Catherine Van Handel was appointed principal bassoon by conductor Edo de Waart with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, holding the Muriel C. and John D. Silbar Family Bassoon Chair, in 2017. Prior to her joining the Milwaukee Symphony, she won the associate principal bassoon position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under conductor Peter Oundjian and worked for one and a half seasons. While Van Handel was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, she held the principal bassoon position with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Van Handel has performed with numerous orchestras across the country including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Virginia Symphony, and Richmond Symphony. Catherine has worked under such world-renowned conductors as Sir Simon Rattle, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Andris Nelsons, Fabio Luisi, Lorin Maazel, Stéphane Denève, and Osmo Vänskä, among many others.
As a soloist, Van Handel appears regularly with the Milwaukee Symphony and is recognized for her “elegant, buttery tone“ (The Shepherd Express). Her Mozart concerto performances with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was described as, “One rarely hears the Mozart bassoon concerto and, for that matter, rarely hears bassoonists performing concertos. [Van Handel’s] performance was a lovely reminder of the lyrical and technical possibilities of the instrument. She played with a polished, warm sound, full of color and nuance…the cadenzas, which she had written, revealed some technically pristine, wonderfully musical playing” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Van Handel has also had solo engagements with The Philadelphia Orchestra, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, and The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Orchestra, and has been hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as, “assured and startlingly lyrical, [her solo] signaled an orchestra-wide philosophy”. In addition, Van Handel is a member of the Fulton Chamber Players. She is also involved in performing new works. In 2015, she gave a world-premiere of the Tanganera Astoriana, a tango written by Rui dos Reis for bassoon and piano at Curtis Field Concert Hall.
Catherine Van Handel is on the bassoon faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has given masterclasses in the United States and abroad. She has conducted masterclasses and coachings with New World Symphony, Bassoons Without Borders, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Oklahoma State University, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and Escuela de Artes Musicales in San José, Costa Rica. She has also been a guest teaching artist at the 2022 Glickman-Popkin Bassoon Camp. Van Handel has previously served on bassoon faculty at the University of Toronto and at Curtis Summerfest teaching the Young Artist Summer Program. In addition, Van Handel has served on bassoon faculty at the National Orchestral Institute + Festival (NOI + F) and the Pacific Music Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii, where its program began an exciting new partnership with NOI + F.
During her summers, Van Handel has participated at prestigious music festivals such as Marlboro Music School and Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Mainly Mozart Festival by invitation of violinist David Chan, Music from Angel Fire Festival by invitation of violinist Ida Kavafian, North Shore Chamber Music Festival by invitation of violinist Vadim Gluzman, Music Academy of the West, Castleton Music Festival, Pacific Music Festival, National Orchestral Institute + Festival, Britt Music & Arts Festival Orchestra and Lakes Area Music Festival. Van Handel has also performed at Carnegie Hall through the New York String Orchestra Seminar during Christmastime of 2010. In 2012, Van Handel was selected as one of three bassoonists to participate in an orchestral masterclass given by Stefan Schweigert, Principal Bassoon of the Berlin Philharmonic, in New York City at the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall Workshop.
Originally born in Taipei, Taiwan, Catherine Van Handel began her musical studies playing the piano at the age of four and the cello at the age of five. Van Handel moved with her mother and siblings to the United States when she was six years old. She continued playing both piano and cello until beginning to play the bassoon at age fourteen. She started her bassoon education under the tutelage of Joyce Kelley, former principal bassoon of the New York City Opera, and went on to study with Marc Goldberg, former associate principal Bassoon of the New York Philharmonic, at the Pre-College Division of The Juilliard School. Catherine later received her Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Daniel Matsukawa, the principal bassoon of the Philadelphia Orchestra.