Tag Archives: chamber music

Busting out the old warhorse

Some friends of mine and I were talking about working up my favorite piece of chamber music, ever: Spinoff, by Charles Wuorinen.

This piece is a beast. Listen to this excerpt from Wuorinen’s site to get a flavor of what we’re dealing with here. It’s head-banging rock and roll for classical musicians.

I played this something like 11 or 12 years ago back at NEC. We spent three months on rehearsing it, crying over it, and swearing at it. It was so fun.

So anyway, we’re just talking about it. As in, should we get ourselves into this sort of thing. Flirting with the idea. It is hard to find musicians that are into something like this, who are willing to put in the time, and who are skilled enough to be able to execute it. But it was fun picking up my old score and hacking away at some of the passages. The piece has a very tricky meter system ��� just a quick glance at page 1 shows that each measure has a new change in meter: 5/4, 9/4, 10/4, 4/4, 7/4, 11/4, 7/4, and that’s just the first seven measures. Hey, no big deal, the measures divided by 8th and 16th notes don’t show up until later. Oh, wait a minute – the subdivisions of measure three go 11/16, 6/4, 9/16. Nevermind.

The bass part alone has the additional challenge of skipping between bass, tenor, and treble clefs, and utilizing pretty much the entire range of the traditional modern double bass. Thankfully, Wuorinen did not write anything physically impossible to play or that would require at best the use of one’s forehead or big toe to achieve. The chords all have doable stretches with the left hand, or make available use of open strings. Overall I’d say a well-orchestrated piece for the double bass.

The nice thing about this piece, and much of Wuorinen’s work, is that it leverages traditional western classical music notation. Nothing funky like circular staves, pyramid beams, random sound effects, or tape recordings of humpback whales. There is excruciating attention to detail in the notation, and I as a musician I truly appreciate this.

But I’m making too much of a big deal about the complexities of the piece. The real deal here is this is an awesome piece. The 16th notes really chug ahead and it sounds more like something you’d hear on the streets of Greenwich Village or in a dark, smoky beatnick dive than in some prestigious concert hall. The piece rocks.

Audio Avitars

I found the iTunes Signature Maker at the blog of Ryan Shaw this evening. Extremely cool little idea to take your iTunes playlist and make a short little audio avitar of your musical tastes. Here is mine.

The creation of the file requires you to trust a Java applet to scan your iTunes collection and make hashes out of some of your favorite music. The applet is signed by Thawte, which checks out, but the usual cautions should still apply here. You can set some parameters such as the number of tracks to pick from and how long each segment should be. Here’s what it came up with for me, which I found particularly interesting:

Title Artist Album Starting At Ending At
Trauermusik San Francisco Symphony Mathis der Maler, Trauermusik, Symphonic Metamorphosis 0:35.2 0:38.4
The Battle of Evermore Led Zeppelin IV 5:30.6 5:35.0
Summertime Miles Davis   2:24.2 2:29.0
Postcards Yellowjackets Four Corners 0:12.0 0:16.0
The Firebird Suite Igor Stravinsky   1:55.4 1:57.8
Panama Van Halen   2:37.1 2:42.7
47. Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott Johann Sebastian Bach Bach: St. Matthew Passion – CD 2 6:30.8 6:36.0
01 – Requiem Aeternum Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem K626 3:27.5 3:30.3
String Quintet, Op.77 – 1. Allegro con fuoco The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Dvorak Serenade 4:05.2 4:08.8
05 E Alex Wilson Studios / Telltale Weekly Digital Pitch Pipes 0:00.0 0:06.0

I like how it finishes with a reference pitch that I use to tune to every time I practice. It makes a nice blend that tapers off into the solo E a nice touch. It was my first run of the applet, but I’m going to go with it.

Bass quartet at Zeke’s Gallery

I found this today in my Technorati subscription: Zeke’s Gallery: More from the archives – The Double Bass Quartet

Check out the recording. The opening piece is pretty cool sounding. Nice to hear a double bass quartet doing a regular appearance somewhere!

My favorite is of course Gunther Schuller’s work “Quartet for Basses”. We did that one back at NEC – and hello to Michael, Nancy, and Todd if you all read this some day… 😉

Hummel Bloggers

Here’s an interesting set of blog posts from hella frisch, blogic, and AC/DC, all on their recent performance of the Hummel Quintet for violin, viola, cello, double bass, and piano.

Blogic notes that Johann Hummel’s middle name was “Nepomuk”, and his post is even titled “Nepo-who?!?” There are actually two Nepomuks worth noting in history. One is of course our hero of the hour, the composer Hummel, who gave us bassists one more worthy piece of chamber music. The other was St. John Nepomuk, a martyr and the patron saint of Bohemia.

Nepomuk is certainly a Bohemian style of name, and interestingly many of the prominent small chamber works that include the double bass have such a slant, including works like the Dvorak Quintet Op.77, or the last movement of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Indeed just about any chamber work that includes a double bass is not naturally going to lend itself to the refined raised-pinky orchestration. The addition of a double bass gives the chamber work an instant sense of mystery, gypsy, deviance, cojones. I just wish there were more.

Back to work

Back to work after almost two weeks of being on vacation ��� moving and a short trip up to the Redwoods for some performances.

The new house is the best part. We finally got DSL up and running today. Actually, Yingwen got the tech support call saying that it was finally fixed. I spent all day yesterday trying to get it to work, but it turns out that the problem was a faulty switch on SBC/Yahoo’s end. They replaced it today and walked Yingwen through the setup before I got home. Not bad! I just transferred her settings to the AirPort base station and life is back to normal.

Up in the Redwoods, we played tons of good music. I first had a chance to read down the Rossini duo for cello and bass, and that went pretty well. We then moved on to the Trout Quintet which was not bad, soon followed by the Dvorak Quintet which turned out to be a train wreck. I need to send these parts out ahead of time… 😉 Finally we wound down with a reading of the Brandenburg 4 and 5 concertos, which was sublime. Stellar musicianship on the part of my colleagues there, especially the first violinist and the pianist. That was the first time I had played any Bach ensemble with a piano instead of a harpsichord, but suprisingly the piano didn’t sound bad at all. I think it sounded fine, and really it shouldn’t matter what instrument is playing the continuo just so long as it can play all the notes and doesn’t sound too quiet or too loud.

And now that we’re all moved and life is back to normal, I’m looking foward to some regular practice again. I’ve been neglecting my scales and études, and want to spend more time working up some solo double bass pieces. I’m considering a heresy too ��� attempting to learn everything with the scortadura where you tune the G string on the bass up to an A, á la Edgar Meyer. I just am getting sick of swapping string sets and tuning up a whole step for solo pieces and then back down for orchestral all the time, and heck since I’m no longer a professional orchestral bassist then that kind of frees me up to do whatever the heck I want right?