Celebrating 63 Years of Inspired Music Making!

June 22 – July 27, 2024


Eastern Music Festival (EMF), Greensboro’s nationally recognized classical music festival and summer educational program, delights in the opportunity to bring EMF alumni, 2022 Rosen-Schaffel Competition winner, and 2022 UNCSA Alumni Winfred Felton to EMF to perform on Saturday July 8 with the Eastern Festival Orchestra.

About Winfred and his performance interviewed and written by EMF Board Member Lisa Underwood:

Winfred Felton was having a bad day. Due to a wardrobe malfunction, he was late getting to the performance hall at Appalachian State University, where he was scheduled to perform in the prestigious Rosen-Schaffel Competition for Young and Emerging Artists.

“I’d lost my bow tie, and by the time I finally got dressed, I was due on stage in five minutes,” he recalls. “Then I put the wrong mouthpiece on my bassoon, and everything just felt weird. I didn’t feel good about my performance.”

One of six artists who made it to the final round of the competition, and one of only two wind players, Felton was the last performer of the day. “Lucky for me, I didn’t have much time to agonize about my performance before they were ready to announce the winners,” he says. “I remember thinking that if I didn’t hear my name called for third place, I probably didn’t win anything.”

But to his amazement, Felton won the 2022 Rosen-Schaffel competition with his masterful rendition of the Hummel concerto. And, although he hadn’t expected them to drive all the way from their home in Greenville, NC, Felton’s parents were in the audience to celebrate their son’s success.

The Rosen-Schaffel Competition for Young and Emerging Artists, established in July 2011, is a program of An Appalachian Summer Festival, the university’s annual summer festival of the performing and visual arts. The competition is co-presented with the university’s acclaimed Hayes School of Music. As the competition’s most recent winner, Felton will play a concerto in Boone on July 9 with the Eastern Festival Orchestra, in addition to his July 8 EMF performance in Greensboro, where he is double-billed with violin virtuoso Gil Shaham.

Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Felton grew up singing a capella in church, where his father was a minister. The family later moved to Greenville, where Felton was recruited by his middle school band director to play bassoon. “I wanted to play the saxophone, but so did everybody else,” he remembers. “The teacher said he really needed a bassoonist, and when I got my first instrument, my parents said ‘you’ll play this until you graduate’ because it was so pricey!”

For the first few years that he was learning to play, Felton didn’t take private lessons, but in ninth grade, he says he got serious about practicing, spending hours each day “in the zone.” He credits his first bassoon teacher, Chris Ulffers, with fostering his musical development. “I came to him basically self-taught, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.” Felton’s parents were surprised, but supportive of his newfound passion for music, and with their blessing, Felton left home for the first time at age 16 to attend high school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts inWinston-Salem, where he studied with Saxton Rose.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t transferred to UNCSA,” he says. “Musically, it was way more intense; we had rehearsal every day and private lessons to prepare for each week, and I had to be totally responsible for myself, without having my parents to rely on.”

While at UNCSA, Felton attended a master class by Martin Kuuskmann, a Grammy Award-nominated bassoonist and professor at Denver’s Lamont School of Music.

Felton later auditioned for Kuuskmann and was accepted into his program in 2018. In 2019, Felton spent his first summer at EMF, where he found the rehearsal schedule to be even more intense than he was used to at Lamont. “It was probably more similar, rehearsal-wise, to what we do at Yale,” he says. “There were more things I had to be prepared for at EMF.”

Felton, 23, was accepted last fall into the master’s program in music performance at the Yale School of Music, where he studies bassoon under Frank Morelli. Besides the intensive academics, the program features short concert cycles, with several hours of rehearsal and multiple hours of practice per day. Felton will graduate in May 2024.

Felton’s principal engagements include performances with the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, UNCSA Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, and the Winston-Salem Symphony. He has performed at festivals including the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Miami Music Festival, and Aspen Music Festival.

This summer, Felton is back in Greenville, living with his parents and preparing for his debut as a featured performer with EMF. On July 8, he will share the stage at Dana Auditorium with Gil Shaham, one of the foremost violinists of our time. With the EMF Orchestra, Felton will perform Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto in G minor, RV 495, a piece he hasn’t yet performed in public.

“I haven’t played too many Vivaldi concerti,” Felton says. “E Minor is more typically played, but I wanted to do something different. Vivaldi wrote a ridiculous amount of

concerti for bassoon because he worked for a time at an orphanage teaching music, and he wrote for whatever instruments the children had to work with.”

Playing with the ensemble at EMF probably will be the most stressful aspect of this season’s preparation, says Felton. “Getting the right style– balancing the bassoon with the string orchestra–in rehearsal the day before the performance, then rehearsing only a couple more times before Saturday night, can be challenging.”

To alleviate stress, Felton listens to other forms of music–upbeat and fast-paced is best–to escape. He enjoys reading non-fiction and autobiographies and writing poetry, which he does not perform in public. Among his favorite poets are Robert Frost, Toni Morrison, and Langston Hughes.

When he graduates from Yale next spring, Felton says he will take auditions for symphonies, apply to universities for teaching jobs, and contemplate the next step in what already promises to be a remarkable career.