The Caselli Ensemble existed for only a short time—from the fall of 1981 until the summer of 1983, when I moved from San Francisco to Boston to join the Boston Symphony. Young and relatively fearless, we were all members of the San Francisco Symphony. Oboist William Bennett and horn player Robert Ward were in their mid-twenties; clarinetist David Breeden, bassoonist Stephen Paulson, and I were almost a decade older. Because we played really well together in the orchestra and greatly enjoyed each other’s company, we decided to form a woodwind quintet that would explore a broad range of repertoire.
Rehearsing was most convenient at Steve Paulson’s house on Caselli Avenue, making the choice of a name for our group very easy. Our first concert was at the Fireman’s Fund Forum on January 25, 1982 and included the Nielsen Quintet, Irving Fine Partita, Bill Douglas Quintet, and Janáček’s Mládi, in which we were joined by Don Carroll, bass clarinetist of the SFS. Six days later we presented the first concert of three that we would play that spring at the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The program? Completely different from our Fireman’s Fund concert, and equally challenging: Reicha’s Quintet in D Major, Op. 91 No. 3; Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24 No. 2; and the Taffanel Quintet.
Our March and April concerts of that year featured Elliott Carter’s Woodwind Quintet and Eight Etudes and a Fantasy (played one after the other to offer a distinct contrast in styles); Gunther Schuller’s Quintet; Arthur Berger’s Quartet; Samuel Barber’s Summer Music; Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin (an arrangement that included SFS principal harpist Douglas Rioth); Jean Françaix’s Quatuor; Armand Russell’s Suite Concertante featuring SFS principal tuba player Floyd Cooley); and the Villa-Lobos Quintette en forme de Chôros.
The success of our first concerts encouraged us to plan a second season at the Legion of Honor. The Museum Society offered a grant, and we received constant support from our manager, Samira Baroody, coincidentally the sister-in-law of Philadelphia Orchestra principal oboist John de Lancie. Our Bill Bennett, an extremely gifted caricaturist and cartoonist, volunteered to draw a brochure by hand and based his caricatures on our official publicity photo. That photo, by SFS violist and accomplished photographer John Schoening, was taken just down the street from Steve Paulson’s home.
Although we were far from being cult figures in the Bay Area, we did have a group of loyal fans. Among them was the eminent musicologist Michael Steinberg, San Francisco Symphony program book annotator. From his fertile imagination came a highly detailed, extremely amusing biography of the (non-existent) musician, Frederico Guglielmo Caselli. For your entertainment, and with the permission of his widow, violinist Jorja Fleezanis, Michael Steinberg’s campy spoof is included on this page.
The first two concerts of our second season featured works of Franz Danzi, Donald Waxman, Bernard Heiden, Giuseppe Cambini, August Klughardt, Jean Françaix (Quintette), Eugène Bozza, and Francis Poulenc (Sextuor, with pianist Robin Sutherland). On March 6, 1983 we played the Reicha Quintet in F Major, Op. 88 No. 6, the Poulenc Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano, and the Harbison Quintet. For me this was the most memorable of all our concerts because I served as pianist in the Poulenc, meanwhile preparing to fly east the next day for the final rounds of the Boston Symphony’s assistant principal flute audition.
John Schoening took the photos below at the Legion of Honor after that March 6th concert, our last ever in that venue. We all must have been thinking about what would happen if Boston offered me a contract, because in one photo Steve Paulson is pretending to wipe his eyes!
On May 29th (two days before Bill Bennett’s 27th birthday) we gave a Caselli farewell concert at Old First Church. The program opened with Steve Paulson playing a Corelli sonata in D minor, followed by Bill offering Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo oboe. Two works for flute—Frank Martin’s Ballade and Ernö Dohnányi’s Aria—closed the first half, and for the second half Dave Breeden and Bob Ward joined us in a repeat performance of the Harbison Quintet. In retrospect it seems quite fitting that the last piece we would ever play together was the virtuosic Harbison, which at the time was only five years old and thereafter quickly became an iconic work in the woodwind quintet repertoire. John Harbison had guest conducted on a San Francisco Symphony contemporary music series and had become a good friend to all of us. Years later he would compose an oboe concerto for Bill Bennett, a work commissioned by the SFS that Bill performed in Carnegie Hall with the SFS in 1993.
The close friendships and fruitful collaboration that the Caselli Ensemble experienced as a quintet remain among my most treasured memories in an ongoing professional career that now spans over four decades. Below are SoundCloud links to nine works performed live during our Legion of Honor concerts in 1982 and 1983.
This web page is dedicated to the memory of Bill Bennett (1956-2013) and Dave Breeden (1946-2005).