Saturday, November 17, 2007

wild and woolly

The title "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" doesn't quite do today's CPO program justice: it's one of the oddest I've ever played, a hodge-podge grab-bag of music related to sheep.

Shepherd's Hey
From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests
de Falla
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Sheep May Safely Graze
Mind Over Mountain
Lachian Dances

All week in rehearsal the sheep jokes have been flying fast and furious. My stand partner Graeme is from a Scottish family, so he's got a whole flock of good ones. I won't repeat them, but here's an online site for Scottish sheep jokes.

As odd as this program is, it's always refreshing to play some new and unfamiliar music; I hope that audience members will enjoy it, too. I think that musicians sometimes get overly worried that our audience won't understand a program, or that they'll go running away in tears if they don't recognize anything; my former teacher Michael Hovnanian wrote about the "s.s.", noting that orchestra members can be as narrow-minded as our more conservative audience members.

I don't know what kind of sandwich you'd call this - it reminds me of the salads we'd get at Pizza Rustica in Miami, where they give you a check-list and let you pick the ingredients, often leading to bizarre combinations. Here you've got some dance music and nationalistic Czech music, with the Smetana and Janáček; an impressionistic piece with piano soloist by de Falla; contemporary Canadian music by Tobin Stokes, a suite of rhythmic music depicting endurance sports; a romanticized Bach transcription by Leopold Stokowski; topped off with a weird little jig by Percy Grainger. You can't have a Rustica salad without some cheese.

My favorite piece on today's program is a movement from Smetana's Ma vlast. My friends Brad and Denise went to Prague earlier this fall, and got to see a production of The Bartered Bride, including an extended choral homage to beer. Smetana's father was "a master brewer and amateur violinist", according to liner notes to this recording of Ma vlast. I haven't been to the Czech countryside yet myself, but based on this piece there seem to be rolling hills, a lot of shepherds singing fugues, and maybe some drunken partying.

This movement we're playing begins with the strings playing these legato arpeggiations, which are pretty awkward on a bass tuned in fourths. (warning: extreme bass-geekdom ahead)

My colleague Jeff was saying that this could have easily come from a Simandl etude - all those tricky string crossings and left hand bars. I haven't joined the Canadian Tune-Your-Bass-in-Fifths mafia yet (I'll entertain offers, if they want to buy my loyalty!) But sometimes you play a passage and think, there has to be an easier way -

Here's the same passage with the A string tuned down a step - so the strings are G-D-G-D, with the extension closed on a D. It's a nice resonance, having those two sets of octave open strings - Paul Ellison retuned my bass this way in a master class, to demonstrate how fluidly you can play the beginning of the Bach 1st Suite Prelude. You get to use the string crossing patterns a cellist would, instead of our hodge-podge of tricks and compromises.

For this evening though, I'll be sticking with the hodge-podge method.


Gottagopractice said...

A pleasant groove, though, shades of Lucy and Linus. Congratulations on getting your videos working.

Anonymous said...

Play your bass in fifths, man!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the "Canadian Bass in Fifths club" do any of you colleagues in the CPO use this tuning?

Anonymous said...

I actually think the fourths sound better ...

Matt Heller said...

There is a sort of Peanuts thing happening, especially if you play both videos at once.

None of us are in Fifths club, though the great thing about bass players is we're always willing to experiment. Jeff White did study with Quarrington for a while.

I was just fooling around with scordatura here, but it's funny how the harder way does sometimes end up sounding better - the extra obstacles force you to be more thoughtful and painstaking. That might be an argument for playing in Fifths though.

Thanks for the comments!

Jeff said...

Yes, i did study with JQ, and event spent a few months in 5ths, however, when the CPO job came up, Quarrington strongly urged me to switch back to 4ths.

RO said...

We just played this in Washington. Awkward passage, for sure. Consider using the extension in, I believe, the fourth measure. You can continue the octave pattern with low E flats. Nice bass...