It started, as these things so often do, with Mickey Mouse.

Growing up in rural Vermont, Ingrid Hagan's exposure to classical music was limited to the ballet works she heard through her dance teacher mother and the Disney movie Fantasia. It's surprising how many musicians cite that film as an influence.

"It's always a movie, right?" says Hagan. "If you play brass instruments it's Star Wars."

Now principal bassoon with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Hagan presumably watched more Disney in her youth than Star Wars, though in 2014 she did perform Five Sacred Trees, a concerto written by John Williams, composer of the Star Wars soundtrack.


"I'm pleased I did that because it's such an interesting piece," she says, "but it's a lot of work; mentally you have to get there: okay, I'm coming to the front of the stage now."

Hagan steps forward again this month, to lead a programme of Vivaldi's woodwind music in a pair of concerts for the APO's In Your Neighbourhood series. Although the works are all nominally concertos, these are intimate pieces for small ensembles lasting barely 10 minutes apiece. It's unusual territory for Hagan.

"I haven't done much chamber music in recent years or leading and choosing the music, so this concert is a way to get out of my box, which is being a principal bassoon and playing symphonies."

Adding to her duties, Hagan also introduces the pieces, providing some historical context.

"In this sort of environment – smaller chamber concerts – audiences appreciate it when you share things about the music, so writing a script has taken a bit of extra work," she says. "Playing is kind of the easy part."

Not that easy. Vivaldi's bassoon concertos are tricky but Hagan is a persuasive advocate for them.

"He's the composer who wrote the most concertos for our instrument and I respect him on so many levels," Hagan says.

"These are pieces most people will not have heard and I think they're fantastic. For me they're way more operatic than [fellow Baroque composers who wrote for bassoon] Fasch and Zelenka; the slow movements are like arias, which I think is unique for that time."


What's perhaps most remarkable is that Vivaldi wrote his concertos for school kids. Famously, Vivaldi taught music to girls at the Ospedale della Pieta, a Venetian orphanage that became renowned throughout Europe for its orchestra and choir. While there, he produced some of his most enduring work including the Stabat Mater and the set of string concertos L'estro armonico. He also wrote 39 bassoon concertos, two of which are unfinished.

"We don't know who they were written for," says Hagan, "but obviously there was someone really talented who would have been self-taught or taught by an older girl in the orphanage. She would have had to have been a total virtuoso."

Several of the concertos have remained in the bassoon repertoire ever since, often appearing on orchestral audition lists and in competitions. Hagan herself placed second in the Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition ("Fond memories. Shoulda won," she sighs), where she performed the composer's galloping D minor concerto, RV 481, a piece she dusts off for her forthcoming concerts.

Hagan was just 22 when she competed in the Quigley – the same age at which she joined the New World Symphony. The orchestra, founded and directed by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, is a finishing school for orchestral musicians that Hagan attended after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music. She says she learnt a lot.

"I picked up things they don't really teach you in music school: how you behave in an orchestra, what it is to be a colleague, what it's like to constantly perform at a high level with amazing artists and conductors. You grow up a bit faster by having that experience. The sorts of people coming in weekly, it was incredible – Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax."

Does playing with people like that make a difference?

"It's pretty inspiring. It certainly motivates you to want to become a professional in an orchestra that attracts those kinds of people."

Auckland does well on that count. When we spoke, Hagan was on a lunch break from rehearsals with two international superstars, violinist Viktoria Mullova and pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, who appeared with the APO.

What: Baroque Bassoon - woodwind concertos by Vivaldi
Where and When: St Heliers Church and Community Centre, and Takapuna Methodist Church, Monday, September 23 and Tuesday, 24.