Steve Paulson

Artist Photo

San Francisco Symphony, Principal Bassoonist

"I started using Légère Bassoon reeds in 2012. Since the beginning of 2015, I have used them exclusively. They have changed my life. During these last 21 months I have enjoyed playing the bassoon more than ever before." - Steve Paulson (Sept. 2016)

Stephen Paulson joined the San Francisco Symphony as Principal Bassoonist in 1977 and made his SFS solo debut the following year in Vivaldi's C major Bassoon Concerto. Since then, he has been a frequent soloist with the Orchestra, performing with conductors such as Kurt Masur, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Christopher Hogwood, and Helmuth Rilling.

Mr. Paulson has served on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since 1978. He has been a guest artist and faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and Music in the Vineyards. He has also been a guest coach with the New World Symphony. In 1995 he was one of four SFS musicians chosen by Sir Georg Solti to play in Solti's World Orchestra, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

Stephen Paulson graduated with honors from the Eastman School of Music. He studied bassoon with K. David Van Hoesen and Mordechai Rechtman and composition with Samuel Adler. From 1970 to 1977 he served as co-principal bassoonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Prior to that, he performed with the Rochester Philharmonic for four seasons, serving as principal bassoonist with that ensemble from 1968 to 1970.

February 2016, Paulson received a stellar review following his performance of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony; "The unalloyed high point of the program, in any case, was the performance of Mozart's Bassoon Concerto, with Steve Paulson, the orchestra's excellent longtime principal, as a suave and winningly refined soloist. This is a piece that doesn't get played very often, in part because it's early Mozart and can seem a little bland in the wrong hand.

Paulson, though, gave a virtuosic demonstration of just how wrong that glib assessment is - and he did it, paradoxically, by sheer understatement and insinuation. There were few fireworks as such in the performance, even though he raced nimbly through the elaborate passagework of the first movement, with its stuttery repeated notes, and through the delicately shaped solo stretches of the finale.

Instead, Paulson seemed to sneak up on each melodic phrase and large formal paragraph, edging his way in and suddenly taking command of the material like some musical ninja. Then the solo would expand and blossom, enthralling you before you'd fully registered what had happened. And Paulson's original cadenzas for all three movements were sweetly outlandish marvels." -
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chroniclenote from Mr. Paulson on Légère:

In the early days of his endorsement....
"For the past couple of months, I've been playing exclusively on a Légère synthetic bassoon reed. I'm almost reluctant to reveal publicly how much I am enjoying the experience. As good as these reeds are, I'm sure that even the folks at Légère understand that it will take a long time to have synthetic reeds accepted as mainstream in our worldwide culture of bassoonists, at least among professionals. Prospective conservatory students will want the assurance that a bassoon teacher will continue devote the time and energy to the teaching of cane reed making, as I will, even if the professional happens to be "doing a little Légère on the side".

That having been said, I have gone through a variety of repertoire since the start of my Légère experiment. In late February, shortly after receiving my first samples, I decided to be brave, and play on the Légère reed for the opening of our fourth repetition that week of Mozart's Symphony No. 39. I figured, that I could switch back to my cane reed after the intro. I wound up using it for the entire symphony. I asked my colleagues if they noticed, and all told me that the sound was fine.

I continued to play on it during the month of March, throughout the San Francisco Symphony's American Mavericks Festival in San Francisco, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and New York. Through many works, both orchestral and chamber, some of extreme difficulty (such as David Del Tredici's "Syzygy"), my Légère reed performed reliably, with fewer changes due to weather than cane reeds.

More recently I played Firebird here in Davies Hall, and reports from colleagues in the orchestra were very positive. I felt that the reliability of the reed allowed me to refine my nuances of phrasing more than ever before.

The big question remains TONE - that basic sound wave produced by the combination of reed, bocal, and instrument. Am I sacriificing something in exchange for that ease of musical line? This will take a while to answer. One of the most encouraging endorsements so far comes from Jack Vad, the long time SFS recording engineer. No one knows the sounds and personalities of the SFS players more than Jack does, and he was extremely positive about the bassoon sound in the Berceuse last week.

Although my current reed shows no sign of wearing out, I am in the process of breaking in some new Légère reeds, and hope to have them humming like my favorite one very soon." Steve Paulson