Praised for her "beautiful playing and stunning sound", Jo Anne Sukumaran is one of the rare solo bassoonists from Singapore. She lives to delight audiences with her imaginative playing and programming, bringing the bassoon to a wider audience.
An unconventional path
Curious and adventurous, Jo Anne prides herself in her independence. Her playful approach to the bassoon belies a sharp technical ability that has built her reputation for bringing to life a diverse range of styles. Her love affair with the bassoon follows an unconventional path. Her sights were originally set on the cello as a young teen, until an audition for the Singapore Youth Orchestra changed her life. The conductor took one look at her and directed her to the bassoon instead. Jo Anne describes her relationship with the bassoon: “it took me by surprise; I did not choose my instrument; the instrument chose me. It became my voice.”
Music was always a big part of her life. While studying English Literature and Economics at university, she spent her nights in the opera pit, honing her playing after long days of lectures. She never lost sight of music even during her first career as a paralegal after graduation. But the lure of music was strong – she left her corporate job behind to follow her life’s purpose, pursuing full time music studies at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland with Gabor Meszaros. Her studies were supported by bursaries from Dr. Gerber-ten Bosch Foundation and The National Arts Council, Singapore.
A twist in the path
After a fairly typical path playing in numerous orchestra settings in Singapore and The Netherlands, Jo Anne gravitated towards her much loved chamber setting, forming several of her own groups along the way. She continued developing her playing style and technical prowess through masterclasses with Prof. Ole K. Dahl and Bram van Sambeek, a move that would prove decisive. In 2017, following Bram’s endorsement and guidance, she decided to take a leap of faith and embark on a solo and chamber path, which culminated in realising her ambition of recording a solo album.
The Night Garden is her first presentation as a solo artiste, taking shape as a musical journey through a metaphorical garden that creates a safe space for the soul and mind. It features her unique take on European classical programming, infused with Eastern classical traditions that are a homage to her Indian roots. The debut album was released on Austrian label, Hello Stage in October 2019.
Always driven by a great thirst of knowledge and a profound respect for other double reed players, she launched a podcast series in 2018 called Legends of Reed, which looks to open up and demystify a musical world that is often closed off to others outside. With over 8000 plays, it features interviews with well-known players from around the world, including Prof. Ole K. Dahl, Sophie Dervaux and Audun Halvorsen.
Creative collaborations, programming and multi-disciplinary projects
Since 2014, Jo Anne has performed in diverse spaces such as art museums and galleries. She has also been invited to program at festivals including Wo men Women Festival, Freshair Fine Arts Festival, Singapore Art Week 2015 and Light to Night Festival 2019.
She recently programmed a successful chamber concert for Licha Stelaus Productions for the Encounter: Beethoven chamber concert series. (4 Aug 2019). Her programming and co-operations with other musicians have been called "genuine and highly original". With an ear for unusual partners for her bassoon, recent collaborations have included eclectic duos and mixed ensembles with the harp, percussion, piano, and the classical and electric guitars.
Her personal philosophy towards programming is the alchemy she feels where programming concerts are akin to a chef dreaming up a combination of colours, flavours and senses: "Programming a concert is like creating a menu for a memorable meal. I love exploring a theme from different angles and pairing composers and instruments to end up with the ideal experience in terms of colours, textures and moods."
Breaking new ground – experimentation
An artist residency Ensemble Evolution (June - July 2019) at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Canada, led by Claire Chase and Steven Schick, saw her taking more creative risks and breaking new ground. At Banff, she performed contemporary works by prolific American composers Alvin Lucier and George Lewis. She mentored with cellist Katinka Kleijn and several members of the International Contemporary Ensemble.
She commissioned Canadian composer Gabo Champagne to write a special multi-disciplinary piece Ten Days at a Traffic Light. Freely inspired by her life story, it was premiered on 20 Oct 2019 at her solo concert to premiere her debut album, The Night Garden.
Curious about her Indian heritage, Jo Anne has long explored Indian classical music, studying Indian rhythm (Konnakol) and incorporates improvisation into her classical performances. Apart from the bassoon, some of her favourite instruments are the handpan, cello, violin and sitar, and her favourite composer is Bach.
Jo Anne is a passionate educator and runs a private teaching studio (bassoon and piano). She has coached and prepared many of her secondary and pre-college band students for Singapore Youth Festival Band competitions, auditions and concerts. She re-joins SIM University-University at Buffalo, Singapore as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Spring Semester 2020.
Supporting social causes
Jo Anne has always felt passionately about using her music to promote the social causes she cares about. In 2012, she supported the project, Impossible Orchestra (Melbourne), which raised awareness for unpaid carers in Australia. Invited by conductor Brett Kelly, she performed pro-bono alongside Australian musicians and was filmed in a documentary directed by Aaron Wilson.
She has also performed for ChildAid Singapore as a member of the Orchestra of Music Makers and performed for a private charity concert for the President’s Challenge Singapore 2015. She supported the Save the Bassoon campaign finale concert (Amsterdam 2016). She was invited by Bram van Sambeek to perform alongside Dutch musicians on a Dutch TV show NPO, “Holland Festival 2016”, performing an excerpt of "Grand Subphonia” composed by Merlijn Twaalfhoven.
Dr. Gerber-ten Bosch Foundation
The National Arts Council of Singapore
The Arts Fund, Singapore
Michelle & Richard Chen, in association with The Chenter Foundation & Licha Stelaus Productions
The Banff Centre – Lucy & Stephen Maxym Endowment
Updated 18 Dec 2019