Although he played three days earlier in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s season-ending performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” at Meyerhoff Hall, Fei Xie, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, hasn’t entirely, so to speak, left the building. This late-June morning, he sits in the Meyerhoff’s lobby, fresh from giving a lesson to a 72-year-old student, while preparing to lead a group of talented amateurs in rehearsal later this afternoon, both activities part of BSO Academy Week, during which adult non-professional musicians learn and perform with BSO regulars. The previous evening, he oversaw seven Academy participants in a chamber music concert.
“When we’re on stage, nobody is close,” notes Xie, 34, referring to the BSO’s regular season performances. “You’re on a pedestal, and people are looking at you. We’re confined in our own little world.” But with Academy Week—and with other BSO extracurricular activities—“you’re interacting with people from other professions: doctors, lawyers. You start having a broader feel for the world. That’s the thing I really like about being here.”
“Being here” began in January 2008, when Xie, born and raised in Tangshan, approximately 100 miles east of Beijing, officially signed on as second bassoonist with the BSO. He left China for the U.S. in 2000 to earn a bachelor’s degree at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, followed by a master’s at Rice University in Houston, where he played with the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera. In 2012, he became principal BSO bassoonist.
With plans to start a family, Xie and his wife, Fei Wen, chose to live in Columbia when they relocated here, given Howard County’s much admired public school system, plus, “for convenience,” he explains, “I wanted to live in a community that has more Asian members, especially for stores and restaurants.”
Consequently, he has not immersed himself in Baltimore’s arts scene, concentrating instead on raising two sons, ages 2 and 6, and establishing himself with the BSO, “the most important artistic thing for me,” he says. “You want to really give everything you have to produce the best music possible, and so there’s a lack of other things in your life.”
A homebody when not performing, he loves to cook, particularly Chinese food: “Cooking is just like music-making. Everyone can look at the same note, and you play it differently. With cooking, everyone is working with the same ingredients, and yet the food always comes out a little bit different. Different artists make different art, given the same ingredients. I apply cooking to music-making, and I apply music-making to cooking. I’d like to have a cooking show if I didn’t do this.”
In order to “do this,” he has committed to staying in the Baltimore area. “This is our home,” he says. “We like it here. Our kids were born here. And I want to build a legacy here with the BSO. I’m the first Chinese-born bassoonist [to play with a major American orchestra]. That’s something the BSO gave me, and I don’t want to let that go easily.”