Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

Feel free to email your comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Welcome Satan – I mean Santa

For the next two weeks the CSO will be solely occupied playing ‘Welcome Yule’ concerts. WY is the kitschy, money making Christmas show put on every year. I think it has been going on for 10 or more years now.

In the past, WY concerts were offered as ‘members of’ (meaning: members of the CSO) concerts. ‘Members of’ concerts are extra work for extra pay and are strictly optional. In years past, the CSO would continue to play ‘regular concerts’ (i.e. classical symphonic music) while the WY shows were going on. CSO players could opt to have a very busy schedule right before the holiday break and earn a little extra money. Those of us not wishing to indulge in that crass form of entertainment could simply say no. The difference this year is that WY is now part of the regular schedule. Participation by CSO musicians is not optional, and of course there is no extra payment. Also, for the next two weeks there are no more regular orchestra concerts by the CSO. Classical music has left Orchestra Hall (or Symphony Center as it is now called), replaced by Xmas music.

The plus side for me is that WY uses a smaller orchestra – only four basses – so I don’t have to do it. In fact, not playing WY means I don’t have any CSO work until January 9, 2007. The CSO has traditionally not given concerts during a two weeks span from around Christmas until after the New Year.

While it may seem ridiculous for me – looking at a month paid vacation – to criticize the situation, I can’t help but feel depressed seeing the once proud CSO reduced to playing gaudy Christmas music.

Without mentioning names, some of the arrangements are truly awful. I played WY during one of the first years. Sitting next to my good friend and colleague Rob Kassinger, we were rehearsing a leaden arrangement of Frosty the Snowman that had the basses slogging along with almost every note below the ‘E’ string. I caught Rob’s eye and we both burst out laughing. It has been an ongoing joke since then – the elephantine Frosty lumbering along like some demented holiday Godzilla.

I understand that the organization needs to make money, but in my opinion WY goes too far. There is plenty of wonderful classical music appropriate for this time of year. That is what a great orchestra should be playing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

This week

This week's concert

Gunnelpumpers at the Muse Cafe

For the next two weeks the CSO is playing Welcome Yule Xmas concerts. Mercifully, I am off of that, so here is my less than busy schedule.

Travel from New York

10-1:30 Teaching
8 PM Gunnelpumpers

Wednesday - Sunday

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sermon on the Mount

After hearing about them for quite a while, I finally got a look at the famous Max Dimoff warm-ups – I’ve also seen them referred to as the Cleveland warm-ups – an interesting collection of this that and the other. My eye went immediately to the Simandl Gradus ad Parnassum excerpts (Gradus ad Parnassum is Latin for ‘Steps to Mount Parnassus’, or some such thing) due to their similarity to some passages in the Bruckner sixth symphony I had recently been working on.

The passage from Gradus begins

Below the section is the admonition to ‘keep 4th firmly on the string throughout…’ I assume this means the 4th finger – whether this comes from Simandl or not I don’t know, having never studied Gradus.

Nevertheless, I assume the fingering to look something like this

This was something of a revelation, since I had no experience with these kinds of cross-string fingerings using the third and fourth fingers. For me, fingering the minor seventh across three strings was more in tune using 2 – 4, saving the 3 – 4 fingering for the 4th on adjacent strings. The advantage was twofold in that the longer 2nd finger was better to manage the stretch, and the first finger was freer to prepare for the next note.

This also created a kind of horizontal position

So far so good, but the next passages looked like this

Assuming no open strings – since the exercise modulates through all twelve keys – I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how to keep the 4th finger down throughout. Anyone in possession of how to do this will receive rich rewards (or at least praise) if they email me a solution.

Having wasted many good hours trying to devise good fingerings for the similar Bruckner passages, I felt it might be fruitful to concoct my own exercise and see what would result. I began in a key that made open strings out of the question and came up with

The object was to begin with the Gradus inspired fingering and continue the pattern.

In descending, I noticed that shifting to the 4th finger produced better results than shifting to 3.


was better than

The problem with this fingering is that the repeated note changes strings. This can be addressed by beginning on the 4th string

The player should determine which produces the better sounding fingering.

Of course, my first inclination for fingering such a passage would be something like

After practicing various ways to do this, I end up gravitating toward the familiar. Still, there is always something to be gained by trying a new approach, many ways to climb a mountain, even when it is a mole-hill.

Monday, December 04, 2006

New York

This week's programs

Tuesday and Saturday

Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales
Ligeti Piano Concerto
Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin
Pierre Boulez conductor Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano


Mahler symphony #7
Pierre Boulez


Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin
(Beyond the Score)

Schedule for the week


7:30 CSO concert

11-1 Teaching

Travel to NY

10-12:30 CSO rehearsal
8 CSO concert (Carnegie Hall)

11-1:30 CSO rehearsal
8 CSO concert (Carnegie Hall)

2-5 CSO concert (Carnegie Hall)

Travel to Chicago