Arban, Berlioz, bruch, Chaminade, classical music, double bass, Dukas, intonation, Kol Nidrei, Lee County Community Orchestra, music, orchestra, performance, Sibelius, Symphonie Fantastique, Vivaldi, Von Weber
We’ve just finished our spring concerts. They came off well, and it was quite a show, including many soloists, prayers of repentance, a trip to Italy, a (musical) beheading, and a marriage proposal (she said yes). The concerts were videotaped (what an anachronistic word!), so when they get posted online I’ll post links if anyone’s interested.
Tuesday’s dress rehearsal was awful. I have only been playing the bass for a year (and it’s very frustrating being a beginner on a difficult instrument when I am a much better musician on other instruments), and pretty much jumped in sink or swim style, so there has never been a point in my career on the double bass (unlike the bass guitar) when I have not been in over my head. Tuesday I was awful. Intonation is an issue for me since I’m still a rookie, but Tuesday I was like a pitcher who can’t find the plate and who gives up a 5-0 lead in the 1st. I’m convinced some of that was the room. The high school band room we normally rehearse in has a lot of natural reverb which helps. This church- while a beautiful hall- seems to have been designed to suck up all ambient sound (I imagine it works for them- the church service is amplified, while the noise from the congregation gets sucked up). That made it an entirely different prospect to hear and get the intonation correct- I was not the only one struggling in the room. I had to resort to the elementary school trick of placing a few camouflaged stickers on the fingerboard to mark where the really problematic notes were so I didn’t blow them (high G, I’m looking at you.) That worked well enough, though I will admit it was a humiliation to have to resort to that in performance.
Friday’s dress rehearsal was much better, in part because of the stickers, and in part because I was getting used to the room. My kids were there- and weren’t all that happy about it- but they behaved like angels and that made it much easier to focus on the music. I did miss one piece taking the little one to the bathroom because she was too scared to go by herself.
The program was as follows:
For me, a nice little warmup with a lot of octave eighth notes. Pleasant little ditty.
Another nice, easy, pretty piece- easy bass part, most of it pizzicato. Morgan Brewer did a nice job playing the viola solo- a part commissioned by Paganini that he refused to play because he didn’t get to play *every* measure.
Kol Nidrei, Bruch
Bruch’s setting of the Yom Kippur prayer disavowing any vows made to God but not kept in the coming year. The Kol Nidrei has a fascinating and controversial history , which I wasn’t aware of when this first appeared on my stand, as I’m not Jewish. Who knew a piece so slow could be so difficult? It’s an amazingly beautiful piece, but a real challenge to keep the bass’s tone sounding good playing pianississimo. Also, it’s *so* slow it’s very easy to get lost. Playing this piece is a wonderful challenge but I found it a bit exhausting.
Concertino for Flute and Orchestra, Chaminade
Another pretty piece with a fairly straightforward bass part. Jessica Traversino played the flute solo so well her boyfriend proposed! It’s not often we get to play classical pieces by female composers- historically, though I’m no expert on music history, it seems to me that women weren’t given the support or opportunities in Western music until the last century or so. All the more reason to be proud of playing a piece written by a woman in 1902
L’Estro Armonico Concerto, No. 10, Vivaldi
Interesting little piece featuring a violin quartet. Because of the solo/tutti structure of the piece, I spent about half the piece standing around at rest. Normally I play most of the time, so I was not used to just standing there counting rests.
Fantasie Brilliante, Arban
Wicked key (Db- five flats) but a straightforward bass part. Carol Judd rocked the house with her Wynton Marsalis-inspired solo trumpet arrangement.
An odd piece (though it fit) written by the composer of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (most famous because of the film Fantasia). Lots of strings of 8-10 measures of tied whole notes on the bass. The horn was nicely played by Eric Keith.
Concerto for Clarinet No. 2 in Eb Major, Von Weber
A very Mozart-like piece that showcases the clarinet, well done by Lauren Wilkins. A few challenging parts for me, including a 16th-note run that is just an Ab scale on the string, but it’s just too fast for me as a beginner. Still a lot of fun to play.
This one closed the show and is a real bear. This one pushed me well beyond the limits of what I am capable of on the bass, but I did a more than passable job on it. When I look back at this season a few years from now, I am positive I will look at playing this as one of the clear experiences that made me a better bassist. And tomorrow morning, when the base of my left thumb hurts like hell, I’ll be looking back and blaming Hector Berlioz!
This piece is also clear evidence that Berlioz used way too much opium. The Symphonie Fantastique is a programmatic symphony that tells the story of a man (thought to be Berlioz himself) who falls in love that is unrequited. In this movement, out of desperation he attempts suicide by overdose of opium, but instead of dying he goes into a delirious hallucination (yes, this is 1830’s psychedelia) that he has murdered his beloved and is going to the guillotine for the murder. The movement is replete with a depiction of his dreaming about her just as the guillotine slams down (listen for the solo clarinet, then WHAM!!! and the pizzicato rolling of the head).
It’s clear Berlioz had issues.
True story: last summer, when I decided I had to leave the orchestra I was playing and had to find a new one, my choices came down to two. I was in Chapel Hill at a wonderful chamber music festival (that was, again, over my head). The music director there is also the director of the community orchestra in Chapel Hill. Since many of the members of that orchestra are also music students at UNC, the caliber of musicians they have is entirely beyond me, yet he recruited me pretty hard. His selling point: they were going to perform all of Symphonie Fantastique. I pulled down the bass part from IMSLP and looked it over. I said “Hell no.” I’d only been playing the bass a few weeks and there was *no way* I could play it. So to Lee County I went! Then, come January, what do I find on my stand? The Marche Aux Supplice. I can’t get away from this thing!
Our next concerts are in May. We’ll play (among other things) some Dvorak, some John Williams pops (Star Wars Suite, Harry Potter Suite), music from The Sound of Music, and Copeland’s Fanfare for a Common Man.
Here’s a couple of pictures. I’m the bass in the green shirt (for St. Patrick’s Day). I had a black jacket to fit the dress code, but it was too damn hot under the stage lights.