August 26, 2017

What I did on my holidays – 2017 edition

Following on from 2016’s report, and ignoring anything that doesn’t involve the bass or the cello – yes, I had a few sessions on that thing too…

Saturday

On Saturday evening, I made my debut as a percussionist (snare drum) for Rossini’s overture to Thievish Magpie. Fun. And many thanks to Tenley Martin for giving me a couple of lessons in the run-up to this week! There’s no way I would have had the nerve to do this without her help.

Fortunately, that was over quickly enough, and I was able to return to my normal home in the bass section, and we did Schubert’s 3rd symphony (not one of his best), and Arriaga’s symphony. Both new to me.

Sunday

Started the day with the Dvorak Serenade. Flashbacks to when I was declared an honorary wind player in one orchestra because I was their cellist for this…

Orchestral session next, with a New Bug waving his stick around. Schubert 5, Mozart flute concerto, Haydn 78. A couple of tricky moments in the Haydn, which surprised me, as Haydn isn’t normally problematic. New Bug seemed to rather enjoy the experience, which is good, and the orchestra behaved / cooperated, which was also good.

Over to the cello for some flute quartets – Mozart K285 (the third one in the book, after K285a & K285b, go figure), and Ries – a new one on me, but good fun and recommended as a companion piece to the Mozart.

I was scheduled for a four cello group. One of the others brought a pile of stuff that had been arranged for the group (Beatles tunes, Mozart’s Ave Verum, Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette (aka Alfred Hitchcock’s theme), that sort of thing), and the parts were all mixed up so nobody got lumbered with just doing the growly stuff.

Impromptu/unscheduled Bruch octet. Yikes. World’s worst key change (or a strong competitor, anyway – 6 flats into five sharps; and then back again a few lines later). Must start a new category or a picture gallery or something for these.

Monday

Wind + string bass group, doing various of Geoffrey Emerson’s “The Red Hedgehog” arrangements – Elgar, sonata in G (op.28). Glazunov, Concert Waltz op.47. Richard Strauss Serenade (pretending to be either a kontrabassoon or a bass tuba) – some moments here. And finally, Durand de Grau’s “Les Clochettes” – a proper contrabassoon part, so needs a five string with a dropped bottom string to get those Bflats going…

Piano + strings – Mendelssohn sextet – rather good. And then we added in a trumpet for the Saint-Saens trumpet septet, which has some unpleasant corners, and lots of unison. And then he gives a nice tune to all the string players (unison) and leaves the bass out of it. For shame.

A mixed nonet session – Rheinberger & Martinu. Got the New Bug to lead the Rheinberger; got a rather more experienced player to do the Martinu, which is, after all, a bit harder…

Rounded off the day with a quintet session – Dvorak op.77 followed by Onslow (one of many) Op.35. Onslow easily playable, but one part does identify this as being a cello part – octave Gs? Not really possible on the bass unless you turn your bow upsidedown and play the strings from underneath. And there wasn’t enough time to do this.

Tuesday

The traditional day of rest – and a trip to Powis Castle.

Back to the music in the evening, with an orchestral session – Hugo Cole’s “Black Lion Dances” – fun – and Tchaikovsky Suite #1 Op.43. There’s even what passes for a double bass tune – at least, we have something vaguely melodic, and everyone else is silent for a couple of beats… At least, in theory they are, not looking at a certain hornplayer who came in in the wrong place!

Wednesday

Piano Quintets – Trout, and Percy Godfrey op.16. Some moments in the Godfrey, if only I can remember what they were. And I really need to remind The Management that I thought we had a “no Trout before coffee” rule.

Septets – Beethoven, Lichtenthal – a new one on me. This Lichtenthal chappie, 1780-1858, surgeon, apparently, which is possibly apparent from his way of composing by slicing up a bit of Mozart… To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, though, “It’s not plagiarism, it’s research” – “Lobachevsky

Mendelssohn Octet (2nd cello) – fun. It’s been a long time since I played this, and rather enjoyed myself. And got to do the beginning of the final movement a few times.

And in the evening, I was back on the bass – Schubert & Rheinberger octets were scheduled, so we played the Schubert, and then noticed that the Rheinberger isn’t for the same combination of players (requiring an oboe), and so we called it a night. The Schubert is a monster, though, so we didn’t feel short-changed.

Thursday

String orchestra to start the day. Mozart, Div.K136 – playing a cello part on the bass. Nothing to worry about here. Pachelbel – ugh. Warlock – Capriol Suite – some good brisk speeds, which was fun. Vaughan Williams – Charterhouse Suite. Not particularly inspiring

This was followed by a full orchestra session – Mendelssohn – Duo – Two Clarinets (well, one clarinet, one basset horn); Mozart Overture “La Clemenza di Tito”; Mozart – Symphony 35 “Haffner”; Hugo Cole – “Black Lion Dances” again.

An off-piste run through the Dvorak quintet op.77, with a couple of different players and a couple the same as earlier in the week.

And in the evening – Dvorak Bagatelles, Debussy Children’s Corner (a couple of numbers) and various other bits, Finzi (Severn Rhapsody) in a mixed wind/strings group.

Finally, a late-night sneaky rehearsal run of Brandenburg 5, for the benefit of a young violinist that was convinced that she was playing it the following day…

Friday

The bass was feeling a bit tired, so the final day was a bit of a heavy one.

Friday started off badly, with a session of baroquery – half of which was missing parts. I ended up reading the Brandenburg 3 bass part from my phone… Still, some good solos from the younger contingent with the Vivaldi concerto for 2 cellos in D Minor and the JSBach violin Concerto in A minor both being very well done. Pity that the orchestral numbers were so overpowering.

And then there was a change of personnel for a really large string piece – Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence”, in the string orchestra version. Huge, unrelenting stuff.

And then a couple of heavy symphonies – Mendelssohn’s first (“written before he’d learnt the art of brevity”), and Beethoven 7. That would have been the end of the week, but for one last surprise…

…which was back to the cello for the final official send-off session – Mozart K515 (quintet in C), and Brahms Sextet op.36.

Saturday

Back home. Laundry. Sleep.

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June 29, 2017

“Expect The Unexpected” – aka “Pick A Clef, Any Clef” – aka “Who Was This Zelenka Person Anyway?”

I was sent advanced notice of a piece I’ve not played before – Zelenka’s Simphonie a 8 Concertanti (link goes to IMSLP).

Was somewhat perturbed to see this in the first movement:

Alto clef? on a bass? The problem is the same in the bassoon & cello parts. We think the top note is meant to be a B, so Alto clef is right, but it’s still wrong. If you see what I mean. I guess we’ll find out when we actually rehearse this thing in September.

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June 4, 2017

Grat[ear]Plug: ISOLATE earplugs

Yeah, it’s been a bit quiet here of late, and that’s not because of the earplugs…

I’ve been in some rather loud concerts lately – the joys of playing with upcoming professionals, I guess. I also work in a rather noisy office environment. These two things (and some discussion with friends) led me to decide I needed some earplugs. But what to get?

I googled, and found these ISOLATE Earplugs. Not the cheapest things in the world, but seemed to be well thought-of, so I ordered a pair and gave them a bit of a going over.

Some highly unscientific and objective observations.

Positives

  • Effective, oh yes, so effective.
  • I tried them in the office. Couldn’t hear people who were talking to me. Bliss.
  • I tried them on the bus. Couldn’t hear people’s noisy headphones, phone conversations, the engine of the bus… I was sitting right at the back, on top of the engine, and I could hear very little of it. Quietest ride home ever.
  • I’ve even tried them in rehearsal. They’re a bit too effective when used as a pair! For me, anyway – as a bassist, I’m usually right out on the edge of things, rather than in the middle… But when I use a plug in the right ear, and leave the left one open, suddenly I can survive even the loudest rehearsal (or concert). I’ve used them in a Firebird gig like this, and could hear the music and had no idea that Sam (the bass drum) had opened a can of whup-ass and scared the audience out of its collective skin. I’ll be using the same technique in tonight’s performance of Shostakovic 10.
  • three different sizes supplied; refills available once you work out which size is best for you.

Negatives

  • Small, and easy to lose. The pouch that they come in takes up less space than my bass rosin pot.
  • A bit fiddly – if you don’t get them inserted just so, then obviously they are less effective. Tricky to do one-handed.
  • Price. £25, give or take. And they do a more expensive one too…

Overall Verdict

Worth it.

September 4, 2016

What I Did On My Holidays – 2016

Band Camp Report – 2016

Following on from the 2015 Band Camp Report

This year… Unfortunately, one of our oboists fell ill a few days before the start of the week; fortunately, we mostly had it covered. However, and even less fortunately, “mostly” doesn’t mean “entirely”…

As usual, this list only contains stuff I’ve played – the barbershop singing doesn’t count, and neither does helping out the children / junior / beginner orchestra. And you can’t hold that against me. And let’s not talk about the late-nights, the conversations or the cards against humanity games.

Saturday Evening

The usual inaugural orchestral system. This time:

  • Beethoven – Coriolan overture – I have this vague feeling we’ve done this before.
  • Haydn Symphony 99
  • Hamish MacCunn – “Land of the Mountain And Flood” – there’s a rather unpleasant semiquaver passage on the penultimate page, but the rest is playable. This year was the centenary of the MacCunn’s death – which is as good as an excuse as any for this. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have a full brass section, so the fanfare was a bit sparse – the immortal Colin R playing one part, and my father attempting to sing a trumpet part from his position on the podium. Didn’t quite work…

Sunday

Quintet session to start:

  • Dvorak op 77
  • Dvorak Two waltzes, Op.52 – I don’t think I’ve played these before.
  • Onslow Op.25

The parts for this last contain the story about why Onslow’s quintets are so often alternately scored – it seems as though, at the premiere of one of them, the second cellist didn’t turn up. However, Onslow’s friend Dragonetti was in the audience, and (of course) stepped up… So, as this was a cello part, I switched to cello to play it. And Onslow started writing double bass parts

After coffee, another orchestral session, this time with the extra horror of me playing second oboe. First time I’ve done that with this group (or, indeed, any orchestral group) for, oh, 15-20 years? The programme:

  • Haydn symphonies 88 & 89
  • Karl Stamitz double concerto for violin & viola (Rosanna & Julia)

The evening was full of the Schubert Octet. What more could you want?

Monday

Started the day with a Trout quintet; we had a quick go at the first movement of the RVW concerto for the same combination, but this wasn’t particularly successful – maybe we were all a bit … tired … This was early RVW, and had been suppressed by the composer, but his widow was persuaded to release them after his death. Was this disrespectful of RVW’s wishes? Did she need the money? I guess we’ll never know…

Next session – yet another orchestral session:

  • Dittersdorf – Sinfonia Concertante for viola & double bass, although not necessarily in that order 😉 And I was the bassist, with my wife taking the viola solo. Was well received, if not an entirely accurate rendition – the conductor was giggling well into the afternoon
  • Stimitz – the other one – Viola Concertante in Bb (Ellen)
  • JSB – Brandenburg 6 (Sarah and Jessica, who had had approximately no notice…) Fun times.

Not quite sure how, but I had the evening off.

Tuesday

After the usual day of rest (involving a castle, coffee, cake, and an osteopath…), the evening was taken up with a big Mozart orchestral session:

  • Sinfonia Concertante K297 – for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn (Mike, Julian, Vince, Kevin).
  • Sinfonia Concertante K364 – for Violin & Viola (Ian & Andrew)
  • Symphony 40 – K550

Wednesday

The day started with the usual Wednesday Workshop. This time, we did a couple of pieces by our very own David Marsh (his Highland March and his Waltz in G), and then finished up with the Serenade by Joseph Suk.

Next session was an old familiar favourite – the Beethoven Septet. This is a regular gig with five members of my family playing with the leader of the week and a guest cellist. It’s been like that for a very long time; however, Our Glorious Leader felt he had to stand down. He did arrange a deputy – one of his sons, Ian – who seemed to know his way around the violin… Fortunately, he had been properly briefed and the diplomatic relations between violin / horn were unharmed.

We also had a quick go at the last movement of the septet by Peter Lichtenthal (1780-1858), which was new to us all. As time was short, we did just the last movement, which was good pleasant stuff. Must try it properly some time.

In the afternoon, an impromptu piano quartet session (me on cello), doing Turina’s piano quartet – seemed to be a very relaxed piece of music – and a spot of Mozart.

The second half of the afternoon was a session of music brought back by one of our colleagues who has been working in Qatar – lots of quartertones! So difficult to persuade the brain / fingers to play out of (normal) tune. Very thin harmonically, but that’s the way they do it… What was really confusing was when one of the pieces had a key signature of one semi-flat… “Not quite F major?” Something like that.

The evening kicked off with the Balakirev Octet – I have no memories of what this thing was like. Which isn’t necessarily a bad sign… After this, the group fractured, and three of us were banished to a smaller room with a trio by Leopold Hoffman (Op 1/3, for viola, cello and double bass) which worked rather well.

Thursday

This was the longest day. It started with another session of Quintets:

  • Dvorak – op.77 again – “does this get done often?” asked one of the violinists. Erm… yes. “I don’t remember playing it” Well, you wouldn’t. There are umpteen violinists / violaists / cellists here, but only a couple of us bassists…
  • Onslow – op.38. “The Bullet”. The autobiographical string quintet. Again, it’s a double cello job, so I switched.

Next session was, oh look, another orchestral session:

  • Cimarosa – Concerto for Winds – seven soloists? two flutes, two oboes, two horns and a bassoon.
  • Haydn – Sinfonie Concertante (for violin, cello, oboe, bassoon) – this was fun, except for the poor viola players who found themselves sitting in front of my oboe
  • Mozart – back to the bass for the Piano concerto 25 / K503. Nice end to the morning.

We managed to sneak in a crafty Martinu nonet – my only nonet session of the week, which was surprising. I normally get a few of these, and I rather missed them. I think that the violinist was new to the piece, which makes for a trickier run-through. (This was an ad-hoc session, and the violinist we thought we had had it in mind that we were booking for 4pm rather than 3pm, so we had to go on the scrounge for a spare violinist…)

The choral society number – for a change, I was in the band. We did Handel’s Coronation Anthems, but in an unusual order, ending with the big “Zadok” number. This was a surprisingly tough session, and I was beginning to feel rather tired by the end of it. Not a good sign, considering the rest of the day’s line-up.

The final official session of the day was a wind group, doing a couple of the big classics:

  • Mozart – “Gran Partita”, K361. Great fun, but I was joined by a contrabassoonist for double the bassitude… *cough*pizzicato?*cough*
  • Dvorak Serenade (one of the hornists from earlier switched to cello)

The day ended with a run of all six Brandenburgs, done by a chosen few, and without a conductor – proper chamber-style, rather than the more orchestral-based renditions elsewhen in the week. The running order was non-numeric, with us aiming to get the wind-based ones out of the way first, and then gradually reduced the forces ending with #5. The session started at about 10pm, and was over by 12:30am, which is pretty good going, considering… But, ye gods, there were some interesting notation issues, including the bass part going down to a bottom Bb (off the range even of a normally-tuned five-string…)

And a *very* late night of drinking, followed by nowhere near enough sleep…

Friday

Once again, the day started with an orchestral session, heavy on the Bach

  • Corelli – Concerto Grosso Op 6/12
  • JSB – Concert for Violin & Oboe
  • JSB – Brandenburgs! 5 & 3. This was a big contrast of style with the late night run – this time, we had 3 desks of each of violin 1, 2, viola, cello…

Next session was a workshop (again), looking at the Elgar Introduction & Allegro – and a really great session it was. Fabulous music, really well led & controlled session, led by the MD of the Apollo Chamber Orchestra. Lovely chap, and Really Rather Good cellist.

The final orchestral session was big. Really big. “Beethoven’s Big Ones”:

  • Egmont
  • Triple Concerto
  • Symphony 8

A huge session. And the day / week wasn’t over, as a few of us had the last “hurrah” with a Brahms sextet (we were supposed to do #2, but we did #1 instead – pure accident, nothing to do with big tunes…), followed up by Mozart Quintet K515 (Gwen & I did two movements each).

Aftermath

And so, home, laundry, bed…

…and a hope that Helen returns fighting fit next year, so I don’t have to play oboe at short notice!

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November 26, 2015

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti

No? Me neither.

Apparently, this short opera was written for a TV company, and is appropriate for the season of, erm, next month. So we (Northern Opera Group) are rehearsing it now for production in Leeds Corn Exchange next Friday / Saturday (4th / 5th December). Something like that. There’s a Facebook page and everything.

I’m told that this is supposed to be a chamber work, and that the orchestration was for a few string players – including just one contrabass. Which leads me to wonder why there are a few bits marked “divisi” (playable by one person easily enough), and, indeed, “2 soli” (not so easy to do on your own!).

From a double bass player’s perspective, it’s not that difficult, as long as you remember rule 1 of playing opera (“Watch”), and don’t have problems with counting alternate bars of 5 and 6 quavers (don’t panic – that passage is quite short).

There is just one bit that’s worth of some attention. Figure 65, bars 368 & following – a relatively rapid pizzicato passage that’s got just enough accents and accidentals and irregularities of rhythm to be not quite readable. This picture shows the bulk of the passage – there are a couple more lines, but they’re significantly easier.

Amahl - excerpt

That’s the extent of the musical problems. There are other issues with this work, though. I would like to point out a vocal cue at figure 128 (mercifully near the end of the opera), where the young boy Amahl says in a recit passage:

Well, I don’t know if I’m going to let you touch me… Oh… all right… but just once

And once you’ve seen that, it’s difficult to read some of the other cues without sniggering…

August 29, 2015

What I Did On My Holidays – 2015

Band Camp Report – 2015

Following on from the 2014 Band Camp Report

This year, I was scheduled almost entirely for playing double bass, but managed to get a few friendly sessions scheduled on the cello for a bit of light relief.

The list below ignores non-instrumental work (such as Barbershop quartets, singing the Fauré Requiem, etc…)

Saturday evening

The usual big orchestra session to get things going:

  • Mozart – Symphony #31 – Paris
  • Schubert – Unfinished

And then the first of the late nights…

Sunday

String quintets:

  • Dvorak Op 77
  • Onslow Op 35. This is a bit odd – it’s a string quartet plus one extra, the one in question being a viola or a cello or a double bass – there are different parts depending on who you get as the extra. This time, I played it on bass…

Then some orchestral stuff:

  • Mozart – Symphony 1
  • Haydn – Symphony 31
  • Mozart – Symphony 29

An unscheduled revisit of the Onslow quintet. This time, I played the second cello part – subtly different to the double bass part.

The evening started off with a rather unusual session – bassoon sextets. String quartet, double bass, and bassoon. It felt as though these were cut-down (or mini) concertos:

  • Francaix – “Divertissement”
  • Oivind Westby – “Portrait of a Family” – five movements, each titled for a member of a family. I pity the mother – she sounded on the verge of a nervous breakdown!

The evening ended with a romp through Brahms’s first sextet (with me back on the cello).

Monday

Monday started slowly with a string orchestra session:

  • Warlock – Capriol Suite
  • Delius – Deux Aquarelles – not the most exciting of bass parts…
  • Dag Wiren – Serenade. Much more interesting.

I then took the double bass and ventured into the lions’ den, sorry, the massed wind ensemble, where I was required to run through a Geoffrey “Red Hedgehog” Emerson arrangement of Glazunov’s concert Waltz, op 47. Apparently, the arrangement was in the wrong key. I wouldn’t know – I just play what’s in front of me, guv. I was then ousted by my aunt and her contra-bassoon for the rest of the session.

After lunch, a return to the bad old days with me being a cellist again, for a rendition of Boccherini’s “Black Lace” quintet. Fortunately, I’m still relegated to 2nd! (Edit: Black Lace quintet is apparently a reworking by Lauterbach of four movements from other string quintets. The IMSLP page for what we know as the Black Lace quintet doesn’t contain the words, but does give the sources for the individual movements…)

The evening kicked off with an octet session – same instrumentation as the Schubert, but not the Schubert (that was happening in the next room, mutter grumble). So we ended up playing octets by:

  • Wellesz – bleah. Not impressed. Apparently he taught my father composition. I’m saying nothing. Nothing.
  • Zich – this one is a much more playable thing, full of Czech folk tunes. But it’s still not as good as the Schubert!

And then the night got a bit silly as 5/6 of Sunday’s sextet reconvened under a different leader to do Brahms’s second sextet. And then re-do the first one. And then, “while we’re here”, to run through Strauss’s sextet from Capriccio. Yeah, we were playing a bit late. And then we went to the bar, and stayed there until rather late. Early. Well, I was in bed before 3am, but not much before…

Tuesday

Fortunately, after last night, this is the usual “day of rest”. Or, in our case, “day of trying to fix my wife’s shoulder so she could do some more playing.” Didn’t quite go to plan, and she needs more serious / long-running / comprehensive treatment. I dunno, seems like only two years ago that our week was marred by her dodgy ankle.

The only playing today for me was yet another orchestral session, containing:

  • Beethoven – Romance for violin. Can’t remember which one. Oops.
  • Mozart – Piano concerto #23.
  • Mendelssohn – Symphony 4 (Italian) – some cracking speeds here

Bar, and relatively early night.

Wednesday

A quiet day.

Wednesday always starts off with a big string orchestra workshop, where we actually try to do something more than just play through. This year, it was the Suk Serenade.

Beethoven Septet – the usual family affair.

And the evening started off with the Strauss Metamorphosen (septet version).

The late night session involved more alcohol, and an odd selection of music, including:

  • A practice session of Bach’s suite in B minor (flute solo job) for the soloist to get her eye in for a proper run at it on Friday
  • Brandenburg 5 – the one with the monster keyboard solo
  • a very late night drunken Trout with the violinist (a first-time attendee) & viola player both sightreading.

Thursday

A busier day. Highlights include (but not limited to):

  • Mezo – quintet (two flutes, clarinet, bassoon, double bass). I have no memory of this, so it can’t have been too bad!
  • Gordon Jacob – woodwind quartets (one flutist disappeared, and I got out my oboe – I’ve not played for a couple of decades) – a simple suite, and some folk song arrangements.
  • Vaughan Williams – Concerto Grosso – with my son playing in the open string violins, and (shock!) actually beginning to take this stuff a bit more seriously
  • Nielsen – “Little Suite” – there’s a few moments here!
  • Sibelius – Andante Festivo
  • Spohr – Grand Nonet. An unscheduled session, and we had about 40 minutes to get through it, so there were some rather quick movements!
  • Hartmann – Serenade
  • Nielsen – Serenata in vano

These last two – the Nielsen is scored for cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon, horn. Add in a wind quintet, and you get the required personnel for the Hartmann. Neat trick.

Friday

The day kicked off with a baroque session:

  • Bach – Brandenburg concerto #3 – can’t go through the whole week without one of these being scheduled somewhere!
  • Vivaldi – violin concerto in A minor
  • Bach – Suite in B minor (see practice session above)
  • Pachelbel – Canon & Gigue. I’ve mentioned this thing before, and there’s always Rob Paravonian’s Pachelbel Rant. I managed to get the flute soloist from the previous piece to do some of the bowing for me. She seemed to enjoy the power far too much! There could be trouble ahead…

After coffee, a rather unsatisfactory sextet session:

  • Percy Hilder Miles – I mentioned this in 2013, and my views haven’t changed. And neither have anybody else’s.
  • Schaffner op 48 – except our glorious leader didn’t want to do this, so I got my cello and we did
  • Dvorak sextet – much better music. Shame we weren’t quite up to it for some reason.

The afternoon and evening were mostly various orchestral sessions:

  • Prokofiev – Peter & The Wolf. I’ve never done this before. Looks like it should be easy, but there are a few hairy moments not helped by some dodgy cues in the edition we were using
  • Fauré Req. Oh, wait. I was singing. Bah.
  • Mendelssohn – Hebrides overture (Fingal’s Cave, if you prefer). Not played this since my days with the City of Leeds Youth Orchestra, so a nice trip down memory lane…
  • Bruch – Kol Nidrei – never done this with an orchestra before, but used to know the cello solo!
  • Beethoven – Symphony #5 – *how* fast?

Apparently, it was the organiser’s aim to leave us all broken and sweaty at the end of that session. Except I then went on to do another (much better) session of the Strauss Metamorphosen – thanks to us having a much stronger group of players (led by the leader of the Smith Quartet (he’s one of the sons of the organiser, and just dropped in for the evening)) this time round.

So the week ended on a high. Or a low – bottom C at the end of the Strauss!

And now I’m back home, aching, and thinking it’s a bit early to go to bed, but it’s already way past my normal bed time. The things you get used to at Band Camp!

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October 20, 2014

Grat.Plug: “A Double Bassist’s Guide to Refining Performance Practices”

Just had an email from my father, directing me to the following book:

A Double Bassist’s Guide to Refining Performance Practices
Murray Grodner
Asssited by Michael P. Sweeney
“Murray Grodner… has distilled more than 30 years of playing and teaching experience into an immensely approachable and useful book for aspiring and practising bassists […] I thoroughly recommend this book to all teachers who want to keep learning, and players who like re-evaluating their playing. Its strength lies in the way it encourages us to help ourselves and supports us on our journey as lifelong learners.” -Strad
“Murray Grodner’s book is a comprehensive and well-organized guide that is packed with common sense information. It reads easily and establishes a nice balance between printed musical excerpts and cogent verbal explanations. The essay section is especially enlightening and contains authoritative advice on many aspects of classical bass performance. A Double Bassist’s Guide to Refining Performance Practices is eminently sensible and informative, and serves as an excellent resource for classical bassists.” -Edwin Barker, Principal Bass, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Murray Grodner draws on his distinguished career as a double bass musician and teacher in this compendium of performance philosophy, bowing and phrasing recommendations, tutorials on fingerings and scales, and exercises for bowing and string crossing. Grodner addresses technical obstacles in musical performance, offers advice on instrument and bow purchase, and provides a detailed approach to the fundamentals of bass playing. This guide is an invaluable resource for any bassist seeking to improve performance practices.

Indiana University Press

August 2013 168pp 9780253010162 Paperback £26.99.

http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk/a-double-bassists-guide-to-refining-performance-practices

I’ve ordered it, and may blog again on the subject.

September 9, 2014

Schubert – Octet

Ah, Schubert. The Octet is a piece full of memories. Skipping lightly over the bad – such as the time my freshly-rehaired bow disintegrated by the end of the first page – this is one of those pieces that bring back lots of good memories of playing with friends and family.

Although the piece itself is a big play, the double bass part is relatively straightforward, giving enough time to enjoy what everyone else is up to. However, with all such pieces, there are little moments here and there that would benefit from some practice.

I’m using IMSLP for this piece, as I don’t have a bass part to hand. There’s a score as well as a selection of sets of parts – this is the one I’m looking at for reference.

1. Adagio / Allegro

OK, the fun bit is in the Allegro – a nice two in a bar – specifically, the staccato quaver passage:

Schubert Octet 1st movement staccato quavers

2. Andante un poco mosso

Don’t let this drag which it will, particularly if someone insists on it being counted in 6 rather than 2. Lots of flats in the key signature, but slow enough that that’s not a problem. Beware, though – there are moments where everyone else drops out, leaving the bass on its own! For example, second bar of B.

3. Allegro Vivace

A rapid one in a bar movement. Keep an ear / eye out for the different length quaver runs – sometimes you get three quavers running up to the bar line, sometimes four…

4. Andante – Theme & Variations

This is definitely 4 quaver beats, rather than 2/4, which is a relief, given that there are semiquaver triplets (and even some demi-semiquavers) in the offing. Keep it light.

Octet - 4th Movement, Variation 2

Note that the staccato marks disappear after the third bar (or 4th bar in some editions). I think this is an editorial thing, and that the whole passage is supposed to be staccato. (The edition I’m using here also stops putting in the triplet markings, but leaves the notes barred like that…)

I’ve failed to put in any dynamics. The variation is quiet, with just the occasional fp (which I haven’t put in the above excerpt…)

5. Minuet & Trio

Nothing to worry about here.

6. Andante Molto / Allegro

Allegro – this flies. Think 145-150 minims per minute. However, it does have a tendency to slow down – perhaps the leader is being over-ambitious, perhaps everyone is flagging a little at the end of a big piece.

Notes-wise – fortunately, much of this is doubling the cello… There are a couple of quaver flourishes, but nothing to worry about. Much. There are a couple of points where 4 bar rests are really two bars of GS (with a page turn for someone), then two bars rest where the viola kicks off the chugging before everyone else joins back in.

The Andante section near the end – there are differing opinions about whether this should be the same as the original Andante Molto, or something else. Me, I prefer the latter option, as it really would drag…

And finally, the Allegro Molto. Even faster than the allegro before, and with quavers. Lots of lovely quavers. Though the first lot aren’t as bad as the second lot in terms of rapidly changing positions…

Octet - 6th Movement - Excerpt

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September 1, 2014

Mozart – Serenade in B flat, “Gran Partita”, K361/K370a

The title “Gran Partita” is almost certainly not Mozart’s. And IMSLP has this down as K361 *and* K370a…

The Emerson edition, which we used, has this as a double bass part; some editions will say it’s a contrabassoon part. I suspect, however, that a contra-bassoon in any but the most experienced hands just wouldn’t be capable of getting round the notes – and I’ve never seen a contrabassoonist who was capable of playing pizzicato.

The first few movements aren’t so bad. However, the real trickster is (spoiler alert!) the 5th Movement (out of 7…)

1 – Largo / Allegro Molto

Some quaver runs – but they’re mostly scales or octaves, so nothing too panic-inducing. Watch out for the occasional change of key mid-run, where an E flat at the beginning of the run becomes an E natural by the end of it.

2 – Minuetto

Two trios, so keep your wits about you for the repeats.

3 – Adagio

Big, slow, long quaver arpeggio/chord-spreading/string-crossing stuff. I found this movement to be the hardest, physically.

4 – Minuetto

Another geographically-challenging Minuet with two Trios, including an impossible page turn in the edition we were using – Minuet on one page, and the two trios on the other. Needed a page-turner, as I didn’t have a photocopier handy!

5 – Romance

Tempo marking is Adagio, and you can see semiquavers…

K361 370a 5 Romance Excerpt 1

The movement starts off nice and gently, and you’ve got a few bars rest to look at them, and they don’t look like they’ll be too bad. The second block is rather bigger, but still doesn’t look too bad – after all, it’s Adagio, right?…

K361 370a 5 Romance Excerpt 2

Wrong. You, like me, have failed to notice that the tempo changes to Allegretto before you get that far, and that those semiquavers are actually a bit nippy. The runs are doubled with the bassoons. This might not be good news – mistakes are more noticeable!

Comments afterwards along the lines of “never seen a double bassist move so fast”. Thanks, guys, I think…

6 – Theme & Variations

The sixth movement is playable, but just be aware that you’ll suddenly find yourself playing on your own. Very exposed, but don’t worry! Think of them as the musical equivalent of a sniff put in between phrases. No, I’m not going to tell you which ones they are in advance.

7 – Rondo – Molto Allegro

Fast. So fast that if it were any quicker the clarinets would have real problems with their semiquaver knitting/noodling passages… fortunately, the bass semiquavers are restricted to a couple of scale-esque runs near the end of the movement. Again, they are in unison with almost everyone else, so people will notice if you get them wrong!

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August 26, 2014

A word about bows

At “Band Camp” this year, the first few days I played on my usual bow.

On Tuesday evening, our friend Tim Baker, the cellist and bowmaker (not necessarily in that order), arrived.

I’ve been joking with him for at least fifteen years about getting him to try making me a bass bow; finally, he’s done it. He started off by apologising for it being a bit long (he was a bit worried, as his bowmaking colleagues in Oberlin said it was too long). I pointed out that, yes, it’s longer than normal, and then showed him the two bows I normally play. The Baker Bow was about the same length as one, and a good couple of inches shorter than the other.

Tim asked me to “play it in”, so everything I played from Wednesday onwards was done on a bow worth rather more than my bass… It hurt, having to give it back on Friday night. Going back to my bow yesterday (for yet another rendition of Brandenburg 4), I suddenly found my bow was much harder work.

Yes, a good bow does make a lot of difference – not only to the tone you produce, but the effort required to play, the clarity of what you’re playing, the response time of the bass, and, frankly, it was because of this bow that I was able to get round some of the more interesting passages later in the week!

Tim – I thank you.