Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wagner's Ring - Generals over, cycle 1 starts very soon

The rehearsals are over, now its time for the show. Its been quite a slog - real hard work, and I am not in the whole program, being rostered off Seigfried. Its not the notes thats the problem - its very wll written for the bass, with far greater challenges for the fiddles, celli and horns. It the concentration that is the real test. Gotterdamerung runs for just over 7 hours in this version, with two main intervals of 1:30 and 35 mins, so thats 5 hours of music. Most operas run less than 3 hours, with one or maybe 2 intervals so no more than 2:40 with a break. Rheingold is 2:40 with no break, and althought thats the "short" opera, its still a challenge to keep focus at the end. But Gotterdamerung is altogether a different kettle of fish. The last act as 1:30 and we start it 5:30 after the start of the gig. Its a marathon...

...but amazing satisfying. It keep moving, never gets stuck. The music is remarkable. Such a range of emotions, fantastic scoring, much of it quiet and intimate.

The ring is a huge finish to a huge year. I have performed 42 programs with 835 hours of playing time. No wonder I am a bit knackered!

Photo - Curtains calls after the Gotterdamerung general on 16th Nov. Yes, the full orchestra are on stage. I am in the front row, just inside the LH "house" front column as you look, just behind some of the Rhinemaidens and their wonderfully ridiculous headwear!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wagners Ring


We are a month in to the Ring project - the first time it has been performed by Opera Australia. Its been done in Australia before, but never by the flagship company.

The orchestra is called rather grandly the Melbourne Ring Orchestra. Its basically Orchestra Victoria with a large number of augmenting players, many of whom are world best musicians. Its given the band a real lift, and its sounding just wonderful.

I am one of the principals, which means I am rostered off Siegfried. Its a shame I will not do the whole cycle, but ergonomically its good news as the schedule is crippling.

Pietari Inkenin is wonderful - we are very lucky to have him stand in as conductor are short notice.

The orchestral readings are over, and we have met the singers - what a cast, including:-
Brunhilde - Susan Bullock
Siegfried - Stefan Vinke
Wotan - Terte Stensvold
Siegmund - Stuart Skelton, and many more

Photo - the bass section for Rheingold in rehearsal at OV in Albert Park. We are in a long line across the back, which is how its done in Bayreuth, and other notable bands such at the Vienna Phil. But am not sure I like it - we are a long way from the celli and its difficult to get a section sound stretched out in a long line - the player at either end are a long way from one another, and more worrying from the principal bass. But seems to be working - the orchestra and the basses in particular are sounding awesome. Thats me with the Lott 2nd from Right. The section is Matthew Thorne, moi, Davin Holt, Dennis Vaughan, Emma Sullivan, Hugh Kluger and out of shot Miranda Fitzgerald and Nic Synot. And the other players not on this photo are Kylie Davies and Lowri Morgan, who were on thier way from the UK when this shot was taken.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ouch, that hurts....

My data was a small part of an Australian study into musicians and injuries:-

Strad article on musos in pain

The results don't surprise me one bit - in fact I think they are conservative. One major issue that is not addressed in the article is that many musos will not admit to injuries for loss of a job or work. Take the case of a muso about to finish a trial for a job - they have just practiced their arse off to win the audition, then have been thro a prolonged period of pretty high stress and pressure on a trial, doing more practice than their counterparts who are not on trial.....all of which adds to the strain on the body. Are they going to admit to back twinge? Not on your life - that could well jeopardise them getting thro the trial and getting a job.

Its the same with free lancers - if you have a chronic condition I would like to think orchestras would still book you, and pay you if you had to take sick leave. But in this world of budget cuts I fear there is pressure to overlook injured players for younger, fitter musos who can get thro the work.

Its a tough world out there....but there is some help to hand, again from the Strad:-

The Strad - injury prevention

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I have never performed a Prokofiev ballet, so have been looking forward to Cinderella for some time. Romeo and Juliet comes up quite often, but I have managed to miss those productions with TAB - one day I hope.

This is a new production blessed with choreography by ex Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Alexei Ratmansky.

The music is quirky Prokofiev - challenging to the player and listener alike. Annie O Warburton would not have been too impressed with some of his harmonic progressions and cadences, but I love it. The bass part is a mix of easy stuff with some hair raising challenging moments - the latter all being exposed, of course. I knew what was coming, as half the excerpts for the Birmingham Royal Ballet principal job in 2012 were from Cinders.

Cinderella is a light break before the heavy lifting of Wagner's Ring, which starts rehearsals at the end of September.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

John Adams conducting John Adams

August has been another busy month in a busy year. By the end of August I have almost done the same hours behind a bass as the whole of 2012. By the end of the year I will have done 300 hours more than the previous year. Busy indeed.

But I am not complaining - the music scene in Australia is under financial pressure, but its so much better off that other countries. Am an determined to enjoy it while it lasts and while my body stands up to the strain.

The end of my MSO contract saw a mamoth festival of Russian music with Deigo Matheuz, a real star for the future. We did three programs in a week, featuring Stravinsky (Firebird, Petroushka and the Rite) and Tchiakovsky (Violin concerto with Baiba Skride and her amazing Strad, Roccoco Variations with Li Wei Qin (wow) and the first Piano Concerto with Nikolia Demidenko). Sixteen calls in 9 days almost killed me.

After a week off, and lots of physio, it was back to Hobart for a program of Mozart and Britten with the Tasmanian Symphony. And Barba was there too, this time playin the Britten concerto.

And this week we have had the amazing pleasure of John Adams conducting his own music. Adams is rightly respected as one of the best composers of a generation - it was an amazing privilege to work with him. And for one so talented and famous, he is remarkably humble and gracious on the podium. His music is very difficult, both in terms of notes and tricky rhythms. He told a story of a muso in the US once telling him he would go to hell, and be put in a room to play all the parts he has written over the years!!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A month with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra - from the Germans to the Russians


In mid July Alexander Shelley and Colin Currie popped over from the UK to do a program of Rouse and Wagner. Wagner is all the rage this year, as its 200 years since his birth. Verdi too was born in 1813, but is getting nothing like the same airplay. Der Gerettete Alberich by Rouse is a groovy piece, involving every toy in a percussionists toybox and quite a few motivs from the Ring, especially ones involving Alberich, of course. I have been listening to the Ring on Spotify (which is changing my life, its awesome) so am getting to know my Alberichs from my Mimes!! Anyway, its a good piece, if tricky. And the second half had an orchestral "reduction" of Trsitan and Isolde - it was still over an hour! My first gig with Opera Australia was Tristan, back in 2001 - and it was 5:45!! Powerful music.

Next we had the remarkable Simone Young conducting the Last Days of Socrates by Brett Dean, and Mahler 5. Wow. All Bretts music is difficult - this was no exception. We have to use timp sticks in a number of places, and the percussionsts use a bass bow on the cymbals - role reversal time! Brett came and joined the viola section for Mahler 5 - what an wonderful piece that is. Its been a year of doing pieces for the first time for me, and remarkably I had never done Mahler 5 before.

Last week was my first quiet week in the contract - with the exception of Til Eulenspiegel, I was rostered off the rest of the program of Strauss arias and Mozart. Til was fun. I like Fritsch - he was very good to me some years ago when I was principal bass with OV for the first time, in a program with a huge bass solo. Til was fun, and so too was going home at 8.14 after a very short nights work!

Another anniversary about to be commemorated is the Rite of Spring being 100 years old.

Photo - MSO Melbourne Festival marketing

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Story time....and the conductor was.....

That sweat-drenched face was bearing down upon us like the archangel of vengeance himself as we almost disemboweled ourselves with feverish effort. Then suddenly, a spine-chilling wail:
"Pi-a-a-a-n-o-o! Bassi! Contrabassi! You grunt away like pigs! You sound as if you were scratching your bellies--szshrump! szshrump!" he would bellow, while, tearing at his clothes, he viciously pantomimed the scratching. "Corpo del vostro Dio! PI-A-A-NO!"

"But Maestro," a player would sometimes protest in a small, hesitant, and resentful voice. "My part is printed 'forte.' "

"What you say?" the Old Man would growl menacingly, unbelievingly, distracted for the moment from his tirade.

"It says 'forte,' " the player would reply, this time in an even smaller, more apologetic voice.

"What? Forte? FORTE?" with an air of incredulity. "What means 'forte'? Ignorante! Is a stupid word--as stupid as you! Is a thousand fortes--all kinds of fortes. Sometimes forte is pia-a-a-no, piano is forte! Accidenti! [Damn it!] You call yourself a musician? O, per Dio santissimo! You play here in THIS orchestra? In a village cafe house you belong! You don't listen to what others play. Your nose in the music--szshrump! szshrump! You hear nothing! You cover up the oboe solo! One poor oboe--one!--and you szshrump! szshrump! Where are your ears? Look at me! Contra-ba-a-ss-i!" in a long,
drawn-out wail. "Tutti! Tutti! Vergogna! [Shame!]"

Samuel Antek, _This Was Toscanini_, 1963

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On the road to Mordor....with MSO

After a month of very enjoyable ballet with The Australian Ballet and Orchestra Victoria, am off to work with Melbourne Symphony for over a month of action packed music.

The orchestra has one day to recover from the Two Towers, the score of the second Lord of the Rings film which we performed on 12-14 July. Wow, its an epic, on the big screen and in the band. Great music, Wagner-esque, with all the characters having leitmotivs. Its a fab bass part, lots to play, in the zone, much of it on the C string. But what a workout - no need for the gym last week! No less that six players were injured doing this show - piccolo, bass clarinet, a viola, two celli and one bass player. Seriously hard yakka.

I finally have my contract for the Opera Australia Ring Cycle later this year. At this stage I dont know which of the operas I will be performing, but it will be 3 out of the 4, and I will do the rehearsals for the 4th, as I will be covering it. We will have 7 bass players performing each one, with 3 covering.

Photo - The MSO performing Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers

Monday, June 10, 2013

Vanguard with the Australian Ballet

Life back in Melbourne is settling down nicely. We are about to move into a new rented house, and the cats are out of quarantine after their move from the UK.

I am back working with Orchestra Victoria, with whom I will spend most of the remainder of 2013. There are two ballet programs in June, later in the month we perform the evergreen Swan Lake, but right now we are in the middle of a run of a triple bill called Vanguards. Its a fantastic show - all those people who bought tickets to Swan Lake and didnt go to Vanguards are missing out on an amazing show. What those dancers do with their bodies is quite amazing....and humbling.

Its a triple bill:-
Hindemith - Four Temperaments
Bella Figura - a medley of slow Baroque pieces, with quirky arrangements
Dyad - Steve Reich

Am am associate principal, so when I am sat no 2 I am only in the first pieces, so my gig is 34 mins long. The second piece has only one bass, which is fun to play when I am principal (due to rostering). And the last piece has not basses, so we get off early! Am really enjoying the season, its left field, short and just great fun.

And before Vanguard I nipped back to Tazzie as principal with TSO in two interesting programs in late May:-
Schumann 4 plus Mozart choral music, incl Coronation Mass
A French program of Poulenc, Canteloube and Bizet


Photo - slightly arty shot of me playing the Tarr in a Parkville Ensemble concert

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back in Melbourne

Its good being back in Melbourne and catching up with some friends. My first gig back featured Also Sprach Zarathustra with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the amazing Andrew Davis. One for the memoirs. Its a real workout, but I had a lot of fun sitting on the back row with "the three musketeers"- thanks Benny, Damo and Stevie.

After that I did a Brahms Requiem gig in the Town Hall with the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic. Wow, Brahms could write for the bass.

Next was a recording session for a new IMAX film, The Railway Man.

And after the great news that the Seekers had reformed for a big tour, we had the shocking news that Judith Durham had a stroke after the first concert. Wishing all the very best Judith, heres to a quick and full recovery.

Photo - I did a studio session with Judith Durham in 2008. It was wonderful spending quality time with Judith, a true legend.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Goodbye TSO...for now

I am back in Melbourne after 3 fantastic months with TSO. It was great fun, and I will be back for two more programs late in May.

Before that is Also Sprach with the MSO and Andrew Davis and other goodies including Brahms Requiem.

I am knackered. Am getting to the age where this much playing is really taking it out of me. The last two weeks with TSO had 19 calls in 11 days, plus travel on top. Am feeling my age!! Good job I have a week off to rest and practice before tackling Also Sprach in Melbourne. I had better get used to it as my diary is so full I have only 3 free weeks between now and 16th Dec. No rest for the wicked!!

Photo - the "bass section" in Lilydale. While up doing the Rolla Concertante with the Elanee Ensemble we noticed the wonderful lamp post murals, one with a fellow bassist!

Friday, March 22, 2013

TSO and chamber music concerts

The regional tour was a lot of fun. It was my first crack at principal bass with the TSO - a real blast. It was a one bass gig, a great program of baroque and early classical pieces, including Biber Battalia (and all the fun of Bartok pizzes, and paper under the strings to make the bass sound like a snare drum), JC Bach Symphony no 6 (real sturm and drang happening) and Haydn 43.

After a week in Melbourne came my first gig with Elanee Ensemble, who are Jo St Leon and Stuart Thomson (pictured). They are a Viola and Bass duo, establishing a fabulous repertoire for this quirky but very effective pairing. I was in the Rolla Concertino a Tre, originally written for viola, cello and bassoon, but performed on this occasion by viola and two basses. Great fun, and lots of floor rumbling sonorities.

My next chamber gig is on Sunday 24/3, when I retackle Failing and play the Dittersdorf Duetto with Will Newbery.

Photo - you put your bass down for 5 mins and some bloke picks it up! Stuart Thomson trying out the Lott in the new studio, that is almost finished and ready for me to move in!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

We are now about half way thro my 12 week contract with the TSO. Am still having a ball. I nipped back to Melbourne last week after recordings for The Australian Ballet, just before the 2nd Symphony Under the Stars gig in Launceston. We call outdoor gigs "muddy field" dates in the UK, for obvious reason - no mud here, just thoasands of people having a great time.

I am currently up to eyeballs practcing for three programs:-

this weeks regional tour - its my first gig as principal bass with the TSO

on 16/3 I do a chamber concert with the Elanee Ensemble, and Stuart Thomson's arrangement of the Rolla Concertino is tricky for all of us

and the next chamber gig is on 24/3, with Will Newbery, doing the Dittersdorf Duetto for Viola and Bass, plus I have agreed to do Failing!

The Tassie summer is still glorious, hi 20s or even clipping the 30s. Long may it continue.

Photo - Michael Fortescue, moi and Hugh Kluger, doing the Hobart SUTS gig. I think its my best side!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Glorious Tasmania

I have now moved out of the Old Woolstore and into Stuart Thomsons spare room. He is building a studio in the garden, and when its done I will move in there for the rest of my time in Tazzie, ie up until 20th April.

Still having a ball, great weather, mild summer, lots of sunshine, and its fun being in paradise. Nicky has arrived in Australia and popped over for the weekend - we visited lots of groovy places around the top of the island.

We are now well and truly into the years programs. The last one was great fun - I played chimes in Ross Edwards piece Tyalgum Mantras, an atmospheric Australian work for didgeridoo and mixed ensemble, plus 12 chimists (if such a word exists) dotted around the hall.

We have started work on the Rolla trio, for my debut with the Elanee Ensemble next month. Its a trio originally written for viola, cello and bassoon, but we are doing it for viola and two basses. Some groovy low sonorities...and lots of notes!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Back in Australia, and 3 months with the Tasmanian Symphony

Its great to be back in Oz. The body took a bit of time readjusting from sub zero temperatures and snow, to bushfire heat.

Luckily I am spending my first three months with the TSO. My database tells me I have done 62 programs with the TSO over the past 16 years, probably the equivilant of two years full time work. I love it down here - good food, wine, company, clean air, amazing countrysie and wildlife and a wonderful orchestra. Robin is in the UK for 3 more months, so I am here on contract.

I get the chance to put the Lott to work in earnest - play it in, and really get to work out how to bring the best out of it.

And as the photo shows, I brought the bike over and am working on the next phase of Project Little Belly, which is tricky when the food and wines are so fantastic here. Ah well, we can only try...

On lighter note, er literally, I am in the Old Woolstore hotel in Hobart, where most of the TSO "ring ins" stay. It's wonderful. My suite has its own washing machine, and I just found out that what the cycle is finished it sings the Die Forelle theme from the Trout Quintet. How apt!!

Back in the UK....its cold!

In early Dec 2012 we returned to the UK. I picked up my latest bass, Grandaddy Lott. Wow, its wonderful. Nicky tells me that thats it....for now!

Photos - with Leanda Smith and Sylvia Hosking, backstage at The Impossible Orchestra gig in Melbourne on 28th October. I love my job!!

I nipped up to do a gig with Opera North in Dewsbury - it is always wonderful to share a desk with Claire Sadler. We did Messiah excerpts and Britten's St Nicolas - am starting to feel all Christmassy now!