Contrabassonist Susan Nigro

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

nigroSusan Nigro calls herself a “contrabassoon crusader,” and the handle certainly fits this native South Side Chicagoan, who not only plays the instrument, but also gives lectures, demonstrations and workshops on it. She even commissions and performs new works for the woodwind, which dates to the 18th Century, but sounds modern and relevant in Nigro’s capable hands.

“My goal has been to bring this often-neglected instrument out into the limelight as a soloist, so the general public can hear and appreciate its unique and fascinating musical qualities,” Nigro says. In fact, her work spans seven CDs, in addition to a full slate of live recitals. Her musical accomplishments earned her the 2007 Leonardo da Vinci Award from The Order Sons of Italy in America.

Though she traces Italian roots on her father’s side to the village of Matonti in the Salerno province, her ethnic sensibilities as a musician weren’t stirred until high school. “The pivotal point that engendered my Italianness, as well as my destiny to become a classical musician, was meeting my high school band director, Andrew Lumbrazo,” says Nigro, who resides in Riverside. “And years later meeting my late husband, Dr. John Gelsomino, strongly reinforced both of these identities, as he was also a fine Italian-American musician.”

Nigro found her way to the contrabassoon after years of piano, flute and bassoon lessons. “Then as a high school senior, I had the chance to play contrabassoon in the Youth Orchestra of Greater Chicago,” Nigro recalls. “It sealed my fate. I immediately fell in love with the instrument.”

Nigro went on to study contrabassoon at Northwestern University, play it with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and take private coaching with Chicago Symphony Orchestra contrabassoonist Burl Lane, who became her professional mentor.

Now, Nigro finds herself filling in for Lane as occasions demand. She’s currently in her fifth season as a permanent substitute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, filling in for Lane, who retired during the summer of 2008. She calls the opportunity “life-changing,” adding: “The opportunity to perform with this first-class orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Riccardo Muti, has afforded me extraordinary musical experiences.”

Nigro may be a savvy musician, but she’s a very smart one as well. A member of 10 high-IQ societies including Mensa, she devotes lots of time to the study of Italian language, culture and history. Her heart rarely strays from her roots, and she even keeps two Cirneco hounds from Messina, Sicily at home–named, appropriately, Caesar and Cassius.

“Even though I have a U.S. passport, I have an Italian soul,” Nigro says. “Through, I have documentation of my family roots all the way back to Vito Nigro, who was born in Matonti in 1760. I made a pilgrimage to my Italian hometown in the spring of 2010 and was delighted to make the acquaintance of Giacomo Nigro, a distant cousin and whose family still resides and works in that little part of paradise.”

For more, visit

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.

Check Also

A preview of music, film, theater, dance and more

  Talent unbound Italian Film Festival USA will present “Grazie Ragazzi” at 7 p.m. on …

Want More?

Subscribe to our print magazine
or give it as a gift.

Click here for details