The last thing bassoonist Bram van Sambeek wants is to make a roaring statement. “Everyone has to decide for themselves where the limit is, what you do and don’t want to do,” he says on the phone. But when the International Bassoon Festival Bassoons for Future asked him about the meaning of sustainability in his musical life, Van Sambeek could no longer ignore it: „This has been an issue for me for years. A less volatile life suits me and my way of dealing with music.” Less volatile in this case literally means: less flying. Drastically less flying. Van Sambeek closes the airspace – more or less.
For an internationally sought-after musician such as Van Sambeek (1980), this is a snags decision. Although he does notice that it is becoming more and more alive: for example, he has been invited to the festival of cellist Jakob Koranyi in Sweden, where you are not even welcome as a flying musician. “The joke is: I know Jakob from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. I still have a contract there that has been postponed due to the corona crisis. So unless I go sailing and cancel a handful of other gigs, I’ll still have to get on the plane. But I won’t be doing that anymore for a single chamber music project for a week.”
Globetrotting is also prestigious: the status of a musician is measured by how much you do internationally, says Van Sambeek. “We have to talk about that. I think exchange is important, but you can say that we have gone too far, especially when you see what is going on in the world.”
Fortunately, Van Sambeek is a big train enthusiast – forty hours of trains to Finland, he doesn’t mind. “I like moving slowly through a landscape, watching nature change. You take longer to get somewhere, you live longer to get there. That makes it a bit of a quest. I once cycled 600 kilometers through Sweden to meet composer Sebastian Fagerlund. That gave me time for reflection: what do I expect from this meeting, what do I want to know? It has led to an intense collaboration.”
In 2017, Van Sambeek already drastically renounced flying. He ended up staying on the ground for 20 months. “But then another opportunity came along…” He has to think for a moment what the carrot was that he couldn’t let pass. Van Sambeek laughs: “That is actually quite telling.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 7, 2021