October 17, 2013
NEC Mourns Death of Bassoonist at Age 27
The New England Conservatory family is mourning the death of bassoonist Andrew “Drew” Thompson ’12 MM, who died suddenly on Tuesday. Thompson, who was only 27, had just the year before fulfilled his heart’s desire to join the St. Louis Symphony (as contrabassoonist and bassoonist), in the city where he grew up. The St. Louis Post- Dispatch reported that his death was due to a massive heart attack, the result of a previously undiagnosed congenital abnormality.
At NEC where he studied with BSO Associate Principal Bassoon Richard Ranti, Drew was much loved and respected. He played in the NEC Chamber Orchestra and the NEC Philharmonia under Hugh Wolff appearing in, among other works, the Mahler Third Symphony in November 2011. He also played in the NEC Wind Ensemble under Director Charles Peltz (and subbed once in Peltz's Glens Falls Symphony.) "This was one of the best combinations of talent and citizenship I have ever encountered," Peltz said. "He was a wonderful, wonderful player every time; clearly one of our absolute best. And he was an extraordinarily good person - gentle, good humored, positive. Just a terrific member of the community. In short a joy. We are so, so saddened."
Born into a musical family, Drew grew up in Webster Groves, MO one of five children, all involved in music. His mother, Jackie Stilwell, is band director at Webster Groves High School. Encouraged by an older sibling, he started playing bassoon at an early age, studying with local professional bassoonist Donita Bauer. While a teenager, he played in the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and it was always his dream to join the St. Louis Symphony.
As an undergraduate, Drew attended DePaul University, then came to NEC for his master’s degree. While still a student here, he auditioned for the St. Louis orchestra. He actually had to borrow a contrabassoon from his former teacher, Bauer, for the audition. In a 2012 Playbill profile, he related that he locked himself in a studio for a few months to prepare for the audition.
The St. Louis Symphony Blog noted that Drew “loved Ted Drewes (a fabled frozen custard emporium in St. Louis) and loved to swing dance.”
“At the Wednesday morning SLSO rehearsal, there was a moment of silence. For many, the first measures of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake were played through tears.”
The StLouisBeacon.com quoted St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson praising Thompson's playing: “(Some) say that the contrabassoon is an appendage to the orchestra, but Drew demonstrated beyond anyone’s expectation how glorious he could make the instrument sound. “I’ve never heard anyone in any orchestra play it better. He brought a kind of beauty, solidity and focus to the sound that had us all enchanted.”