Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mozart 40 - 1st mov no 1

As with the last movement excerpt, there are a number of ways to play this.

Fig 1 my version

And my You Tube clip is:-
I base my version on Owen Lee's (see below), with only minor fingering changes in the bar before C.

The versions in the literature vary much less for this excerpt than for the 4th movement:-

IMC Orchestral Excerpts (Fred Zimmerman), Vol I, p11-12 - has the notes, but no clues as to the all important fingerings

Ludwig Streicher, My way of playing the double bass vol 3, p23-24 - almost identical to Owen Lee's version but with a little more reliance on 4

Owen Lee tutorial in The Double Bassist - as with the 4th mov excerpt, this is a fantastic article. I have not replicated all the articulations, but the fingerings are:-

Fig 2 Owen Lee version

Lee makes some excellent points in his article, including:-
1 two styles of music - first subject theme (played by the fiddles at the opening of the movement) which is the anacrusis plus 115-117, then the anacrusis plus 123-125. This is the tune and should be played thus. Then there is the accompaniment staccato quaver figure bars 118-121 and 126-137.
2 tempi and rhythm - play at crochet = 100 and keep this tempo throughout. The performer must resist the temptation for the theme to drag and the quavers to rush.
3 phrasing - again Lee recommends phrasing to the end of the lyrical theme passage, which makes sense musically as well as naturally opposing any tendancy to drag that passage

How to prepare (long term):-

I. work on each style alone. I do the following exercises to get the feel and style in my head and the bow stroke (on for the theme, sautille/off-ish for the staccato accompanying figure:-

Fig 3a theme exercise (OK, this has a horrible key change in the middle, but the point is to this is get the style right). The slurred quavers should be in time, not rushed or clipped. And the crochets are not too short, but not too long - Lee marks them dot + line.

Fig 3b staccato figure exercise 1 - play this repeated (as a round) until mastered, especially the shifts to the D and C#

Fig 3c staccato figure exercise 2 - play this repeated until mastered. This is harder than 3b, due to the fingerings and string crossings. I have to think about preparing the LH for the two finger bars (4-4 and 1-1) at a slow tempo and the string crossing is tricky - with the exception off the first D every other note in the first bar is on a different string, but then there are two on the A string (C last note of bar 1 and B flat first note of bar 2). I find myself wanting to fall onto the E string a little early, and this must be resisted to keep the passage in tempo and not play the bottom F too soon.

II. play whole passage - after working on the two styles in fig 3, play the whole passage at a slower tempo, to master the transitions between the two styles. This passage reminds me of a triathlon - its OK doing the swim, bike and run sections but the transitions between each one are vital. Its important not to pre-empt the staccato passage by rushing the last two slurred quavers. I start working on this at around crochet = 84

III. gradually increase tempo up to crochet = 100. Go back to Fig 3 at your new tempo, when perfected run the whole passage. Only when its right, move up a metronome marking.

How to prepare (short term, in the audition warm up room) - I do a shortened version of the Long Term prep. Warm up, get the metronome out and set to something like crochet = 92, do the exercises fig 3a-3c, run the passage, fix errors, get it right at your tempo, increase the metronome marking...

What is being tested - just about everything! Rhythm, flexibility and mobility, articulation, shifting, musicianship

Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play:-
Arrow forward, dont drag (bars 115-117 and 123-125) and hairpin up thro these bars
Arrow back, dont rush (bars 118-121 and 126-137) and phrase off at the end
Set tempo - think viola quavers at start of the movement
Extension - closed

Tempo - Lee suggests 100

Rhythm - difficult to switch between the two main styles in a steady tempo

Bow control - tricky to switch from on to off in a controlled tempo, and vice versa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mozart 40 - 4th movement

Every serious bass player will know this one. In my view its one of the harder excerpts in the repertoire, if not the hardest. I play it like this:-

Fig 1a - my version, bar 49

Fig 1b - my version, bar 229
And my video clip is:-

There are a number of versions in the literature, including:-

IMC Orchestral Excerpts (Fred Zimmerman), Vol I, p12 - has the notes, but no clues as to the all important fingerings

Ludwig Streicher, My way of playing the double bass vol 3, p23-24 - goes for the string crossing option

Fig 2a Streicher version bar 49

Fig 2b Streicher version bar 229

Owen Lee tutorial in The Double Bassist - this is a fantastic article, a must read for any serious bass player with an audition looming. Lee opts for the thumb on the D string option:-
Fig 3a Owen Lee version bar 49

Fig 3b Owen Lee version bar 229

And there are many variations on the three options above.

There are a number of issues the player needs to consider before deciding on how to play this passage:-
1 string crossing vs shifts. This is a dilemma we face with all the time as bass players and is a huge issue with this passage. When given the choice I would generally prefer to shift than cross strings, especially slurs at fast tempi
2 extended fingering vs conventional 1-2-4. I play a number of passages in 3rd and 4th positions and as I have a big hand I stretch the minor 3rds to avoid a shift or a string crossing. The reason I play them in that position is that the hand shape is smaller than in 1st position and therefore the extended fingering is an option that works for me
3 bow stroke - how off the string should it be? I think that at the proper tempo it is very dangerous to have the bow flying around too much. I follow Lee's advice of using a sautille stroke for the bars with 8 quavers (eg bar 2, 4, 6 etc) but move more on the string for the bars with slurs (bars 1, 3, 5 etc).

How to prepare (long term) - Lee talks about practicing this daily, for 20 years! It is not the passage you can pick up in the mail and play in an audition two weeks later - I think it has to be under the fingers all the time. I work on this daily, slowly, as an exercise in mobility. Before practicing it, at minim = 84 I do these exercises to get the rhythm in my head, and RH.

Fig 4 articulation exercises

This passage is not just a RH passage - the articulation is very difficult to keep in time in the slurred bars (1, 3, 5, etc) and it is difficult to switch from on the string (bar 1) to sautille (2) and back to on (3 etc) and keep in time

Practice with the metronome until it is perfect a slower tempo. I sometimes have to break it down into 2 bar chunks to be repeated, for example bars 49-50 (changing to last note of 50 to an A, to make it easier to loop), 51-52 etc.

Lee marks the music in two bar phrases, the 1st leading to 2nd, the 3rd to the 4th etc. It is important to make music out of this passage - achieving the daunting technical challenges alone will only leave the listener with just a stream of notes. But Lee's approach is very clever in my view - I have to resist my natural tendancy to drag bar 1 and rush bar 2. Playing a cresc in bar 1 and a dim in bar 2 will naturally help counterbalance those tendancies - well it works for me.

How to prepare (short term, in the audition warm up room) - I do a shortened version of the Long Term prep. Warm up, get the metronome out and set to something like minim = 100, do the exercise fig 4, run the passage, fix errors, get it right at your tempo, increase the metronome marking...

What is being tested - just about everything! Rhythm, flexibility and mobility, articulation, shifting, musicianship

Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play:-
Arrow forward, dont drag (bars 1, 3, 5, etc) and hairpin up thro these bars
Arrow back, dont rush (bars 2, 4, 6, etc) and hairpin down thro these bars
Short bows
Keep bow close to G and D string to make strings crossings easier
Relax and breathe
Extension - closed

Tempo - Lee suggests 120-126 and he makes the excellent point that it is better to be solid, in a slightly slower tempo than do crash and burn at a quicker one. I play this at 120.
Rhythm - difficult, and not just the quavers. It is very easy to get the latter parts wrong, such as quaver into bar 9, the minims at 15 and the crochets at 17. Keep that pulse, two (I think in 2 al though Lee recommends 4) in a bar in your head
Bow control - small bows, practice the two strokes, and the exercise Fig 4

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Forest Phil - Sun 24/10/10

I spent a very jolly Sunday up in Walthamstow, NE London as guest principal with Forest Philharmonic, who must be the best amateur band in the UK. Andrew Gourlay was conducting and we played Russian music:-

Shostakovitch - Festival Overture
Aruturian - Trumpet Concerto
Tchaikovsky - Fifth Symphony

It was a fantastic gig - quite remarkable that the following day most of the players would return to thier day jobs. The bass section was smokin - no passengers, and a fantastic sound coming out of a Kennedy, two Lotts and a Roger Dawson bass. Good job really as the Shosters and Tchiak are a hell of a play for the basses. We had a lot of fun, as well as a few pints of Essex Boys, as you do.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wagner Logengrin - Act 1

Dotted rhythms and dynamics to look for here.

Verdi La Traviata - Intro Act 1

This is a common excerpt, especially for opera orchestra auditions. And my video clip is:-

What is being tested - tuning, shifting, string crossings, tempo and the ability to keep in time at different dynamics, note lengths and articulations, huge dynamic range
Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play. For this excerpt they are:-
Start on string close to G and D
extension closed
Arrow forward at the start, dont drag
Arrow back 4 after 20, dont rush

How to prepare

Tempo and Rhythm - I perform this as minim = 100. I have to work hard to overcome my natural tendancy to drag at the start (quiet means slow doesnt it??) and rush the crochets 4 after 20.
Tuning and shifts - the first part (up to 20) is a bit like a shifting technical exercise. It starts with a two bar passage based in F min for two bars then jumps up a semitone to G flat min for the next two bar phrase. There are three shifts the way I finger the passage, a semitone, tone and minor third. The exercises below are aimed at checking the tuning of the tone and minor third shifts, a la Duncan McTier's shifting exercises:-

Fig 1 - tone shift exercise

Fig 2 - minor third shift exercise

Once the shifts have been mastered, I would work with a Korg tuner and play the piece in a slow tempo, stopping to check tuning at key notes, like the high ones as shown below:-

Fig 3 - tuning check

I use a Korg tuner to check intonation but the exercise in Fig 3 can be done by stopping and holding notes to check with the open strings, such as the G last note bar 1, D 4th note of bar 4, G start of bar 5 etc.

Dynamics - huge range. I delay the cresc slightly, start close to the tip and over the fingerboard. I mark p in bar 9, mp in 11, mf in 13, f in 15 to help gauge the cresc. My aim is to move the bow a little toward the bridge and increase bow speed, by moving nearer the frog.

Bow control - it is tricky to control the dynamics and keep in time. There are three basic strokes, the figure up to 20 I play on the string, the quavers at 20 I play off and the accents in the 5th of 20 I start from the string.

Verdi Otello - Act 4

My you tube clip is available at:-

This one should be learnt, as it comes just up all the time, one of the most common excerpts in the repertoire, whether for a symphony or opera orchestra job.

It comes at a key moment in Act IV of the Opera. Otello, the moor king, has been sold a story by the dasterdly Iago, that his beloved Desdemona has been unfaithful. This music is played as Otello enters the bedroom to go and strangle his beloved. I guess this tells us a lot of what Verdi thought about the colour and meaning of a double bass solo! It is dark and combines two of Otellos feelings, tenderness towards Desdemona and anger at her percieved infidelity. These are written in the music, as a lyrical line with the aggressive rising scale passage at the end.

And as Corin Long points out on his video on the RPO website,

this piece is marked for "contrabassi a 4 corde", implying that at the time there were still plenty of 3 string basses in the Italian opera pits when Otello was written in 1887.

What is being tested - tuning, tempo and the ability to keep in time thro rests, lyrical playing, huge dynamic range
Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play. For this excerpt they are:-
Tempo - not too slow, keep it moving, count thro the rests
Mute on
extension closed
3x quavers = portato, not too short

How to prepare

Tempo and Rhythm - my version is marked crochet = 80, which is quicker than you might think. Its important to keep this going and not get bogged down, especially in the rests, keep the tempo going in your head. And play thro the 3 quaver anacrusis figure, dont let it drag. The tendancy to play this too slowly or to be late in entries after the rests must be avoided.
Bow control - big issue in this one, both speed and position on the string. Bar 9 (3 before V) goes from p to f in 2 beats - the bow needs to be saved at the start of the bar, then moved towards the bridge as quickly as possibly without it being heard on the string. Bar 10 has the opposite, a dim from f to ppp in 4 beats, then morendo in bar 11, where I end up well over the fingerboard. I use a portato stroke for the three anacrusis quavers (except the ones in the bar of X).
Dynamics - huge range.
Accel - though it is not marked, it is common to do an accel some time in the last 3 bars. Do you do it, or play what is on the part? That is up to you. I playa what is on the part, but be prepared to accel if asked to do so in the audition.

Verdi Othello - Act 1

Text to follow soon

Britten Peter Grimes - Act 3

Text to follow soon

Britten Peter Grimes - Act 1

What is being tested - quiet dynamics, huge dynamic range, slow bow control, tuning, shifting, rhythm

Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play. For this excerpt they are:-
think tempo, quaver = 66, thing thro quavers, triplets, semis, 5's, 6's
Extension - open (C) lower line, closed upper line

How to prepare
Tempo - my metronome does not go as slow as crochet = 33, so I have to used quaver = 66. It is a very slow tempo, easy to play to quick in a pressure environment in an audition. Think thro every quaver, especially in bars 12-14
Rhythm - there is a tendancy to rush the tempo with it being so slow. Keep that quaver = 66 in your head. Think thro the triplets, semis, 5's and 6's in your head, with a metrnome and without - dont rely on having the metrnonome at all times. The 5 in the last beat of bar 7 is different to the 6 in the similar last beat of 3 before 77, they are stretched out much more, dont fall over them and make the different audibly to the listener. The 5 is tricky, the 6 is easier, make sure you dont rush the 5.
Bow control - practice long slow bows, flautando, to help build control. The bow position on the string is crucial - for the pp and quieter passages I play as flautando as possible, over the fingerboard. The two crescendi in bars 5 and 11 need the bow pushing towards the bridge, more so the second.
Bow distribution is also a challenge, with uneven note lengths, for example the first two bars have down 2 beats, up 1 beat, down 2 beats, up 3.5 beats etc. Start the piece at 1/3 bow, and aim to be at the tip for the 2nd beat of bard 2. Let the gradually move to the tip for the last 1.5 beats of bar 4 so there is enough bow for the cresc into bar 5, but not too much as the next one is bigger in bar 11.
Colour - I do the quietest bars 6 and 12 senza vib, varied vibrato on the rest.

4 Oct 2010 Opera North Casual Audition

Next was Leeds in the North of England. Opera North were well organised, advertising the casual audition, and around 8 or so players turned up from all over the country. They set:-
Concerto movement of candidate’s choice – I played the first movement of the Dragonetti
Beethoven 5 – 6 passages, two from the 2nd movement (fig C, the semi demi passage in A flat) and the semi quaver cresc passage a little later. The two pp arpeggio passages from the Scherzo and two of the C maj quaver passages in the Trio.
Mozart 39 – two passages, the semi-demi runs in the intro leading into the Allegro including the theme. Then the usual semi quaver passage in the last movement
Rigoletto – the chorus in 5 flats, the number before the cello/bass duet. Its a vivace in ¾ starting with octave D flats, a cresc from ppp to ff.
Brahms Requiem – slow lyrical line in E flat
The excerpts were again well chosen, one opera, one choral, reflecting most of the work that Opera North do, but they also so a lot of symphonic repertoire, so the Beethoven and Mozart were valid inclusions.
The panel was the bass section, Paul Miller (principal), Peter Fry and Claire Sadler, and the audition was in a glorious warm up/reh room was an acoustic to die for. They panel were charming and very friendly, and the audition was open, no screens.
The audition went well. The panel were interested in my bass, the Kennedy. They asked for the Beethoven Scherzo to be played again, but shorter.
Outcome – Success, I am on the list at Opera North.

14 Sept 2010 CBSO Casual Audition

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra hold casual auditions held by the principal, John Tattersdill.
It was a change of bass again – I picked up my 3rd instrument, a Kennedy just after I arrived back in the UK in June. Pension is in Germany right now – a good mate of mine is borrowing it for an audition over there. So different country, but its playing the same repertoire, and doing auditions, just like the Kennedy is in the UK.
John is a really nice bloke – I took a large wad of excerpts that I have been preparing. He listened to:-
Beethoven 9 – Recit, finale, the usual section
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique – 5th movement, the Witches Sabbath
Both were fine.
Outcome – success, I am on the casual list. Hurray. Now we hope the orchestras cuts are not too severe, so that they can afford casuals, and book me!

23 June 2010 Royal Opera House, Sub Princ, First Round

The Royal Opera House were auditioning for a 2nd Sub Principal, ie no 3. They set:-
Concerto movement of candidate’s choice – I played the first movement of the Dragonetti
Britten Peter Grimes – Act 1, 76-77, slow con sord passage in octaves (divisi) in E maj.
Britten Peter Grimes – Act 3, 11-12, the fast leaping passage in 6 flats
Verdi Otello – Act 1, four bars of pp staccato triplet quavers
Verdi Otello – Act 4, U-Z, the usual bit, the bass section solo starting on low E
Verdi La Traviata – Act 1, Stetta dell Introduzione, the fast passage starting in F min, in two bar phrases going up a semitone each time
Wagner Lohengrin – Act 1, 40-41, dotted rhythm passage

The excerpts were pretty good really – all opera, so apt. A wide range of playing was required, full dynamic range, lots of articulations and excellent choice to test a candidate.
My prep could have been better – I had landed from Australia less than a week before the audition, had my Tarr bass smashed up by Malaysian Airlines, who’s customer service is an oxymoron. It doesn't exist. So I had to switch basses at short notice. I thought the excerpts went well, but I crashed and burnt in the concerto. "Pension", my Italian bass is magnificent, but much bigger that the Tarr and I struggled with the higher stuff on it. No excuses - I had a great bass to play, just didnt play it well enough on the day. I was happy with my control of nerves, bar a few bow shakes, I was pretty much in control of both hands.
The panel were really positive– Tony Hougham, Paul Kimber, Keith Hartley and two other string players. The audition was done in the open.
Outcome – I didn’t get thro, didn’t play well enough. So it was good audition practice, onto the next one.

Stuart's bass blog

Welcome to my bass blog.

I am an English classical double bass player who returned to the UK in June 2010, after 15 years in Australia.

Much of my time is currently spent practicing for auditions to get myself re-established in the UK classical music scene. Like countless other bass players around the world, I am crashing thro my concerto and "usual suspect" orchestral excerpts that we face on the stand in auditions. I am reinventing the wheel, just like all other poor bassists doing the same thing. So the reasons for this blog are:-

1 to share ideas of how I play the music and prepare for auditions. Many students ask for the same content - I could regurgitate the same material and charge them all for lessons, but that seems a bit old fashioned and ridiculous. So I will publish it here

2 it would be great to get feedback from other bass players, of all standards, as to the content in this blog. There are many ways to skin a cat, and the debate about pros and cons of different fingerings, bowings, phrasing, another variables would be of value to me, and I guess many others

3 to help people prepare for auditions and the like, by sharing what was set, my prep, how it went on the day and the outcome

I hope you enjoy this blog, get something from it and more importantly join as a follower and contribute to it.

Stuart Riley