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MUSOs of the ASO: Jackie Newcomb, Principal Contrabassoon

21 Jul 2020
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
MUSOs of the ASO: Jackie Newcomb, Principal Contrabassoon

The pocket-sized rocket in the woodwinds wih the beaming smile, Dr Jackie Newcomb has been Principal Contrabassoon since 2009. Music to Jackie is “magic. It can instantly lift the spirit and bring people together who would otherwise have nothing in common.”

You may not know she’s married to ASO’s Principal Clarinet Dean Newcomb, who is a constant source of inspiration to Jackie. After playing in Shanghai last year she hopes that one day South Australians will have the opportunity to watch the ASO perform in a world-class concert hall right here in Adelaide. Read on to find out more about Jackie, what names she gives her instruments and who she aspires to play like.

Resides: Thebarton, I grew up in Mt Colah, Sydney

PhD – University of Sydney; BMus (1st Class Honours) – University of Sydney; Hornsby Girls High School

You knew you’d make a career in music when: 
I joined the Sydney Youth Orchestra for their tour of Denmark and Sweden in 2001. I was in year 12 at the time, and the experience of travelling and playing in an orchestra made me realise that this is what I wanted to do for a living.

If you weren’t a professional musician what would you be? 
I never made a plan B. Ideally, my alternative career would be something to do with environmental conservation.

How did you choose the Bassoon?
I originally played piano and violin. Violin made me realise I love orchestral playing, but I wanted to play a wind instrument because I don’t like having to share a stand and I enjoy playing my own part. I chose the bassoon at age 13 after looking it up in an encyclopaedia and hearing it on the radio. To me, it was the obvious choice.

Is there anything special about your instrument/does it have a name/any quirks? 
My contrabassoon’s name is Karen, after Karen Frost – ASO’s incredible orchestra manager. My bassoon is called Freddy, after Freddy Mercury because I aspire to play the bassoon with the same freedom and passion that Freddy sang with.

What is the best thing about being a musician? 
Having the opportunity to collaborate and play with other fabulous musicians. 

Who has influenced you most as a musician? 
This is probably the social isolation talking, but right now I’d have to say, my husband Dean. He continually inspires me with his creativity and his innate ability to hear and (seemingly) understand everything that’s going on. 

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose? 
French horn. You need to be pretty ballsy to play it because when things go wrong, it’s never subtle (I’m not that unshakeable, but I aspire to be). The horns are one of my favourite sections in the ASO… I like to think I’m the honorary 5th horn for all the super low notes they can’t reach.

Which solo or moment in the contrabassoon orchestral repertoire is your favourite? 
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The contra is only in the last movement, but it’s worth the wait. I only wish I could play it louder.

What has been your most memorable performance with the ASO? 
Elgar’s Enigma Variations at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Hall. Tours are always so much fun, but more importantly, playing with the ASO in such a spectacular world-class acoustic venue was amazing. It made me realise the enormous impact a proper concert hall can have on an orchestra. I hope one day South Australians will have the opportunity to watch the ASO perform in a world-class concert hall right here in Adelaide.

What was your first orchestral concert memory? 
My earliest memory of playing bassoon in a symphony orchestra was a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. I played 1st bassoon and remembered noticing that my soft entries all sounded heavily accented. This experience taught me the importance of developing control over articulation.

Do you come from a musical family? 
My two sisters both played instruments growing up as well. Mum is naturally musical – she plays the mandolin. Dad is a talented whistler (kind of).

Jackie (seond from left) with her mum & sisters

COVID-19 has put a pause over ASO concerts what do you miss the most about not being able to perform? 
I miss the musicians – many of my favourite people in the world are my colleagues in the ASO. 

Despite not being able to perform in concerts you still have to remain fit to play for when concerts resume? How many hours a day are you practising, and what repertoire are you selecting? Where in the house do you practise? My practice hours are quite random – inconsistency is the key to keeping things exciting and fresh! I practice in my study at the back of the house. It’s got all my reed-making and adjusting equipment and an enormous mirror so I can keep an eye on my embouchure and make sure my shoulders and arms stay relaxed while playing. I’m planning to learn jazz bassoon, brush up on all my historical bassoons and revisit orchestral excerpts. I’m currently enjoying being able to practise back in Grainger Studio in smaller ensembles.

What did you most crave whilst in isolation? 
Spending time with my family. They are all in Sydney so I still can’t visit them in person at the moment.

When you’re not performing or practising, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
Lately, I’ve been enjoying organising the house and garden – I’ve been meaning to do this for years! I’m also enjoying hanging out with the dogs, playing solitaire (the perfect game for isolation), skipping, talking to my twin and consuming all the great food and coffee Dean is making me.

When you’re not listening to classical music what do you listen to?
Podcasts – especially TED Talks and The Minimalists. I listen to audiobooks sometimes too. Music-wise I listen to Disney soundtracks, 80’s and 90’s pop, country music, power ballads and anything by Cindy Lauper.

Name three pieces of music you love?
1. Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite – The 4th movement is a twisted love duet between the beauty and the beast, played by the clarinet and contrabassoon. When we’re playing, it feels like it was written for Dean and me.
2. Theme from Jurassic Park by John Williams – how could you not love it? Hearing this piece evokes images of majestic dinosaurs and gorgeous landscapes.
3. Schumann’s Symphony no. 2 – I played this piece with the Helsinki Phil in February, so now when I hear it I’m instantly filled with warm and happy memories of Finland and the beautiful friends I made over there.

What has been your most memorable musical experience as an audience member?
I watched Saul at the Adelaide Festival in 2017. I had no idea what to expect. From the second it started, it completely blew me away, both musically and visually. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole opera.

Name three things people may not know about you? 
1. My favourite number is 55.
2. I love whisky – preferably served neat. The smokier, the better.
3. I’m a massive fan of the show Firefly. Our house is named “Serenity” after the main spaceship in the show.

What’s your idea of a perfect day in Adelaide? 
Driving down to the Fleurieu Peninsula with Dean, the dogs and my vintage caravan, Billie Holiday. Parking Billie on the beach for a day of swimming, running up and down the beach, drinking tea, playing cards, reading books, eating snacks and drinking wine. Watching the sunset. Driving home. 

Jackie and Dean’s carvan Billie on the beach at Aldinga

If you could ask one composer one question what would it be? 
I would ask Mozart if he can pretty please write me a contrabassoon concerto, preferably in C Major, with a 2nd movement to rival/surpass the beauty of the one he wrote for the clarinet.

What piece of music never fails to move you? |
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, 2nd movement. I can’t listen to it without also hearing the song All By Myself, which is apparently based on this movement.

What’s your favourite type of food? 
I love rice. Mum is Korean, so it was a staple in our house growing up. The rice cooker was constantly cooking or storing freshly cooked rice. It’s my number 1 comfort food. 

What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge/pantry? 
I found a half-used tube of seam sealer for outdoor gear in our freezer. I have no idea how long it’s been there or who put it there. It’s meant for permanently sealing and repairing rips and tears in your tent, pack or rainwear. We don’t own a tent or use packs… I guess it must have been used for raingear at some stage. The instructions say to store partially used tubes in the freezer, so we’re nailing it.

What books are on your nightstand? 
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and The Barefoot Investor (2019 version) by Scott Pape.

Do you speak any other languages? 
I speak a tiny bit of Korean, mostly only baby words. For a few years during high school, I went to a Korean school every Saturday morning to learn to read and write in Hangul (Korean language). Even though I don’t understand much, I can still read and write in Korean because it’s phonetic and the pronunciation rules are a lot more consistent than English. 

Do you follow any blogs? 
I don’t follow any blogs … yet. I think I’ll start soon. By default, I follow some car vlogs (video blogs) because Dean has them playing over breakfast every morning. The main one I recognise is Adam LZ. He vlogs about building and driving cars. Dean loves it a little too much.

Do you have any hobbies? 
I just bought a set of skipping ropes – It’s tough work, and I’m usually worn out after a minute. I love yoga but haven’t practised it in a few weeks – I’ll get back into it during this self-isolation period. I also really enjoy cross-stitching.

Jackie’s idea of a perfect day – spending time at the beach with her beloved dogs

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