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ASO's Buncke (center) will join the Chicago Symphony )rchestra.

ASO’s Keith Buncke (center) will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Delmar Williams)

It seems almost like a game of musical chairs.

In a huge turn of events, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s new principal bassoonist, Keith Buncke, has now been named principal bassoon of the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Buncke will replace longtime CSO principal bassoonist David McGill, who retired last August. Buncke’s exact start date has not been determined.

Buncke had been appointed to his current ASO position only this past spring, while still a junior studying at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Because of the delay in the orchestra’s season due to the three-month lockout of musicians this past fall, he did not begin playing onstage with the Atlanta orchestra in Symphony Hall until mid-November. Now, at age 21, and having played as part of the ASO only a matter of weeks, Buncke will prepare to assume his new position under the baton of Riccardo Muti in Chicago.

During the brief time he has played in Atlanta, Buncke quickly earned the respect of his ASO colleagues both on and off stage. Juan de Gomar, one of his fellow bassoonists in the ASO, describes Buncke’s playing as “suave” and praises his professionalism.

“His artistry is sublime,” says Gomar. “He performs with a sophistication and beauty of understatement that is at the absolute highest level.” ArtsATL caught up with Buncke late last night for an exclusive exchange about his CSO audition and subsequent appointment.

ArtsATL: When did you learn that you won the CSO principal bassoon position?

Buncke: I learned after I finished the last round, what could be called the “super final” round, on Monday, January 19. Audition process started in September with the preliminaries. Three candidates including myself were advanced directly to finals, which occurred on January 12.

ArtsATL: So the application process must have begun some time before September.

Buncke: Yes, I applied for the CSO audition in July and was offered a September audition date then. I did not know the ASO lockout was going to happen then, of course. The main reason for taking this audition was because the CSO is the CSO, and a position like this opens up just a few times in a lifetime.

ArtsATL: So for you, the ASO lockout was not the prime factor in deciding to audition for the CSO.

Buncke: I think the ASO’s instability is a factor when looking at similarly ranked orchestras such as Dallas and Houston. Of course, the instability is always a factor. One would always prefer to be a part of a thriving orchestra, but it seems people are more likely to leave the ASO for other historically similar orchestras than say, 10 years ago.

ArtsATL: What was your immediate response to learning you had won the CSO principal bassoonist chair?

Buncke: When I was told I won the job I actually was not bouncing off the wall. I was still thinking about what I thought I could have done better in my audition. I was mostly relieved the whole process was over! I was not really on cloud nine until several hours later. The news still hasn’t really sunk in yet!

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