Musicians of the RPO: Karl Vilcins

written by David Bruestle, Principal Trombone

RPO bassoonist Karl Vilcins routinely demonstrates his musical talents on stage, particularly when it comes to the profound and earthy low voice of the contrabassoon. As Karl and I are often positioned on stage in close proximity, I consistently experience the full impact of the contrabassoon’s remarkable sound and incomparable timbre, arguably one of the more subtle perks of my job. RPO patrons associate Karl and his playing with the opening pedal notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra, but Karl’s talents off stage as a skilled carpenter are fully known by musician colleagues who have enlisted his help to build an assortment of projects including decks, garden planters, and even rock climbing walls. Recently, however, Karl has lent his skills to the RPO staff as they prepare the workplace for a “new normal.” He is designing and building plexiglass barriers to further protect beloved staff from exposure to Covid-19.

For Karl, his passion for carpentry blossomed upon updating his 1920s-era house while living in Brooklyn. With guidance from his family and friends in the trade, Karl quickly gained experience in carpentry and construction. Here in Rochester, Karl created a cabinet system for his wife, Aimee, a local teacher. She has taken advantage of the new workspace during the pandemic to make nearly one thousand face masks.


Over the course of a year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area of his hometown, Karl used his skill and knowledge to help rebuild homes for his mother and his friends. His genuine community-building spirit has now carried into work for the RPO while the orchestra navigates unprecedented circumstances. 

With the assistance of “right-hand man” Erik Behr, principal oboe, whose kitchen cabinets got a facelift thanks to Karl, the woodwind duo constructed plexiglass shields to be used in the RPO administrative offices and patron services center. Barriers have become commonplace in hospitals, grocery stores, salons, barbershops, and other businesses, and are designed to function as additional protective equipment for employees. As the RPO makes plans to reimagine programming and concert experiences for the 2020/2021 season, efforts are equally dedicated to planning for safety across the organization. This is likely the first of many projects that will employ Karl’s carpentry skills and, in his own words, “if it means getting us back to some type of normalcy as an orchestra, I’m all for it.” 

Karl inspires musicians of the RPO to coalesce around both expected and unexpected endeavors that build up and support our colleagues and community during this time. And when live music returns, your seats will be waiting, and you will see the musicians of the RPO joining Karl in investing in safe practices that will help keep the music playing.

Karl (left) and Erik Behr pose beside their newly constructed safety shields.

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