Sunday, September 12, 2010

String Bass Gymnastics

I went to see the Simon Sinfonietta concert last night, featuring string bass player, Richard Fredrickon performing Paul Ramsier's (b. 1937) Divertimento Concertante for Double Bass and Giovanni Bottesini's (1821-1889) Grand Duo for Violin and Double Bass. Charles Sherba played violin.

Fredrickson is not only a highly accomplished bass player, but he also exudes warmth and good feeling, cracking jokes about an out-of-tune string and imitating a fog horn while tuning. Stephen Simon offered a few humorous comments of his own: "no one should play an instrument that large." The two have been friends for many years.

The two pieces offered a rare opportunity to see and hear a solo string bass player, and the Grand Duo seemed to take both instruments through every possible style and technique of playing, each instrument showing off and then coming together, from the lowest possible notes on each instrument to the highest. Simon had arrange the piano part of the Grand Duo for orchestra. It was an amazing piece,and the audience leapt to its collective feet at the end of it.

The Grand Duo is considered to be a very difficult piece. Usually I would say here, but the soloists made it look easy, effortlessly gliding from one note to the next. Sherba did make it look easy. But Fredrickson did not, and I say this with the best possible intentions. He is a tall man, but his double bass seemed enormous, and when he reached his long arms down to play at the very end of the fingerboard, you could feel his effort. I was in the fourth row (it is a small concert hall, actually a private school gym with risers), and you could see the energy it took to produce such music on the bass, and he called attention to it himself, wiping his brow with a handkerchief after every movement. A good honest performance. He made it look hard, but played it magnificently nevertheless.

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