Tag Archives: chamber music

Music Saturday

I’ve been getting more and more back into my music lately. Gone are the days where I could practice eight hours and still have time for rehearsals and performances, but I’m getting in a solid hour or two every day which is good to keep the fingers loose. In the case of the double bass, one really must practice at least a little bit of technique on a regular basis to keep up the minimum amount of left hand strength required.


I have blog’d on this before. Petracchi’s book Simplified Higher Technique is a really sensible approach to double bass technique I think. These exercises are digestible and worthy of daily attention. As Rodney Slatford notes in the introduction, exercises 2, 7, 8, and 17 should be your daily workout.

As if I had that much time. Day job aside, the trick with my practicing double bass is that I live in a condo, and the kids go to sleep early. The only good time to practice is during the day, when I won’t annoy neighbors or wake children. I need a basement…

ISB Convention

Speaking of Petracchi – the man is coming to do a recital and masterclass at the ISB convention in June. The schedule of events looks quite interesting. And I see old friend Paul Bresciani is doing a talk on audition repertoire. Wow – I’d love to sit in the back and heckle Paul during that spiel. I wish I could take a week off and disappear to that event, but there’s just no way. I have in-laws in town and major projects kicking off at work. Perhaps next time…


I’m making steady progress on the Bach lute suite in E minor, and my sheet music copy of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 1st Mvt. finally showed up. I am working on transcribing some of Händel’s piano works into duos for two guitars. More on that process later as I figure out Sibelius.

The guitar practicing, by the way, is my answer to not being able to practice the double bass late at night. It’s quieter, and more portable. Gotta make do…

Pacific Collegium Concert

Here’s another shameless plug for the Pacific Collegium led by good friend Chris Kula, who are having another concert series with a June 3rd date in Oakland and a June 5th show in San Francisco. The program is entitled Couperin le Grand: Grand Motets – Sacred music of the French Baroque. Check them out. I am going to try to sneak out for one of these…

Chamber Music

I am finding damned near impossible to get together any groups to do the Dvorak quintet or the Trout. String players seem to be getting more and more scarce. I gotta figure something out here…


This coming February 26th I am playing bass in the 228 Memorial Concert (二二八紀念音樂會)!


East Bay Formosan United Methodist Church/East Bay Taiwanese American Community Center
1755 Sunnyvale Avenue, Walnut Creek, California


February 26, 2005, 2PM

I am only playing on one piece, but the entire program seems very interesting and I’m looking forward to doing this. We did a similar program last year doing a number of Taiwanese folk songs scored for a Trout-style quintet plus voices for a New Year’s performance and it was also a lot of fun.

Watch my face

This morning I was listening to the Dvorak String Quintet Op. 77 and I remembered a kind of funny story. I’m writing it here so I don’t forget.

Eugene Lehner (of Kolisch Quartet and Boston Symphony fame) was my chamber music coach for this piece while I was at New England Conservatory. Mr. Lehner would get after us because we always seemed to sound a bit stiff. We were playing through the first movement at a coaching session and at one point he stopped us and said emphatically “All the notes you play are fine, but you need to play with tone!” He then said, “Here, watch my face,” and he proceeded to shake his jowls to and fro like an old bloodhound just after a dip in a pond. I remember in all too vivid detail the way the skin from his face and neck moved as if completely independent from the rest of his lower mandible. But what happened next was the most amazing part, and you would have had to have been there to appreciate it.

So then he picked up the first violinist’s instrument and tucked it under his chin and started to play. This violin I always thought had a very bright, tight, almost tinny sound. But when Mr. Lehner played it, this deep, gritty, gruff, rich, throaty sound appeared out of the space where he sat. It was not that Proper Classical Conservatory Training tone… no, it was pure Demon-Possessed Mad Gypsy Fiddle tone with Extra Goulash. What a sound. Dvorak, like so many other composers, is so much more fun when you play it with a dash of the Mad Gypsy(tm) flavor on top. I always look for this sound that he showed us that day. It’s so thick and hearty, you’ll wanna eat it with a fork. It was the unmistakable spot-on audio equivalent of his jowl-shaking demonstration.

Eugene Lehner passed away in 1997 at the age of 91. He had a pretty amazing career. Bartok himself had persuaded him to follow a music career after he had heard him perform at the age of thirteen, and Lehner then went on to play several premieres of Bartok’s works with the Kolisch Quartet. Koussevitsky hired Lehner to play in the Boston Symphony Orchestra without an audition, stating that he had heard him play in Germany fifteen years prior. When he was in his mid-eighties, he was still teaching punk-asses like me at the New England Conservatory about chamber music.

He told me he loved being able to coach a bass player, which I always thought was kind of neat since I knew he was usually busy with the more traditional bourgeoisie string quartets and elitist piano trios. (The bassist proletariat does not get as much representation in the body of chamber music repertoire as we would like…) Much of the style of the way I play (or wish I played) my bass is in some part due to my experience with Mr. Lehner in that chamber group. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to have known and learned from him.

Grand Pause

I just remembered this story, so here goes:

I used to play with these guys back at New England Conservatory on Friday nights. We had two violins, a viola, cello, and myself on bass, plus occasional guest artists on piano, clarinet, or whatever.

What we would do every Friday night is grab a bunch of beer, or Uncle Carlo Rossi’s Light Chianti, or maybe some Absolut, and stealthily smuggle it all into one of the practice rooms in the back of the building, lock the door, close the shades, and then play a game of Grand Pause, which is basically a drinking game that we invented for classical musicians. Here is how you too can play Grand Pause with your ensemble:

  1. Ensemble starts playing the chosen piece of music.
  2. If there is a significant amount of rest – one measure for a slow movement or two for a faster one, then you must drink. The basic goal is, if you’re not playing, you’re drinking. Try not to spill your drink on your Gofriller or your neighbor’s Amati.
  3. If you come to a grand pause/fermata, then everyone in the group must shout “Grand Pause!!!”, and then chug-a-lug whatever is left in their glass or bottle.
  4. Keep playing until it is impossible to continue due to laughter/inebriation/security guards.
  5. Once we actually got a gig playing at a Democratic Party fundraiser at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Two words: Free booze. Nuff said – you can guess what happened…