their own compositions.

Lorelei has given lecture-recitals all over the world, most notably at the Manhattan School of Music; Moscow Conservatorium; Singapore University; Venice Conservatoire; Porto School of Music, Portugal; Paris Conservatoire; 10 year celebration for The Bassoonion, Hong Kong; Royal Northern College of Music and for the IDRS in Ithaca, Wisconsin and Birmingham. In 2010 she was the international guest bassoonist at the BDRS convention.

From 2013 -19, Dowling was one of three instrumental lecturers for the Masters in Composition at Katarina Gurska Centre for Music, Madrid, Spain.
In 2018, Dowling began her Dr. Artium (based on the contraforte) at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria. That same year she joined the Faculty of the Lucerne Festival Academy. In 2020 she commenced teaching contrabassoon and contraforte at the Music and Art private University, Vienna.

Her research work for the Dr Artium has resulted in the following pieces and their world premieres:

Georges Aperghis Tag ohne Nacht for solo contraforte. World premier, 20.10.2021 Musik Plus festival.

Georg Friedrich Haas’ Was mir Beethoven erzählt for contraforte, violin (Carolin Widmann), and Basel Chamber Orchestra (conductor Sylvain Cambreling) at Nike Wagner’s Beethovenfest Bonn, 09.09.2021 and Stadtcasino Basel, 10.09.2021

Alberto Posadas GA for solo contraforte, Acht Brücken festival Cologne, world premiere April 13 2022.

Brian Howard, Sentinel for contraforte and ensemble at the Canberra International Music Festival, Australia, commissioned for her, was performed May 9, 2021. Performance by Dowling will take place in London, May 2022.

Dowling/Bledsoe, Time Bomb, 3 pieces for contraforte and electronics piece released on multimedia May 2021. This collaboration was made possible via funding from the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia 2020.

Dowling was selected to present her doctoral project at the 2019 Association of European Conservatorium conference in Romania and at the 2021 Doctors in Performance Conference in Tallinn Estonia.

Highlights in her recording portfolio:

I was like WOW, compiled from her studio and live recordings ( 2017 TXYart label).

Axis Mundi for solo bassoon by Liza Lim on the CD Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus (2020 KAIROS). This has been shortlisted for the Gramophone Music Awards 2021.

Tag ohne nacht for solo contraforte composed for her by Georges Aperghis in the SOLO series (2021 KAIROS).

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